The future in videogames is always shiny and new, as much as it is exciting and deadly. Sounds like a perfect time for alien invasions and death-defying Reality Shows, wouldn’t you agree? Such is the foundation of Madfinger’s mobile first-person shooter Shadowgun: Legends.
Behind its looks of futuristic shooter lies a game that harkens back to the old days, to a time when id Software was on top of its game. Doom is clearly one of the inspirations for Shadowgun: Legends fast-paced gameplay, but the art style is unquestionably inspired by Bungie’s Halo and Destiny games. However, this would be underestimating Madfinger Games’ hard work and experience in the genre, delivering a game that stands on its own merits and a fine example of the progress that mobile shooters have made in recent years.
The Stuff of Legends?
Legends is the latest game in the Shadowgun series, with the next chapter already in the works. Titled Shadowgun: War Games, it will take the series further down the team-based competitive path, while Legends boasts a full-fledged single-player campaign that takes you through four different planets with over 200 missions in total. There is enough content to keep you happily entertained until you decide to jump with both feet into the gritty multiplayer modes.
The story, if I can call it that, blends the tragedy and horror of alien invasions with the moral ambiguity of Reality Shows, where there are no boundaries for what is exposed – even massacres of thousands of people by the Torment, the alien menace, were televised. You will be saving the galaxy as much as you’ll work your way to become a Rockstar warrior thanks to the Fame system – as you complete missions, your performance will be ranked, rewarding you with Fame points in the process. Stop showing up in the game and your Fame will decrease – this makes complete sense.
Fame points allow you to compare your worldwide ranking with other players, and it is something that runs in tandem with your experience points, which are required to progress in the campaign. It also unlocks small cosmetic things that contribute to the Reality Show side of the game, such as these little drones taking your picture, or the announcer that mentions your return to the hub. Ultimately, you can even get a statue of your image at rank 20, so that is an enjoyable goal to aim for.
Shadowgun: Legends is heavily based around loot – copious amounts of loot. There is a Power level which is based on the gear that you wear and trust me, you will be changing armor and weapons pretty much every other mission. Your inventory will always be cluttered with weapons, armor parts, colored holograms, color sprays and stickers, all this contributing to your ravishing style and Power rating. There is so much to collect and at the same time the trivial improvements to your gear almost feel ludicrous, but your brain tells you otherwise, that this has turned into an obsession and you absolutely must continue picking up every item you come across. It becomes addictive and builds into your collecting crave without you noticing or caring – all in a good, fun way.
Hub is Where the Heart is
All recruits begin their battle against the Torment in the hub area. Often crowded and bursting with life, neon signs and billboards, this is the place where you will spend your time when you are not fighting. A handful of vendors are waiting for you with their wares and mission requests: Pedro is there for all your Decoding and Epic Gear needs; Slade is the man for the Missions and Tasks; Big Red buys and sells Armor and Cosmetics; Willow prefers to buy and sell Weapons and Styling; Hakim is your choice for Sponsors and Challenges; Nitro is the go-to guy for everything PvP-related; Finally, S.A.R.A. is an android and bartender that serves you some drinks and also throws some side-quests your way.
Shadowgun: Legends handles in-game currency in an interesting way. You earn a daily salary, but you can also earn more through sponsorship deals according to your Fame rating, a clever mechanic to spice up the Reality Show side of things. You can go to Hakim to pick a sponsor from the ones that you have unlocked, and this will provide you with a guaranteed cash stream subject to the terms agreed. For example, one sponsor may earn you 1,000 per hour, while other will net you 3,835 per day. It’s easy to see which one is more profitable, just do the math.
The hub is a small place but has everything that any Legend would need right at his fingertips. As your Fame grows, new options are unlocked. There is a bar, aptly titled Bar of War, for you to quench your thirst, and the casino is the place to go if you have a lot of cash and gold to spare – if you are a big spender on lucky wheels and slots, you may even gain access to the VIP area. I won a round or two on the slot machines but lost way more, so there is probably a real-life lesson in here somewhere.
