My, mobile gaming how you’ve grown! A decade or so ago, I thought being able to play Snake on my phone was sooo friggin’ cool. Fast-forward to today, and I’m blasting my way through Madfinger Games’ Shadowgun (out now, $4.99), a title that more than lives up to its promise of squeezing a true ‘console-quality’ experience onto our iDevices, crucially, not only in terms of bleeding-edge visuals – although it does look absolutely stunning – but also with respect to its wholly immersive gameplay, absorbing narrative, quality voice-acting, and touchscreen controls that don’t make you want to tear your hair out in frustration.
Set in the year 2350, Shadowgun casts the player in the role of John Slade, an infamous bounty hunter whose latest gig is to extract rogue geneticist Dr. Edgar Simon from the mountaintop research facility-cum-fortress he’s holed-up in; either dead or alive will do, the shady corporation who hired you aren’t all that picky. Piece of cake, right? Um, no. The Doc’s James Bondian lair boasts a particularly lethal security system and is heavily guarded by his “children” — a freakish army of cyborgs, battle droids, and gun-toting muties trained to take care of unwanted visitors with a swift bullet to the face.
Cue an impressively lengthy campaign by iOS standards (clocking in at roughly 4–6 hours) that takes in an action-packed slew of tactical, cover-based firefights punctuated by neat hacking mini-games and a series of stand-out boss battles as Slade traverses the labyrinthine facility, aided via comlink by his endearingly sarky android sidekick, S.A.R.A..
If you hadn’t already guessed as much from the hand-cannon sporting, ridiculously burly protagonist, sci-fi trappings, and the whole duck and cover combat schtick, Shadowgun sees Madfinger taking a leaf out of Gameloft’s book by closely following the winning formula set down by a big-name console game, in this case Gears of War. Admittedly, it’s sort of a shame Madfinger felt the need to crib ideas from Gears, especially given how unique and personality-driven their no holds barred Samurai series is, but it’s also hard to care about a faint whiff of unoriginality when a game is as downright enjoyable and as well put together as Shadowgun.
Honestly, this is one of those mobile games that you can delve into and totally forget you’re playing on a phone or tablet. While obviously the sumptuous graphics (on a par with those of Unreal Engine poster child, Infinity Blade, if you ask me) are going to be Shadowgun’s main selling point for a lot of people, it’s the varied gameplay, ambitious set-pieces, and quirky touches like the witty banter between Slade and S.A.R.A. and the story’s numerous twists that truly draw you into the adventure and help keep you engrossed.
The bulk of Shadowgun’s running time is spent ducking in and out of cover whilst trading bullets with Dr. Simon’s tooled up minions, and I’m delighted to report these sections are a blast to play through thanks to the game’s silky smooth controls and sophisticated combat mechanics. Not to mention unusually formidable enemy AI. Generally speaking, iOS shooters see you up against unthinking cannon fodder (y’know, like zombies), so it’s a breath of fresh air that the squads of genetically enhanced monsters you encounter here are cunning, tactical, and just as capable of dodging behind walls and using surrounding environments to their advantage as you are. Enemies also come in a variety of shapes and sizes, ranging from hulking, leather-clad warriors to scuttling, kamikaze spider-bots, and Madfinger do a great job of incrementally introducing new foes as you progress, which helps lessen the game’s inherent potential for repetitiveness.
In between the intense shootouts, there are a number of environmental puzzles to be solved – mostly of the pull this lever/open that door variety – and a recurring mini-game that challenges you to hack the facility’s security system. All good, but the real highlight of Shadowgun for me are its well thought-out and unfailingly spectacular boss battles, the most memorable of which are a battle with a humongous robot with the hilarious moniker of Cyberlobster (genius!), a sequence that sees you attempting to outrun a tearaway drilling machine, and, of course, a thrilling showdown with the crazed central baddie.
On the downside, Shadowgun’s bland, derivative rock soundtrack is one of worst affronts to ears everywhere an iOS game has subjected us to in quite some time, while the game suffers from the occasional bug, and did crash on my iPod Touch 4 a few times as I played through the game for this review. These problems – even the occasional irritating crash – do kind of pale into insignificance when you step back and consider what a technical feat a title of this calibre is for the iPlatform. Beyond the aforementioned kinks being ironed out, Multiplayer is probably the only thing that would make this game even better. Unsurprisingly, Madfinger are already reportedly working on adding cross-platform Deathmatch and Team Deatchmatch modes by way of a future update, which will presumably arrive once the game makes its debut for Android-powered devices.
All in all, Shadowgun is one of the best third-person shooters to grace iOS to date and I wouldn’t hesitate to put it right up there with the best iOS has to offer in terms of AAA, ‘console-quality’ gaming experiences – Dead Space, Infinity Blade, Anomaly: Warzone Earth et al. I’ll wrap up by saying it again: mobile gaming’s come a long, long way since Snake!
iFanzine Verdict: Shadowgun isn’t perfect, but it’s pretty gosh-darn close! A technical marvel made all the more impressive by the fact it doesn’t forget a game needs more than pretty graphics to truly grip. An essential download for any discerning iGamer.