Since my inaugural journey down the demon-infested hallways of Mars, trusty shotgun at my side, I’ve been an FPS addict. I once accompanied a friend on a last minute quest to secure a copy of Halo 2 on its release day, which involved me driving a stick shift in England, which not only means driving on the opposite side, but an alternate side for everything; pedals, stick shift, etc. I related this tale of white-knuckled terror, dear reader, only so that you know when I say that Neon Shadow is the first tablet FPS I’ve ever played that really grabbed me, it’s not a statement to be taken lightly.
The problem I’ve always had was controls. The dual analog stick or keyboard/mouse combo provides you with a certain accuracy and reliability of input that I had yet to experience on an Android device. Rather than clutter up the interface with buttons and options, Neon Shadow opts for the elegant simplicity that hearkens back to its ancestors. You move with the left hand, aim and fire with the right. There’s a small degree of auto aim that assists you just enough to keep the experience from being too frustrating. Unfortunately from time to time it can hinder you; as with most FPS games there are certain explosive barrels arranged haphazardly throughout the level. On several occasions I was attempting to shoot a barrel that was surrounded by robots, but the autoaim dragged my reticle away.
If you asked what new trails Neon Shadow blazed, or how it truly distinguished itself from dozens of similar games, I’d be hard pressed to give a more cogent answer than “it was just really, really fun”. A sci-fi cliché makes up the central plot; you’re a soldier dispatched to investigate unusual activity on a space station. Of course the AI has gone rogue and developed sentience, which always amounts to homicidal urges. The gameplay is generally fast-paced; dodging laser fire and blasting back at your metal foes has a frantic appeal that gives you that tingling thrill where you’re convinced you’d make a great space marine. There are only four guns, but they each occupy a different niche, so you’ll find yourself switching back and forth depending on the scenario and number of enemies you’re facing. Aurally the game is a bit refreshing. I’m used to hearing some very familiar sounds when it comes to gun fire and explosions, but Neon Shadow has some different effects to offer. The soundtrack is that strange mix of ambient sound and vaguely industrial rock that works so well in an atmospheric space opera setting.
If you could somehow breeze through on luck and bravado, the campaign likely wouldn’t take you much more than an hour, but the game is too hard to permit a sheerly run-and-gun approach. While quick reflexes are definitely favored, there is a certain degree of target prioritization and strategy required, especially when the game introduces the walking mech enemies. They’re so powerful in fact that the first time I came across one I was almost convinced it was the final boss, especially since it was the only foe I faced on the level.
Much of the time spent playing the game comes from the fact that even early levels aren’t necessarily a breeze. Stroll too cavalierly into a room and you may find yourself out of health in moments. There are health powerups throughout the levels, but they’re not as plentiful as they could be. Dying comes with a somewhat harsh penalty; you restart the level, whether you got offed in the first room or only a few steps from the exit. Each stage is long enough to make restarting a bit of an annoyance if it happens too often, but Neon Shadow was one of those games. You know the type. You’d be frustrated and convinced that you needed a break, but five minutes later you were at it again.
In true oldschool style each level has secrets to find and a set number of enemies. At the end of each level you’re given a breakdown of how you did and an overall score, so those who obsessively strive for completion will have a lot of reasons to dive back into the campaign. In addition to a single player campaign and a split screen co-op, the game has an online competitive multiplayer. There’s only one mode, a free-for-all deathmatch with up to four players. I wish I could say great things about the multiplayer, because it’s a frenetic experience but unless you know three other people with android devices and a copy of the game, it’s going to be hard to get a full match going. Using the automatic match function I was only ever able to get two games going, with one other player per match. The single player experience is worth playing the game for on its own, but a robust multiplayer would propel the game onto the ‘must play’ list for everyone.
Neon Shadow channels the spirit of Doom and to some degree even more modern complex titles like Destiny 2. A fun slightly retro art style combined with addictive challenge and the potential for a fantastic multiplayer experience make it a must-buy for FPS fans and a hearty recommendation for any other hardcore Android gamers.