Drinks and food may not amount to much at first, but there is something to it that you will eventually discover. There isn’t much to say about beer, but it’s laudable that Madfinger decided to add it into the game – drink a few too many and you will become tipsy, something that carries into the actual shooting part of the game, with wobbly controls and higher aim difficulty. Just don’t dismiss this as some sort of superfluous developer whim, as other items may give you some buffs such as accuracy and critical damage boosts. In fact, eat too many burgers and other food and your character will eventually become fat – true story, and a detail that is mind-blowing to me, considering that we are talking about a mobile FPS.
As you level up, you earn skill points to unlock the skill tree, which is divided into three categories: combat, survival and agility. Each one has a subset of skills, both passive and active (you can have two of these), also upgradeable, but this time with cold, hard in-game cash.
No matter how enticing those top skills in each category may seem, I just love my first active skill – the Sentry Gun was a case of love at first sight and it has remained at my side during all these fierce battles against the Torment. Deploying this turret works wonders as a lethal distraction and allows me to flank my enemies, avoiding their fire while doubling my firepower from different angles. For the more powerful aliens, the Sentry Gun almost feels like a mandatory skill, and don’t even get me started with its worth in the co-op arena.
‘I’d Say Good Luck, But You Won’t Need It’
But what about the actual game, I hear you ask? The parts where you get to the meat of the matter, shooting those Torment creatures out of their misery? Well, you’re in for a good time, as Shadowgun: Legends is one of the best examples of the genre that you can try on mobile devices. This is a game that was clearly polished to the brim, tried and tested to exhaustion so that you could get a satisfying, rewarding gameplay that keeps you coming back for more.
Shadowgun: Legends feels like those old-school first-person shooters where fun and immediacy are two factors of utmost importance. It’s old-fashioned, no-nonsense run and gun gameplay with a smooth learning curve and ditches unnecessary knick-knacks for the sake of fun. The lack of a jump or crouch button may seem weird and even restrictive, but it works in favor of a cleaner map design and an intuitive, uncluttered interface. The downside is that the maps feels somewhat basic and dull, without a trace of actual verticality apart from your typical flight of stairs. If I didn’t know, I would say that most maps were procedurally generated.
The same goes for mission objectives, which quickly repeat themselves. Support your fellow soldiers, destroy breeders or some other contraption, eliminate all the Torment fighters and so on, it’s standard stuff and doesn’t do any favors to the already paper-thin story, which you can only read during loading screens and quest logs anyway. The few hacking moments will quickly get on your nerves instead of providing some much-needed variety to the missions. There are some occasional attempts at humor that may go unnoticed for the most part, but you will probably catch some references such as this streamer that you need to rescue. His name? DiePewDie. Rings any bell? Is he really worth all the trouble?
However, the undeniable old-school feel and the short length of the missions (between 5 to 10 minutes) is perfect and stops the pending threat of boredom from creeping in. This is also ideal for quick bursts here and there, a bit of grinding when you have a few minutes to waste. You can almost hear Shadowgun: Legends inviting you to speed-run through its missions, as it feels like it was designed precisely for that – and you do your best to end the missions as quickly as possible, as if driven by this invisible force. In fact, it’s just your experience in similar games and that Fame rating that are messing with your subconscious.
We Will Need a Bigger Backpack
Shadowgun: Legends thankfully avoids the pitfall that is common in mobile games, which is the unnerving and off-putting energy system. There is nothing in this game that will prevent you from playing as much as you want, grinding missions for as long as you see fit. The only thing that will somewhat slow down your progress is the limited inventory space, but this is far from a problem – all it requires is some juggling, with recurrent selling of unnecessary items after each mission.
Your initial inventory is limited to 16 slots and 6 backpack slots. Trouble comes mostly during the missions when your reduced backpack size will force you to make decisions on the go. If this becomes a real issue, any real cash purchase that you make in the store will grant you over a hundred inventory slots plus four backpack slots, so you will be spending a few bucks to support a great game and get rid of this limitation. It’s the definition of a convenience item, as it doesn’t bring you any true advantage over other players, and you will need to make room for all those holograms that Pedro is just dying to decode.
