iDevice FPS games whose App Store descriptions brag about a “Console-quality experience” rarely offer what they promise. Such titles, largely including Gameloft’s past shooter offerings, copy the bullet-point aesthetics of current-gen shooters, but when it comes to gameplay, bear little resemblance to them. On the surface, Modern Combat 2 featured near-identical visual and sound-design to Modern Warfare 2, but was a thrill-free corridor crawl once you got over the excitement of almost playing Call of Duty on your phone.
So when it was announced that a Rainbow Six title was heading to the App Store, I was immediately wary. If it was hard to bring the linear intensity of Call of Duty to mobile devices, converting the input-heavy and substantially more complex Rainbow Six seemed damn close to impossible.
And while Rainbow Six: Shadow Vanguard has a number of flaws holding it back, the core game actually succeeds in mimicking its console counterpart better than any other FPS on the App Store.
The story is the usual terrorists-get-super-weapon fare we have all become as accustomed to as breathing oxygen, but is presented withsurprising authenticity: Characters complaining about the European Union’s bureaucratic ways and Congolese rebel enemies talking about how they “would like to go to school one day” paints the eventsof the game in a believable light, despite the age-old premise.
The feeling of real-worldliness hardly elevates the plot to greatness, but spares it of potential sighs during the cut-scenes. At its core however, the plot is still an excuse to travel the world, booting down doors and introducing terrorists to newly formed holesin their bodies, and here the game fares quite well.
Shadow Vanguard plays very similarly to the Vegas games; you control the leader of a three-man team, locking to cover, gunning down foes and ordering your two sidekicks to open doors, take cover, or kill enemy soldiers of their own. Annoyingly however, you cannot give individual commands to your teammates, resulting in them constantly sticking together like a pair of Siamese twins. It is forgivable given that individual command options would further fill up the already-cluttered touch screen, but it nonetheless is a handicap for the player. Worse still is the fact that you must be right beside your teammates to order them to breach doors, making the multiple-entry-point room-clearingof Rainbow titles past a rare opportunity.
However, the lack of tactical options for the player seldom leads to frustration, as two things balance it out: One, the sheer amount of lead the player can survive having pumped into his body (old-school Rainbow fans who cried out at the regenerating health in Vegas willhave a spastic fit over this game) and two, the thick enemy AI.
Rainbow Six troopers must have been called in to the game’s missions solely for their superhuman resistance to bullets, because any three-year-old could outsmart these pinheads. They do not seem to notice when their buddies fall to the floor in front of them shortly following a cloud of red liquid emitting from said buddies’ heads, and their tactics consist either of running towards you whilst firing or of popping in and out of cover like Whack-A-Mole.
But for all of its flaws, Rainbow Six: Shadow Vanguard remains thoroughly entertaining throughout the 4-5 hour campaign. Missions are often designed with a degree of non-linearity, offering multiple paths through a level, guns feel nice and weighty, giving of a satisfying “BANG” or “RATATATA” when fired, and the cover-based shooting is solid – despite feeling a bit like picking on schoolchildren half your age.
As redeeming as these nice touches are, nothing saves Shadow Vanguard from the pits of mediocrity like its Co-op mode:
Every part of the campaign can be played with up to three people (online, bluetooth, or local wi-fi, with friends or randoms), and it is this feature that justifies the game’s $7 price tag. The strategic opportunities so gravely missing from singe-player are fully present with multiple players; flanking maneuvers, watching each other’s “six”and the aforementioned multiple entry-point room-clearing are all made possible in this mode. Sadly, there is no player chat of any kind when online (cue teammates running into alarm-triggering sensors not realizing stealth being critical to the mission at hand), but this issue is negated by playing locally.
As a feature that can only have been incorporated for marketing purposes, there is also a pointless ten-player death match mode, but everything about it is bland and has been done better in other iDevice shooters. Other Gameloft ones, no less.
Rainbow Six: Shadow Vanguard is far from the most polished or visually impressive FPS available in the App Store, but its advanced level-design and brilliant cooperative mode add the spice, substance and console-likeness that its peer mobile shooters so acutely lack.
3 out 5.