The online shooter of the season, but does it have staying power?
Madfinger’s original Shadowgun was a flagship title in the push for “console-quality” mobile games. It was a solid – if hopelessly unoriginal – third person shooter in the vein of Gears of War, with some seriously amazing graphics and very high production values. Now the Czech developer has returned to the series with a multiplayer-exclusive spin-off called Shadowgun: DeadZone; a team-based cover-shooter that hopes to raise the bar for online action gaming on our phones.
DeadZone packs the same graphical splendor as its predecessor, and not a bit more. Once again using the impressive Unity engine, it has all the high-end rendering effects and moody colored lighting you’ve come to expect. DeadZone still doesn’t inject much personality, with hulking he-men toting big guns around industrial environments, but it does at least offer a somewhat greater variety of locales this time. It’s also worth noting that Madfinger has included manual graphics settings, a much-appreciated rarity in a world where most developers still assume players are too dumb to choose for themselves.
Clearly disappointed with the Android community’s infamously stingy ways, they’re looking for new ways to monetize, and they’ve decided to launch DeadZone as a free-to-play title on day one. While we all get frustrated with greedy freemium pay schemes, it just makes sense here, and the model follows Team Fortress 2 in a lot of ways, with silly hats and skins to tempt people to cough up money. Of course, there’s also upgrades to be grinded away, like you’d expect from Call of Duty, but you can still be effective with a basic loadout.
Launching for free also means a huge community right off the bat. Finding a game is effortless, although the matchmaking options are a bit basic, and – at least for now – there are hundreds of players no matter what time you log on. There are only two basic modes, the ubiquitous Deathmatch and a point-capture mode called Zone Control. Both allow up to 16 players to have it out, and during our tests on both WiFi and LTE connections, the experience was smooth and completely lag free the vast majority of the time, although we have seen others complain that they are not so lucky. Given that some players are likely on 3G, some amount of player-side lag is inevitable, but with a good connection it seems to be a non-issue most of the time.
Deathmatch is a bit of a disappointment. The game’s cover mechanics aren’t very relevant when enemies are coming from all directions, and the imprecise control afforded by a touch screen makes the chaos of this mode frustrating. It mostly matches the kind of fast and frenetic pace you expect from deathmatch games, but the format isn’t well suited to it, and those on handsets with hard controls like the Xperia Play likely have a huge advantage.
Zone Control fares much better. It should be instantly familiar to players of Day of Defeat, and features a series of capture points that can be claimed by a team by camping there for a certain time, and which allow players from that team to spawn there when captured. This creates a frontline for the battle, and makes cover, teamwork, and methodical progression important to success. This is less chaotic and more strategic, the kind of gameplay that merits continued play rather than a quick distraction.
DeadZone is most successful when it’s smart and methodical, which is why it’s disappointing that it doesn’t allow for more specialization. Although weapon upgrades allow players to find their own styles, and there are a handful of support items, there’s not much room for genuinely distinct roles on the battlefield like sniper or heavy, and it’s something that would work well here.
DeadZone has only just come out of beta, and if Madfinger offers the sort of expansions, tweaks, and additions that companies like Valve do, it could be very promising indeed. If, however, this is close to the final product, its general lack of depth and uninteresting deathmatch could prove insufficient to hold players’ attention. It’s a remakrable technical foundation, but DeadZone’s tale will be told in the coming weeks and months, as Madfinger either serves up fresh updates or allows their game to wither.
DeadZone lays some very solid groundwork, with a great engine, good networking, and lots of production value. But it needs to focus on methodical, strategic play and refine its modes and its upgrades to provide long-term depth.