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Shadow Guardian preview: Among thieves


Welcome to "Uncharted" on iPhone. As with so many of Gameloft's games, Shadow Guardian sticks to the script of its inspiration. This is not a homage, but a clone, right down to the smart-mouthed protagonist, facing off against an army of mercenaries in a search for treasure.

What Shadow Guardian lacks in originality, it makes up for in production values. This is one of the best looking games I've seen running on an iPhone 4, and it's undoubtedly one of the most complex as well. None of the fundamentals of Uncharted's gameplay has been sacrificed in the basic design's transition to a portable device: You'll be platforming, gunning and punching your way through some impressively large levels, with a fully-voiced story to boot.

Shadow Guardian's platforming will be immediately recognizable to Uncharted players, offering the same skill-free approach to leaping and climbing around environments. Like Nathan Drake, the game's main character has super-human hand strength, and the virtual analog stick effectively guides his remarkable acrobatics, which "look" a lot more difficult to perform than in practice.

Gallery: Shadow Guardian | 4 Photos

The rest of the gameplay feels functional, although not necessarily intuitive or smooth. Aiming down the sights to shoot works well, thanks to the responsiveness of the touchscreen. However, transitioning from cover to aiming and back again didn't feel right to me using the default layout of virtual buttons. [Ed.'s note: Many Gameloft games feature fully customizable button layouts, and, while unconfirmed during our preview, there's no reason to believe the same option won't be present in Shadow Guardian.]

Gameloft has shrunken an Uncharted experience onto a platform that fits into your pocket.

I often found it easiest to simply blind-fire from behind cover, instead of dealing with the more complex process of popping up to line up a more accurate shot. Yet in spite of the rather clumsy and cluttered control layout, I cleared the first two levels painlessly -- a testament to just how functional this Uncharted clone is, despite being an iPhone game.

Sure, I can ding Shadow Guardian's attempt to successfully ape Uncharted on account of its somewhat awkward animations and seeming lack of contextual takedowns, but it's a hard game to diss. Gameloft has miniaturized an Uncharted experience onto a platform that fits into your pocket. For its sheer ambition alone, Shadow Guardian has piqued my interest.

This ambitious effort does raise an important question, though: Do I really want to play such a complicated game on my phone in the first place?

Look for Shadow Guardian to hit the App Store later this month.

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