Bad beyond a shadow of a doubt
The AI is relentless. It is reprogramming itself to wrest control of the station, and it appears on my comms to enlighten me as to what my fate will be. It appears as a “he” and, though polite, he carefully informs me that I am a little more than a virus to him – a bug that must be eradicated. What follows is nothing short of soul-crushing monotony and a host of poorly conceived control and mechanics issues that leave Neon Shadow feeling bogged down and nearly unplayable.
The evil AI has been a staple of sci-fi within the world of entertainment since 2001: A Space Odyssey‘s Hal was asked to open the pod bay doors. And yet, despite this well-worn material, the concept itself is rife with opportunity. Think to such classic gaming experiences as the Mother Brain of Chrono Trigger and you’ve got a recipe for multi-genre overlap. Unfortunately, any subject matter is only as good as its execution, and Neon Shadow is executed poorly.
Controls are of the virtual variety, an element that has certainly become common enough to be implemented well. The option to lock the virtual joystick to a static location is helpful enough, but the camera and shooting buttons rest right on top of one another: meaning you’ll either shoot when you wish to move, or vice-versa. Additionally, it is uncomfortable to switch between camera control and firing, and this often results in little choice beyond coming to a complete stop to survey your surroundings.
A learning curve is implied within the framework of today’s modern gaming experiences (especially mobile), but when enemies swarm from multiple directions and make movement impossible, all you can do is stand in one place, hope for the best, and curse your depleting health bar as you frantically try to locate that incoming fire, that ill-intentioned quad-copter, or what appears to be some sort of laser-mounted robotic vacuum cleaner.
It’s unclear whether the nefarious AI has re-engineered your foes or if you just happen to live on a space station that puts weapons on everything, but there are more robots out to kill you than you can shake a stick at, and the aforementioned poor control scheme means restart after restart after restart. Developer Tasty Poison Games has added a “spring-to” ability that snaps onto the nearest target during weapon fire, but this amounts to little more than the game playing for you, which, in turn, leads to thoughts on what the point might be.
There are various weapons to discover, but not a one of them comes with that “Ooooh!” gaming moment that an expanded arsenal usually provides. Interestingly enough, you’ll begin with a powerful shotgun – a weapon that usually comes much later in the gaming world. You’ll also unlock any number of other guns, but not a one of them is anything to write home about.
To its credit, Neon Shadow does provide multiplayer either online, LAN (with a handy IP search function) or same-device. The title’s saving grace, playing head to head with friends, is a blast: particularly same device, as trash talking reaches new levels when you can look into the eyes of your pal and tell him he sucks and stuff. Multiplayer also allows gamers to take a gander at the look of Neon Shadow, a feat that probably should have been accomplished in the campaign; it’s a great looking game on any screen from the iPhone to the iPad. It will also be available as an Ouya download, which we would imagine will make console gamers feel more at home given the obvious physical controller aspects.
While not the worst iOS FPS to come out of the App Store, Neon Shadow isn’t nearly as cool at its well-edited trailers would have us believe. Multiplayer (especially same-device) almost makes it worth it just so you can take on your friends, but a tired campaign jam-packed with control flaws and tedium means that those who wish to purchase the title might want to make sure their buddies have plans to do the same. Simply put, there are better options out there, and Neon Shadow is little more than a boring distraction wrapped in an OK-looking package.