Gears of War 3, the final installment in the third-person, cover-based shooter series for the Xbox 360 that has helped define this generation of video games, hit store shelves at 12:01 a.m. this morning. But next week, iOS and Android users are going to get a crack at a game that brings the feel of Gears of War to the small screen.
The game is Shadowgun, from developer Madfinger, and it plays quite a bit like the Gears of War series and other titles on bigger consoles. It also looks amazing – perhaps even rivaling Infinity Blade, a game developed by ChAIR and running on Unreal Engine 3 (a version of the same software engine that powers Gears of War, in fact).
I got to work through three levels of Shadowgun, and throughout my time with it, I was struck by the game’s solid presentation values. Beautiful graphics, especially for a mobile title, will make Shadowgun stand out, but there are a lot of great little touches, like some decently realized voice acting for the characters. It’s those smaller touches that can make mobile games feel like their bigger console counterparts.
Shadowgun follows the story of corporate mercenary John Slade, a lone-wolf gunslinger dispatched through space to bring in a fugitive scientist by the name of Dr. Simons. Absconding from his corporate overlords, Simons has set up refuge on a planet, where he has been experimenting on just about anyone unfortunate enough to encounter him. The result is a complex full of mutants and soldiers, along with robot defenses, that Slade has to fight through during the course of eight levels to get to Simons and stop him.
Players familiar with titles like Dead Space on iOS will have a feel for Shadowgun at the outset, because it controls pretty similarly on the iPhone. A virtual thumbstick is used on the left side to control Slade’s movements; sliding your thumb around the right side of the screen pans the camera and allows Slade to aim his many huge guns. Shadowgun is all about blasting things, but Slade is just one guy and can take a lot, but not unlimited, punishment. To protect him, players need to hide him behind chest-high walls and corners so he can take cover.
Madfinger’s use of easy-to-learn, simple touch controls makes picking up Shadowgun for the first time extremely easy, and its cover system requires exactly no time to understand. Just walk Slade toward something to duck behind and he ducks behind it; hit the fire button and he pops up and opens fire. Exiting cover is just as easy, with a forward push on the virtual stick sending Slade vaulting over the wall and a backward push having him step clear.
Most of the game that I played concerned Slade taking down targets of various types, usually taking cover just like he was. The solid cover system makes fighting a little more tactical than it might otherwise be, especially when Slade starts to acquire additional guns. I got hold of three different weapons by the end – a submachine gun, a shotgun and a grenade launcher – and once I had some options, I was able to do things like pop a grenade past an enemy’s cover to take him out before switching to a shotgun to blast explosive spider bots before they got too close, then finishing charging reinforcements from a distance with my SMG.
Though I only got to check out a few levels in the preview build, it seems that Shadowgun is destined to be one of those mobile games that represents another step forward in the evolution of bringing mobile gaming to legitimacy in the view of (most of) the gaming public. Mobile games still tend to be the ignored or under-valued stepchildren of video gaming, but there are quite a few titles that buck the trend and bring a full-on console or at least portable console experience to smartphones and tablets. Infinity Blade, with its tremendous graphics and simple touch controls, is one of them.
Shadowgun seems poised to do for guns and cover what Infinity Blade did for swordfighting. The game is like a snapshot of bigger video games, distilled into a mobile title that’s engaging and looks great, without being too difficult to play on a smartphone or too long and unwieldy for short burst play. Madfinger’s title is one you should keep an eye out for on Sept. 28.