Uncharted with training wheels
While a good number of genres have managed to meet with tremendous success on the App Store, the third-person action adventure has been a tough act to pull off for most developers. Gameloft, however, has been one of the few names that have managed to make it work – and Shadow Guardian is no exception.
Like many of Gameloft’s original releases, Shadow Guardian seems to fall under the “Gameloft does” school of game design. While N.O.V.A. is “Gameloft does Halo” and Eternal Legacy is “Gameloft does Final Fantasy,” Shadow Guardian is Gameloft’s not-so-subtle attempt to copy Naughty Dog’s popular Uncharted series. That’s right – you can file this one under “Gameloft does Uncharted.”
Gameloft’s habit of emulation isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It usually turns out some substantial games, and Shadow Guardian can easily be counted amongst them. Shadow Guardian tells the tale of Jason Call, an adventurer whose memory is being pieced back together a villain who is keeping him captive. The game plays out in flashbacks that double as Call’s recovered memories. The bad guy is after something called the Prima Materia, and it turns out the key to it is locked away in Call’s mind.
Admittedly, the story is largely forgettable. Both the writing and the voice acting here are fairly weak, yet they manage to serve their purpose in providing a basic explanation for the various locations that you’ll visit during the game.
Like Uncharted, Shadow Guardian offers two distinct elements of gameplay; exploration and combat. During the exploration sections, players will find themselves scaling objects, solving environmental puzzles, and taking Prince of Persia style leaps and dangles. This makes up the vast majority of the game, only occasionally being broken up by brief combat segments that pit you against the villain’s evil army of mercenaries.
Combat ends up feeling nearly identical to what players will find in Uncharted, albeit a little smaller in scope. Armed with whatever weapons you pick up along the way, players will take cover behind objects, zoom in to aim, and collect ammo from the leftovers. While critics have been quick to lament the controls during combat, they managed to feel comfortable, responsive, and accurate in this reviewer’s hands. So long as you duck behind cover and switch in and out of aiming mode regularly, you’ll find that your actions move just as fast as your enemies.
If there is one problem with Shadow Guardian, it’s that the game insists on holding your hand the entire time. Games of this nature are always at their best when players can explore their surroundings and attempt to figure out what they’ll need to do next to proceed. Shadow Guardian does away with that element completely, instead opting for big red arrows to spell out exactly where you need to be.
Even worse, puzzle solutions are almost always given to you before you have a chance to investigate them. “There’s something with these fires,” the game will explain as you enter a room. When the solution is nothing more than walking up to the fire and pressing the action button, all of the challenge and fun gets drained right out of the game.
Similarly, the game insists on telling you where to go during exploration sections. “Onto the statue now.” “You’ll need to go down.” These cues are given to you long before you’d ever have a chance to figure these things out for yourself – and figuring them out for yourself only takes moments.
Towards the end of the game this hand holding finally starts to disappear, giving you a glimpse of how much more enjoyable things can be when you don’t have an over-attentive babysitter spoiling your every next move.
Visually the game tends to be a tad inconsistent, but for the most part the environments look downright stunning. A great deal of love and care went into making each stage feel unique. City streets, Egyptian temples, underwater palaces – the level of detail in most every aspect of this game was commendable. By contrast, you’d occasionally stumble across some elements that looked underdeveloped and out of place, like a statue you’ll climb on that looks almost fuzzy, or chains that, when viewed from a particular angle, appear paper thin.
Even though the game insists on holding your hand, Shadow Guardian ended up being terrific fun. Thanks to some beefed up combat towards the end, there’s even a good deal of challenge to be had for those who make it that far. It may not be everything Uncharted fans will want in a portable experience, but it’s close enough that they’ll want to be sure to pick this one up.