Giving players vertigo on their mobile is quite a skill, but the dizzying chasms you navigate in Shadow Guardian - often with feet dangling helplessly over the abyss - nearly pull it off.
Gameloft’s ‘tribute’ to PS3 phenomenon Uncharted excels in building vast, often beautiful environments for you to leap confidently around like a backpack-sporting Prince of Persia, but fumbles its gunplay like an early Lara Croft.
Call-ing out for a hero
Jason Call, who looks uncannily similar to Uncharted’s Nathan Drake but lacks his charisma and wry humour, is a tomb raider of peerless talent, who somehow finds himself captured by sinister villain Novik.
The impatient, perpetually-pacing bad guy has Call hooked up to an Assassin’s Creed-style memory jogging machine, forced to replay his greatest exploits so Novik can search for clues to the location of a legendary artefact.
There a seven generously sized memories (or chapters) to leap, run, and gun your way through, and there’s nary a dull moment to be had within Shadow Guardian’s lavish environments - bar the untaxing puzzles.
From the rocky tropical beauty of an Indonesian rainforest to ancient temples lit by flames and God Rays creeping through stone cracks, the game is a feast for the eyes and definitely one to showcase your Android’s graphical prowess.
Navigating Call between outcroppings, ledges, and rickety scaffolding is also a breeze thanks to Gameloft’s finely honed combination of virtual joypad for movement, swipes for looking around, and tap icons to handle actions.
By default, the camera tracks Call’s movements in third-person wherever he goes.
Helpfully, it also swoops around new environments to highlight climbing routes and points of interests for the basic ‘pull levers in sequence’ puzzles.
The camera switches to a dynamic mode whenever our hero finds himself at potentially lethal highlights, creating a sense of vertiginous peril even when a fatal fall is impossible due to the hand-holding design.
Trapped in the chamber
The fluidity of controlling Call comes a cropper, however, when enemies hove into view.
Irrespective of whether you're battling machine gun-toting mercenaries or hideous monsters, combat in Shadow Guardian is a clunky, unrewarding affair.
Call can theoretically dive into cover, blind fire with his back safely to the wall, aim down iron sights for extra accuracy, or perform melee moves whenever enemies stray too close.
In practice, though, it’s all too easy to find the controls failing at crucial points.
In the thick of combat, which ramps up as the game progresses, it’s dangerously common for Call to leap into cover instead of whacking a bad guy or auto aiming at a wall when a giant beetle is about to land on him.
It’s not too much of a problem early on, when enemies are happy to keep their distance, but Shadow Guardian’s later chapters and drawn-out boss battles require dexterity often beyond the capacity of current gen touchscreens.
If you don’t mind wrestling with the clumsy cover shooting controls, Gameloft’s title remains a gorgeous Android game that’s a joy to explore.
Hopefully the sequel will boast brainier puzzles and less mindless combat.
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