Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: In Shadowgun, you play as a wise-cracking, bald-headed space mercenary who saves the universe from a mutated cyborg army.
Yes, the third-person shooter genre is well-worn territory, but Shadowgun for the Phone and iPad has the benefit of being one of the first truly great-looking and easy-to-control shooters on the platform—ever. Sadly, while Shadowgun has the engine of a Ferrari, it’s a shame that developer Madfinger Games gave it the body of an AMC Gremlin. That is to say, Shadowgun may look and handle well, but there are too other bland design choices that weigh Shadowgun down from being the first truly great shooter on the iOS platform.
You play as a hired mercenary trying to collect the bounty on a Dr. Moreau-like villain who happens to have an army of cybernetic mutants at his disposal. Your generic bald-headed meathead has to capture him with the assistance of his AI assistant who is called “S.A.R.A” and is no way a takeoff of Cortana.
Despite being a poor man’s Gears of War and having more cliches than a Michael Bay film, Shadowgun does do some things very well. It’s one of the few shooters on the iOS I’ve seen that has intuitive controls. Moving through the environments and shooting becomes easy to manage in minutes, and the interactive objects are obvious. Though the cover system isn’t perfect, I was able to jump to and from cover when I wanted to (for the most part), and there’s even some environment degradation if you stay in one place for too long. Switching weapons in a firefight is a bit problematic, as is quick firing over cover, but on the whole, Shadowgun has the best virtual joystick/tap/swipe interface I’ve played with so far.
The graphics rendered on the Unity engine are also quite impressive. Your character moves in believable ways through fully rendered 3-D environments that should remind shooter fans of old Quake 2 and 3 maps. The ability to not only run and shoot through these levels, but also find cover and shoot destructible objects makes the game a pretty ambitious title for the iPad.
Unfortunately, Madfinger’s ambition doesn’t extend to level design. While they look great, the levels are uniform sci-fi hallways with chest-high cover and repetitious chokepoints. You’ll mow through hordes of the same generic soldier in no time, only to be felled by a well-placed, bullet-sponge turret every few minutes. The levels all follow a similar format of “open-door-A, find key-B, call the elevator” without much to differentiate them.
Shadowgun also could have used a longer beta testing period—the game is riddled with bugs, some superficial, some crucial. When blood splatters, the game often doesn’t recognize when the enemy is on a surface and so you’ll often see the blood just hang there in the air. On my first generation iPad, the game crashed whenever the action picked up, or there were too many enemies rendered on the screen. This, combined with the horrific checkpoint system, greatly lengthen the otherwise brisk four-to-five hour campaign.
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