Don't argue with this guy
With Gears of War 3 still hot on the lips of Xbox 360 gamers, it's tempting to begin any review of Shadowgun with a direct comparison. At first glance it certainly looks as if Madfinger were going for the Gears look when they put the game together, but are looks deceiving?
The story is standard fare; as a Shadowgun, one of the best mercenaries around, you are contracted to break in to a mad scientist's fortress and destroy his legion of mutated humans, cyborgs and machines. Unfortunately for you, they all seem hell bent on stopping you from reaching your goal.
The first thing that struck me as I began my journey through the world of Shadowgun was that this is a game with high production values. Once the initial cut scene is done and dusted, you find yourself in the first room and it's immediately clear that this is going to be an attractive game. In terms of the way the game looks, this is the next Infinity Blade. But while the hack and slash nature of ChAIRs game might have left some people feeling short changed, Shadowgun goes all out to provide a proper 3rd Person Shooter experience.
Despite the amount of detail in the graphics, the game moves fluidly, even during battles where a large number of enemies are on screen at once. Watching a video of the game in motion doesn't compare to actually getting hands-on to see just how responsive Shadowgun can be. On a Retina display, and particularly on the iPad 2, the game looks amazing and gives you that console quality feel.
Even the controls have benefited from love and attention. While virtual buttons and joypads will never fully replace physical controllers, Madfinger have done their best to ensure that your journey through Shadowgun's world is as smooth as possible. They've taken the standard approach of analogue stick on the left and shoot/aim on the right. Other than changing weapons on the top left of the screen, this is about all you'll need for most of the game. It's simple but effective.
But crucial to the whole experience is the gameplay and, again, the developers have created something of a minor miracle. This actually feels like a proper console shooter. The basics are there, as expected; shoot the enemies while they run for cover and work out how to get through them to the next room or grab more ammo before you run out. But they've also managed to include a cover system that works too.
Cover is automatically provided when you move next to a barrier or wall. At first it feels a bit sticky, but the system works and pretty soon you'll be using it to dodge fire from both the mutants and the robot guards. The cover system makes all the difference and adds some strategy to the game, though it does provide a little too much safety on early levels.
All this excess of graphics and gameplay does sometimes come at a price though, and here it's the occasional freeze or even throwing you out of the game. Playing it through on the iPad 2 I had no problems, but on the iPod Touch (a 4G machine) the game ranged from cutting out right before a boss battle to not starting at all. Madfinger have already released some bug fixes, and I dare say more are on the way, so it should become more stable.
Coming back to the Gears of War comparison, Shadowgun does have one other defect, it doesn't deviate enough. While there are boss battles (and some of these are well worth experiencing), each level feels like only a slight deviation from the last. There are no big open vistas or ravaged landscapes here, just rooms made of metal and stone. The enemies don't really progress too much either. But it's hard not to like the big, brash gameplay or the fairly robust voice acting which doesn't take itself too seriously.
The lack of multiplayer is a surprising omission too, though Madfinger have promised that they are hard at work on providing this as an update sometime in the near future. With the single player done, there are still lots of little hidden gems to unlock, including character artwork, which gives the game some replay value. But, still, there does seem to be a big hole where the multiplayer should be.
Yet despite these faults, it's hard not to be impressed by Shadowgun. The game is visually stunning and fun to play. It's certainly the best 3rd Person Shooter on iOS and paves the way for further expansion of the iOS shooter genre.
- Sound: 9
- Graphics: 10
- Gameplay: 8
- Longevity: 8
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