The most obvious games people will think about after seeing Madfinger’s new ShadowGun ($8) are the console Gears of War franchise and the iOS title Infinity Blade — but go in with reasonable expectations when you load this third-person shooter up for the first time. Think of ShadowGun as Gears of War Lite, with just enough of the storyline, graphics, audio and gameplay to completely justify a much lower price; if that’s your frame of reference, you’re going to be thrilled by what’s here… except for the universal iPad/iPhone/iPod touch game’s surprisingly common crashes.
Much like Gears of War, ShadowGun places you in control of a gun-toting soldier named John Slade who blasts through 10 levels filled with semi-human and robotic enemies, gathering new weapons and opening locked doors along the way. A virtual joystick on the left of the screen controls movement, while swiping elsewhere changes the camera’s left, right, up, or down position relative to Slade, a now entirely intuitive way of handling over-the-shoulder and first-person shooting. The camera zooms in and out as appropriate to frame the action, primarily zooming in when you duck behind objects for cover and pop up to begin shooting at targets, the chief way that ShadowGun feels like Gears of War and earlier shooters such as Time Crisis. You’ll also have to manage your limited ammo, which is simple enough on the easiest level of difficulty thanks to copiously dispensed bullet boxes, but more challenging on the higher two levels.
Rather than complicating the control scheme with tons of different action buttons, Madfinger equips Slade with a single gun at a time, letting you switch between his initially equipped—and ammo-limited—submachine gun to a shotgun, grenade launcher, and other weapons solely after they’ve been discovered in later levels. When you’re not shooting or hitting a button to reload, you’re wandering through the generally straightforward levels looking for holographic gear-marked objects to interact with; tapping on them or a gear button triggers doors to open, elevators to move, and power cells to come back online in the facilities you’re exploring. These simple puzzle elements combine with number sequence-based tap-hacking games to break up the shooting action; there’s no need to consult a map, and no ability to partner up with a second player to take on the hordes of walking, crawling, and flying enemies you confront.
ShadowGun’s strengths are in its across-the-board competence. While it never reaches the “unbelievable for iOS” mark with its visuals that Infinity Blade hit right out of the gate, the 3-D engine runs smoothly and has very impressive polygon, texture, and shading detail on current-generation iOS devices. Floors, walls, and ceilings are packed with the sort of pixel-level details that would have been unimaginable only two years ago on Apple’s devices, or portable game consoles in general. There are just enough well-done special effects—windblown flags, concussive screen-warping explosions, light passing through overhead fans, and flying bullet casings—to evoke the Gears and Infinity Blade titles that inspired them. When the game’s villain Dr. Simon shows up on TV screens, or when light bars and plasma beams glow in the levels, the little details are all handled well enough to impress even experienced iOS gamers.
But there’s also little doubt that this game’s grit factor is way, way lower than its predecessors. Moreover, the game’s Halo/N.O.V.A.-like banter, mechanized lobster/evil scientist boss characters, and in-game action all have a lower level of intensity and wow factor than the Gears games; casual gamers will also blow through the game’s levels on easy within less than a day of active play. If you’re expecting a $60 or even $30 console-like experience, you’ll have to remind yourself at some points about the $8 price, and look at all of the things Madfinger did include here: spoken in-game dialogue, solid weapon sound effects, and bits of music that jump in and out to heighten the intensity. Whatever corners have been cut here are entirely justifiable at this price level.
The only thing that’s a serious bummer about ShadowGun is its instability. Our version crashed on average once per level, in most cases leaving us only a little shy of a prior checkpoint, but sometimes falling back further than that. As much as it pains us to rate this game lower than it would otherwise have rated based on a factor such as this, there’s no doubt that Madfinger seriously needs to go back and fix whatever the issues are that are causing ShadowGun to quit in the middle of the action. These crash issues are the only reason this game falls short of our high recommendation, and should they be remedied, there’s no question that fans of Gears of War-style shooters should jump right into this one. ShadowGun is one of the most impressive demonstrations of what Apple’s devices are capable of, and an engaging action-shooter, too.
Company and Price
Company: Madfinger Games
Compatibility: iPod touch 3G/4G, iPhone 3GS/4, iPad, iPad 2