Hands on with Ubisoft's upcoming mobile shooter Tom Clancy's ShadowBreak

Ubisoft has Clash Royale in its sights

Hands on with Ubisoft's upcoming mobile shooter Tom Clancy's ShadowBreak
| Tom Clancy's ShadowBreak

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The precise nature of Tom Clancy's ShadowBreak was a mystery to me right up until the moment I booted up this preview build. However, the game's carefully targeted genre mash-up quickly hit home.

Ubisoft's initial pitch for Tom Clancy's ShadowBreak must have been something along these lines: imagine Clash Royale with a serious Tom Clancy aesthetic (aka army dudes with guns), and with first person sniping added into the lane running mix.

After just a couple of hours with the resulting hybrid I'm left with the impression that Ubisoft has a tricky - though potentially rewarding - juggling act on its hands.

Bossy boots on the ground

Ubisoft isn't the only one trying to keep multiple balls in the air here. This is a game that requires excellent multitasking capabilities from its players.

Your primary role is to send various armed units into battle when the spawn timer on their card deems them ready. You also need to pick which of two lanes to attack or defend. There are several base stations along either lane, and an HQ at either end.

If either party takes that main base at any point, the game is won. If not, the number of sub-bases destroyed along the way will be totted up, and the one who took the most will emerge as the victor.

You'll encounter lots of different unit types, unlocked at random, that can superficially alter your approach - there are defensive units, offensive units, snipers, rocket launcher troops and more. But essentially you're trying to overload one side while defending the other.

Moving target

The other major part of the game is the direct shooty stuff. You view the battlefield from an elevated first person perspective at all times, and nudging the scope adjuster at the top right of the screen will raise your sniper rifle. Tap the right-hand fire button to take a shot.

Headshots score 50 percent more damage, and that proves essential to dropping certain heavily armoured units in a timely fashion.

It's also a good idea with the opposition player. Yes, you can indulge in your very own re-enactment of Enemy at the Gates across the battlefield with a string of real life opposition.

As such, it's possible - and indeed vital - to shift your position on the battlefield so as to avoid being an easy target for the other player. At this early point in the game I found the shift mechanic to be a little slow, but I suppose this is to stop its abuse. No-one likes a frog-hopping opponent in any competitive online genre.

Free fire

The various mechanics in Tom Clancy's ShadowBreak can seem overwhelming, and I can well see many newcomers lasting only a few rounds before they give up in frustration.

It's a lot to take in, and many times in the early stages of the game I didn't really see or comprehend where the battle had been won and lost - even on iPad, which I found to be the preferable platform for such a busy game.

That element could be further muddied by the game's freemium structure, which steadily levels your units up through timed loot box drops. Naturally, anyone who wants to progress faster can pay to speed this process up, or to buy more upgrades outright.

Only time, and our subsequent review, will tell if this structure proves damaging to the competitive experience. It's one of several delicate balancing acts that will need to be negotiated if Tom Clancy's ShadowBreak is to become an online multiplayer hit.