The success of a certain space marine simulator by Epic has resulted in a sub-genre of cover-based shooters with an enthusiasm for big shoulders and chest-high walls.
Among these Gears-'em-ups is Shadowgun. While it immediately strikes you as being graphically astounding for an Android or iOS release, you could be forgiven for feeling dubious about how well it will control.
On iPad, the touch controls work surprisingly well, resulting in a near triple-A quality shooter. It’s a shame the same can’t be said for the Xperia Play release, as behind the wobbly control scheme lies a great action game.
Call a Slade a Slade
One of the game’s lush cut-scenes introduces you as bounty hunter and Bruce Willis doppelganger John Slade. You’ve been contracted to bring in a rogue scientist from a distant research facility, which is incidentally crawling with cyborgs, mutants, and aggressive robots – all the products of the bounty’s unethical experiments.
While John Slade is still very much a space marine type steeped in machismo, he’s also just deadpan and blasé enough to come across as likeable (even if his sarcasm can occasionally be a little bit annoying).
When Slade summarises what's happening via radio to his support-bot S.A.R.A, he's often genuinely funny. “What happened, John?” she enquires after an early boss fight with the ‘Lobsterbot’. “I had to fight a giant robot shaped like a lobster,” he states plainly, without an ounce of emotion.
Shadows and dust
While the quality of the story has its ups and downs, the fidelity of the visuals is irreproachable. Astonishingly, the game manages to look as good on Xperia Play as it does on a big bad tablet, without suffering any lag or drop in texture quality. It’s undoubtedly the best-looking shooter you’ll find on the device.
The environments are well-lit and varied enough in presentation, although the actions within these corridors can often feel formulaic. The storyline delivered through S.A.R.A and the cut-scenes often feels like an excuse for Mr Slade to find and press one of any number of identical door buttons, or to fetch keycards.
To combat this simplistic approach to progress there's the occasional hacking mini-game. These involve only a brief exercise in memorisation and utilising the touchscreen well, but they also provide enough variety between gunfights.
Ah, the gunfights. This is where Shadowgun really disappoints. The controls are sadly a huge issue when it comes to dealing with the mutant army intermittently sent to crush you.
The movement mapped to the left touchpad is fluid enough, even if it takes a few minutes to get used to the sticky cover mechanic. But the aiming, mapped to the right touchpad, is completely botched to the point where it becomes a chore trying to accurately hit your targets.
Even when the aiming scheme is changed to the more accompanying ‘Static Move Pad’ mode in the settings, it still presents major difficulty. This is a real pity, since so much of the gunning around requires quick reflexes and precision aiming.
Enemies are often hiding far away, while a number of them adopt kamikaze tactics that force you to stay on your toes and react super-quickly. On a bigger screen and with better controls this means bigger fights present a satisfying challenge. On the Xperia Play it means this combat becomes completely obstructive as the over-delicate aiming makes it almost impossible to dispatch foes with any panache or efficiency.
Crashing out of the game is also a problem, as it is on the iPad version. And there are a couple of bugs to deal with, including one case of us falling through the floor (although this appears to have been fixed in a recent update).
We would like to say that these flaws don’t detract from this otherwise stellar-looking and markedly interesting shooter but sadly that isn’t true. The aiming itself upsets the game significantly and makes it a lot less of a joy to play.
All this isn’t to say there isn’t a great game hiding in Shadowgun. You’ll just have to endure a lot to get it to come out from behind cover.
Want more? Check out our growing collection of Shadowgun articles!