Welcome to the lag show.
Calling Shadowgun: DeadZone a work in progress is quite an understatement. Its developer, Madfinger Games, admitted as much on its Facebook page. For now, the game is more like a proof of concept, a roadmap detailing what the studio may achieve with subsequent updates, one of which has already been submitted to Apple. This notwithstanding, what we have is a third person shooter that takes place within the futuristic world first introduced in the original single-player Shadowgun, where up to 12 players battle it out across two modes (Deathmatch, Zone Control) and a handful of maps.
On that note, let's start with the good. DeadZone's graphics look great, and help drive home the opinion that Madfinger is among a small group of companies that manage to squeeze the most power from iOS and Android devices. From the intricately designed stages to rippling muscles on the game's 10 playable characters, the visuals put this title in great company, including the developer's own zombie-filled blast-a-thon, Dead Trigger.
Next up, connection speeds. We've yet to encounter problems locating matches, then jumping into the action. Granted, DeadZone has a habit of locating games with just a couple minutes to go, but the tradeoff involves finishing that match and just sticking with ones that come after it.
Then we have weapon and equipment trees. Instead of providing a bunch of guns from the start, everyone begins with the same basic assault rifle, then gradually levels up to unlock shotguns, launchers and more sci-fi fare; this also extends to grenades. This ties into DeadZone's free-to-play nature, so expect to earn virtual currency from grinding through matches with the ever-present option of buying more cash through in-app purchase. No big surprise, as we've seen this in other games before, but the concept works quite well; we strongly suggest upgrading to a superior weapon ASAP.
Finally, the actual gameplay. To be fair, seasoned multiplayer vets won't find much, if anything, new to mess around with, but being able to engage in vicious firefights with near console quality graphics, on a smartphone or tablet no less, is a sight to behold. Yes, we've all played Deathmatch countless times before in other games, and no, that doesn't mean it is somehow diminished in this one. We still have one heck of a good time chucking grenades at unsuspecting prey while spinning around to pelt some other victim with bullets, or hitting red fuel tanks to blow them up.
Now onto the not so good, starting with the lag, without question a serious issue. Depending on connection speeds, players literally teleport around the maps, during which, you can never really tell if the damage you inflict registers. We'd like to say this happens every once and a while, but it's literally every single match.
On top of that, voice chat doesn't work so well, if at all. This would be easier to excuse if it came standard, but in order to access it, you must pay a small fee to unlock a premium version of the game.
Other complaints are minor. The roadie run, clearly pulled from Gears of War, doesn't allow you to change direction during this burst of speed, making it mostly useless as you encounter walls. You also can't rapidly chuck a grenade after quickly removing your thumb from the shooting button. Prepare for a lot of cheap deaths.
Taking all of this into account, it's clear that Shadowgun: DeadZone provides a salty and sweet experience. On one hand, you have free 10-person multiplayer in the palm of your hand that'll work wherever there's an accessible Wi-Fi connection. On the other, the game is somewhat of a buggy mess. It's absolutely worth downloading, as you stand only to lose time and 153MB of hard drive space, but considering Madfinger's past accomplishments, and lessons that should have been learned, we expected more. That said, we're curious to see how DeadZone evolves in the months ahead.
What's Hot: Ten-person multiplayer, a variety of weapons, no trouble jumping into matches, acceptable respawn times, impressive visuals, free-to-play.
What's Not: An excessive amount of lag, useless roadie run, no fast switching between weapon firing and grenade throwing, voice support practically broken.