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Google Play App Roundup: Valet, Into the Dead, and Epoch

By Ryan Whitwam

Find your car, evade the undead, and battle robots. What more could you want?

Another week is upon us, and that means it's time to check out the state of the Google Play Store. Your phone is only a shadow of itself without the best apps, so it's a good thing we're here to save the day. Just click on the app name to pull up the Google Play Store so you can try things out for yourself.

This week you can learn about a way to always know where yo left your car, a game with lots of zombies, and a post-apocalyptic shooter with robots.

Valet

It’s rare to find an app that is both utilitarian and attractive, but Valet seems to fit the bill. This is an app that can quickly place a GPS marker on your car after it’s parked so you can find it later. It’s not the first app to do this, but it has some interesting features (and did I mention it’s gorgeous?).

The app has a stripped down interface that’s very easy to use. Simply open it and tap “park my car” at the bottom. An embedded Google Maps frame at the top of the UI shows your current location with the Valet marker. This window is not static, but lets you zoom and pan around. This is handy to have when you need to get your bearings.

Once your car is parked in the app, a row of buttons pops up at the bottom of the screen. They are Maps, alarm, cancel, and share. The Maps button calls out to your installed mapping apps (like Google Maps) to search for your car’s exact GPS coordinates. This is how you’ll find your way back when the time comes. Using Google Maps, you can jump right into walking navigation to get back to your car. It’s probably smart that Valet doesn’t try to do this itself -- Maps is always going to be better at it.

The alarm button can be used to set reminders for meters and other parking-related cutoffs. The cancel button can be used to remove the Valet marker. The sharing option is useful in a number of ways, but not so much in the context of parking. You can use this to offload your car’s GPS coordinates into other apps. For example, you might want to use this to direct others to your car’s location if you’re giving them a lift.

Valet costs $0.99, which I think is totally reasonable. There is, however, and in-app purchase that can be made if you want a certain advanced feature. The auto-park button in the lower right corner ties Valet into your device’s Bluetooth connection. If your car has Bluetooth, Valet can detect when you disconnect, and automatically “park” the car. Very cool, but the feature costs you $4.99. I feel like that’s a bit steep.

Overall, Valet is a beautiful app that does its job well. The basic app is definitely worth checking out.

Into the Dead

Infinite runners might as well grow on trees, but Into the Dead takes things to a completely different, and altogether creepier place. You start out at the site of what appears to be a helicopter crash. Tough break, seeing as there are zombies literally all around you. You do the only thing you can do... run.

The entire game is first person, which limits your field of view and makes the experience more tense. There are a few different control schemes, but the accelerometer will probably be your best bet. Simply tip your device from side to side in order to steer your avatar around. This setup works well because you can then tap anywhere on the screen to fire your weapon, assuming you have one. The thumbstick and button control modes reduce reaction time, in my opinion.

The goal is similar to that of Ski Safari or Beach Buggy Blitz. You have to get as far as possible before running into a zombie and getting killed. Along the way, you can complete objectives to gain experience, money, and unlock more content. The in-game money is used to enable perks that give you a leg up during your run. You can start with a weapon, skip ahead 1,500 meters, get extra ammo, and so on.

The thing that makes Into the Dead really compelling to play is the realistic physics. Your character really feels like he’s running over rough terrain. There are various obstacles to contend with that slow you down and let the zombies close in. Veering too close to the undead can also get you a nasty swipe that causes you to stumble. The whole game feels very real.

The weapon drops can help you along, but you’ll need to make it through a few levels of challenges before you get the really good gear. Of course, you can spend coins to unlock things early or skip objectives to advance faster.

Into the Dead is free to play, and that means in-app purchases are part of the deal. You can buy bundles of coins for a few bucks, or disable the ads you sometimes see during loading screens. You’re not required to, but tossing a few dollars at the developers in this case is probably okay -- this is a crazy-fun game.

Visually, this title has all the right moves. The atmosphere it builds is spooky and alarming. There are shadowy forests, expansive corn fields, and rolling hills covered in fog. The undead emerge slowly from the mist and have just the right amount of detail. The lighting effects really make things work.

This is one of the most enjoyable Zombie games on Android, and you can play around with it for free. I strongly recommend this title.

Epoch

In a world without humans, the robots still do battle. Were they the undoing of humanity, or are they the last hope? You’ll have to unravel the mysteries in Epoch if you’re interested. But mainly, this is an on-the-rails cover-based shooter with upgradeable killer robots. Oh, there was a story? Somehow that seems less important all of a sudden.

You begin Epoch with a beat up old battle bot, and you have to fight your way through the ruins of human civilization to a cryogenic facility where the last humans exist. Between you and the goal are tons of very nasty robots with way cooler guns than you have. The only course of action is to kill them and salvage their weapons (obviously).

The controls in Epoch are super-simple, but still allow for some satisfying combat strategy. Each level is made up of 3-6 engagements with maybe a dozen enemy robots in each. You begin in cover behind a wall or some debris. Swipe up to pop up, and tap any enemy to start firing. You will keep firing until the enemy is destroyed, but they don’t make it easy.

You’ll be taking fire from all sides, so you need to move between the three firing positions accessible in each engagement. Simply swipe left and right to dive in that direction. Moving will buy you a few seconds as the bad bots seek to reacquire their target. From the edges, you can also swipe up to leap all the way to the opposite side, skipping the middle cover spot.

In addition to the standard weapon fire, you have countermeasures like grenades, missiles, and combat modifiers. All these special powers have a recharge time, but usage is unlimited. These components, your armor, and the main weapon system are completely modular. At the end of each level, you recover a new component. You may equip it, or use some of your earned cash to buy different gear. This upgrade aspect not only changes your stats, but makes your robot look much cooler.

The gameplay is on the simple side, but that’s why Epoch works so well on a mobile device. It’s all action, and none of the filler. You jump from one battle to the next, refining your abilities and tactics as you go along. The assortment of enemies also keeps you on your toes. Each model has slightly different attacks that you need to counter in order to survive.

Epoch makes use of the Unreal graphics engine, and it looks absolutely phenomenal. By designing the game with smaller, easy to control areas, the developers can render high-resolution textures, lighting effects, and particles without bogging down your device. The environments are detailed, and rich. And your fellow robots look very cool. There is just a hint of aliasing visible in the screenshots, but you don’t notice it in the game.

Epoch has a solid campaign to go through, but an arena mode can also be unlocked. The game costs $4.99, which is fair. Be aware, there are in-app purchases in Epoch. Don’t freak out -- they’re not necessary to play the game. It doesn't feel balanced like a game pushing additional purchases. If you take the plunge, be aware this is a 502MB download.

That's it for this week's Roundup. I hope you found something to keep you occupied until next week. See you then!