Hardware makers and software developers are starting to turn the iPad into a full-fledged gaming console. Once home to little more than Angry Birds and other casual games, the iPad (and iOS devices in general) have started playing host to more ‘serious’ games in previous months. One of those games is ShadowGun, a third-person shooter that challenges the idea that the iPad can’t be a full console.
How does it work? Is ShadowGun an admirable effort, or a genuinely enjoyable experience? Those are the questions that I would like to answer today.
You’re in control of a guy. He talks to his computer, and his computer has a bit of an attitude. You shoot things. Really, that’s about all that you need to know in order to enjoy ShadowGun.
ShadowGun is a powerful game that takes full advantage of the opportunities afforded by the iPad. Not content with slapping a virtual joystick on the screen and calling it a day, the developers have incorporated touch in a meaningful yet unintrusive way.
Movement is controlled by sliding your thumb around anywhere on the left side of the screen. This creates an analog stick that will follow your movements, and if you lift your thumb from the screen and place it somewhere else the analog stick will reposition itself. This is handy if you’re moving your hands around to get a better grip on the iPad or if you’ve just tapped something in the environment. In my tests movement was fairly smooth, controlling much better than I had originally expected.
This screen allows you to customize the controls if, say, you have mammoth hands and need more room.
Other actions are handled by taps, both of items on screen and the virtual buttons to the right. Luckily the buttons for shooting and reloading can be moved, as I found their default positions made it difficult to aim your gun (handled similar to movement, but on the right side of the screen) and often resulted in misfires. By moving the buttons into a comfortable position the game can control much better, stopping you from wasting ammo.
The fire button will change if you get close to an object you can interact with, and there will be a large icon on screen that you can tap directly instead of interacting with through a button.
Doesn't anyone lock the doors in their secret lair?
While I appreciate the ability to tap things in the environment, I found that I would often keep my hand anchored in the bottom right corner and tap the button instead. I can see why this would appeal to some people as it makes better use of the touch screen, but I found that moving my hand around constantly wasn’t comfortable.
In all I found the controls to be comfortable, and after a little bit of customization everything went smoothly. I was skeptical at first, given how bad I am at shooters even when I have physical buttons (don’t you judge me!) but ShadowGun handled admirably.
Duck and Cover
An important part of the game is cover. Standing around and shooting something wouldn’t work in the real world, and game developers have been incorporating this into their games more and more often for the past few years. ShadowGun stresses the importance of cover straight from the beginning, so if you’re more into the run-and-gun style of gameplay this may not be for you.
You'll be spending a lot of time ducking behind some metal hoping that the red circles will go away.
Not only can your character hide behind cover, but enemies will as well. They’ll shoot around corners, duck behind the same types of cover, and use some flanking tactics to try and flush you out. They aren’t impervious to damage, though, as they’ll often leave a tiny part of their body (or head) exposed, allowing you to shoot them if you take the time to aim. This keeps gameplay balanced, and turns firefights into tactical affairs.
If I were to hide behind something with the intent of living, I would make sure my head wasn't visible.
It gets interesting once enemies start destroying your cover. You’ll have to run like mad to get to another hiding spot, and hope that you aren’t killed on your way over. ShadowGun really manages to keep you on your toes.
That’s One Big…Robot
While most fights are against common enemies, every so often you’ll come up against a boss fight in your travels. I found that they weren’t too hard to defeat so long as you follow the same ‘duck-and-cover’ tactics employed against normal enemies.
I had more problems with this small fry than I did with the first boss.
The first boss fight is against a giant crab-thing, and I found that by ducking in cover right in front of a never-ending supply of ammo, popping up every now and then could damage it without taking any damage in return. The crab will fire missiles that detonate harmlessly behind you, making what could have been an exciting battle more of a ‘duck, duck, shoot!’ waiting match.
ShadowGun is excellent looking, there’s no denying that. Madfinger Games have managed to bring a console-quality experience to the iPad (and iPhone) and that’s no small feat. With advanced lighting, tight controls, and fairly compelling gameplay, ShadowGun is well worth the low cost of admission.
Unfortunately, the game is far from perfect. Firefights will get repetitive, making the game feel like a grind at times. I see little reason to play the game more than once in its current state, so at most you’re looking at around six hours for your money. That’s almost a buck an hour, which isn’t bad, but is less than what other games will bring.
I'm sure you get the connection.
I’d have loved to see a bit more variety with the game. I enjoyed the main mode, but some challenges would have made it much more exciting. A multiplayer mode is almost a necessity in this day and age, and while one may be in the works, there isn’t currently a way to play the game with your friends.
As a game, ShadowGun is enjoyable but a bit shallow. Fortunately, in some ways, ShadowGun is less of a game and more of a proof of idea.
The Future of iOS Gaming
ShadowGun, to me, represents the future of gaming on iOS. No longer is the App Store home to games that have little to no depth or technical skill; the App Store is a viable platform for blockbuster titles. With ShadowGun, it’s been proven that you can make a console-quality game for the iPhone and iPad.
More developers should follow. Despite its lack of polish, ShadowGun is fairly popular and can serve as excellent motivation for others to develop excellent games. I’m excited to see what the future can hold, and that’s where ShadowGun really clicks for me.
Play it, if only to get a taste for what is capable on the iPad, and to get more excited at what can be possible once the platform continues to mature.