Gameloft isn’t shy about its inspirations, and Shadow Guardian is no different. This is Uncharted for the iPhone. At least, in a technical sense. The game features a great mix of combat and puzzle solving, with plenty of interesting areas to explore. But it’s lacking heart. Because, unlike Uncharted, Shadow Guardian doesn’t feature a story or characters that you’ll really end up caring about. So while it’s technically a great game, filled with lots of exciting moments, it definitely feels like something is missing.
The game stars Jason Call, a poor man’s Nathan Drake and a treasure hunter in search of some mysterious statues. They’re especially mysterious since you don’t learn why he’s even searching for them until well into the game. But Jason isn’t the only one after these statues, naturally, as an evil mastermind is planning to collect them for his own nefarious reasons. And his daughter is helping Jason, for some reason. It’s a whole bunch of pulpy nonsense, filled with forgettable characters and dull dialog.
Just like the monkey bars.
But in spite of this, Shadow Guardian actually manages to present its story in a unique and interesting way. The game begins near the end, with Jason being interrogated. Whenever he’s asked a question about his past, you’ll get to relive the events by actually playing them. It’s a nice touch, though it would’ve been better had the story actually been interesting.
Jason’s adventures will take him across the globe, from snowy cliffs and cavernous mountains, to dry and dusty tombs. There’s a good amount of variety to the environments you’ll be exploring and they all look quite lovely. As for what you’ll be doing while in these environments, the gameplay generally breaks down into two main portions: climbing around solving puzzles and combat.
Kill extinct species.
Apparently Jason has some sort of monkey gene, as he’s not only able to jump incredible distances but also climb up virtually any surface. If you see some scaffolding, pipes, or even just a rocky cliff, chances are Jason wants to climb it. Climbing is pretty simple, and a little too automatic for our taste. You generally only have one direction to go, so getting there is simply a matter of moving Jason along a pre-set path. In fact, for a game about adventure, Shadow Guardian is disappointingly linear. There are giant red arrows that tell you where to go and there’s really not much room to just explore. There are pieces of treasure hidden in each stage, but there’s little incentive to actually find them.
The combat is based almost entirely around cover. Virtually every time you enter into a battle sequence, you’ll be greeted with plenty of objects to hide behind. Darting back and forth between these hiding spots is key, and Jason has some pretty solid aim and a wide range of weapons at his disposal. You’ll be fighting plenty of mercenary soldiers, as well as a whole bunch of strange mythical creatures like swamp monsters. The combat works for the most part, but in the rare situations where there isn’t any cover, things fall apart pretty quickly. The auto-aim is terrible in this situation, and the camera will fight with you every step of the way.
Facebook profile picture opportunity.
But while these two disparate game elements may not be the best on their own, they come together to create a mostly enjoyable experience. And that’s because Shadow Guardian is extremely well paced. The exploration sections are calm and quiet, while the combat is fast and frenetic. The combat serves as punctuation, providing quick bursts of action. And, as with any pulp adventure, Shadow Guardian is full of exciting moments. Fiery explosions, massive monsters, and even battles with tanks and helicopters. It’s the kind of stuff that’ll get your heart racing.
Shadown Guardian does almost everything right. It looks beautiful, it features wonderful pacing and great action sequences, and the combat is mostly satisfying. You’ll just need to look past the forgettable characters and plot, which do nothing to add to the sense of urgency that the game has. They actually take away from it. But while it lasts, Shadow Guardian is one of the better action adventures on the iPhone. It’s exciting and fun even if you can’t remember Jason Whatshisname.