There isn’t much to add to what I’ve said above – the old-school flavor and fast, nervous gameplay is almost beyond reproach. Where the game falters is in its map design, which often feels bland and unimaginative.
As far as the shooting goes, you can carry three weapons with you and switch between them easily. Each one feels just about right, with a nice sense of weight and recoil. Exploding barrels are littered almost everywhere, one more staple of old-school shooters that was carried into this game.
The enemies aren’t entirely dumb – well, apart from their persistent idea of invading Earth, that is. They try to seek cover and sidestep to avoid bullets, but it is clearly based on simple routine behavior instead of a proper glimpse of AI that reacts to our actions. So, it’s not unusual to see them hiding with most of the body and head in plain sight or standing happily next to one of those useful red barrels. The Torment are, above all, strength in numbers.
Apart from the main campaign, there are other co-op and competitive modes to test your wit in Shadowgun: Legends. The straightforward Duel is probably the weakest of the bunch, as it doesn’t give you much room to try interesting strategies, but things change entirely when you get into the 4v4 Team PvP, either Elimination or Ascendancy. The Arena (divided into Bronze, Silver and Gold stages, unlocked according to your experience level) is the place for you and your team to try and survive five waves of deadly Torment soldiers. This mode gets incredibly hectic, teamwork is vital and the number of explosions and units on screen are quite impressive. Last but not least, there are a few dungeons for you to tackle cooperatively, such as The Voltaic Fist, where you have to activate a few switches and find your way to the huge boss – unlike the traditional missions, this dungeon may take up to 30 minutes for you to complete, way less if you know what you are doing, since the first playthrough will mostly consist of you and your friends running around like headless chickens, completely stumped as to where those switches are.
There isn’t much that screams “brand new” in Shadowgun: Legends. The Reality Show twist is probably its most original element, as it doesn’t feel tacked on or redundant, quite on the contrary. As for the rest of the game, it’s standard shooter fare combined with grinding that Destiny fans will surely feel comfortable with.
Learning Curve: 8/10
Shadowgun: Legends tackles the always challenging matter of touchscreen controls with confidence and poise. It explains you the basics and allows you to explore at your own pace, without ever feeling like you are going over your head.
Graphics / Sound: 8/10
Shadowgun: Legends’ hub looks good; great, in fact. Unfortunately, the mission environments, while still polished and high quality, are far from the same attention to detail. Mostly to blame is the excessive asset reuse, which in fact reminded me of the exact same problem with the first Halo games. The maps needed more diversity, something other than the reused metallic plates that make up most of the missions, or the arid settings that get tired quickly. As for the weapons, they are nicely done and feature some cool reload animations. A few bosses are of impressive stature, such as the Voltaic Fist.
The soundtrack is extremely subtle and never gets on your nerves, unlike the one-liners from our main character. Sort of a run-of-the-mill Duke Nukem, our leading man (or woman) will constantly repeat himself and his badass attitude, until the point that your brain has learned to completely ignore his quips. On the other hand, weapon sounds have a nice ring to them, significantly contributing to the correct feel of the shooting.
Value for Money: 9/10
Shadowgun: Legends is a free-to-play game and a very generous one at that. There are no energy systems or timers, you play for as long as you feel like and with no pay barriers in sight. You can avoid all the cumbersome inventory management if you purchase additional slots, but even without this, it’s a pleasure to play.
Shadowgun: Legends is a great mobile shooter that trades complexity in favor of sharp controls and immediate fun. It’s great to play in short bursts as to avoid boredom sinking in, and the Reality Show wrapping gives the whole a more consistent, rewarding package. Level design, however, is severely lacking and is one of the aspects that prevents Shadowgun: Legends from being exactly that: Legendary.
• Perfect shooting in bite-sized chunks
• Accomplished Reality Show dressing
• Impressive amount of loot
• Nice variety of multiplayer modes
• No restrictive timers or energy systems
• Lackluster map design
• Paper-thin story