When it comes to third-person shooters for iOS, EA's Dead Space is the gold standard. Or it was, until now. Madfinger's Shadowgun has claimed the crown by offering some of the best visuals this side of an Xbox 360, and gameplay that's highly reminiscent of Gears of War. It is, in short, a glorious game, if not exactly original.
Actually, Shadowgun is original in that it was built for iOS, unlike, say, Dead Space, which has console origins. But the plot, setting, and gameplay don't exactly break any new ground.
As a mercenary for hire, guided over a com-link by an AI named S.A.R.A., it's your job to hunt down a mad scientist inside a massive research facility. Along the way, you'll face waves of gun-wielding mutants, the unfortunate test subjects of the aforementioned Dr. Cuckoo-bananas (nickname: mine).
It's all pretty standard run-and-gun fare, but with a heavy focus on duck-and-cover tactics. Your grunt can press himself up against walls, crouch behind barricades, and so on, peeking out just long enough to engage the enemy. Sound familiar, Gears of War fans?
There are times when the action gets a bit repetitive, especially in the early going, because it takes a while before you find new weapons or encounter new foes. Plus, some of the in-game dialogue is laughably corny. (Note to game designers: hire professional writers! I'm available.)
Of course, it's hard to fault all that when Shadowgun looks so flippin' gorgeous. Unlike a lot of first- and third-person shooters, which exhibit jagged edges and PlayStation 2-era blockiness, Shadowgun looks smooth and rounded. Colorful, too: no other iOS game makes better use of colored environments and lighting.
And those were my reactions from playing it on an iPad 1. According to the developer, the iPad 2 version features higher-resolution textures, 4x antialiasing, and faster overall performance. I'm hard-pressed to imagine the game looking even better, but there you go. (Anyone out there who can compare them side by side, let's hear from you in the comments!)
Make no mistake: the game looks stellar on an iPhone 4, too. But as with most shooters, I found the smaller screen too cramped and claustrophobic. Plus, your left thumb (used to control movement) tends to block too much of the action. I wouldn't let that stop you from buying the game, but it's something to be aware of.
Multiplayer has yet to be implemented, so I can't comment on that--but Madfinger says it's in the works.
Shadowgun sells for $7.99, a very reasonable price considering what you'd pay for a console game of the same quality. Although I think Dead Space offers a more compelling (and scarier) overall experience, Shadowgun is definitely worth owning--in part to see how good a game can look on your phone/tablet, and in part because it's the closest thing to Gears of War for iOS I've seen yet.