Shadowgrounds Review

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It happens very often that budget releases from new developers are better in a lot of ways than many full priced games, yet I am sure lots of people stay away from them on the assumption that they canít compete. Dungeon Lords should serve an example of the opposite, and I really donít envy those that spent $50 on it.  It is, of course, obvious that certain aspects of a budget title wonít be of the highest quality due to budget limitations, but automatically ignoring cheaper titles is a bit unfair and Shadowgrounds shows it.

 

I will skip discussing the plot or back story because it is typical stuff.  Fortunately, the creators realized this and did not fill the game with uninteresting filler in the form or long cut scenes or a lot of unrealistic script. There is communication between characters during the levels, but itís short and mostly at a time of getting or completing an objective. What should please most people is that everything gets a plausible explanation at the end--unlike many recent titles. Overall, the whole design of the game--from plot to creatures and weapons--is not particularly original, and youíve probably seen all of them in one form or another somewhere else. However, while the work material is standard, it is used very well and the developers have managed to create great looking, great flowing and great playing levels with it.

 

"...while the work material is standard, it is used very well and the developers have managed to create great looking, great flowing and great playing levels with it."

 

   

 

Unlike other top-down shooters, your path is not restricted and is non linear--so you can explore the large levels and approach enemies from different routes. Exploration is welcome due to the many pick-ups scattered around and away from your mission area.  I accidentally found the minigun earlier than planned because I went off course, yet I couldnít find the laser gun at all. Placement of vital supplies such as health kits and ammo is absolutely perfect, either a lucky coincidence or a sign that the maps have been thoroughly tested. There is little worse than slowly crawling ahead with minimal health and a pistol in a fast paced environment swarming with enemy, so I was very glad I was given enough chances to replenish my gear. Fast paced and swarming describe the action quite well: the control is exact and quick, and you rarely have to deal with less than a few monsters at a time.

 

Using the standard WASD-key/mouse configuration, the game plays exactly like a regular first person shooter, only from a birds-eye view so you wonít have to worry about aiming up or down. All you do is navigate the map and manage hordes of aliens as they close up on you from most directions, although there are some instances where you need to do less violent tasks. Gibbing, blood and effective weapons make the melee gory and satisfying--most of all when using mass destruction weaponry. Your arsenal totals exactly ten and each can be upgraded three times using upgrade parts dropped by dead aliens. For example, you can enhance the pistol so it poisons and slows down your prey; or, refit the minigun into a sentry gun which can be placed on guard anywhere. So, depending on how many parts youíve collected and which upgrades youíve chosen, events play out in a different way, and helping this further is the fact that each of the ten weapons is valuable to the end. I have played many games where I find a good weapon capable of dealing with most situations and stick with it. In Shadowgrounds, all of them are equally useful.  You are able to defend yourself with any one weapon against all creatures, making encounters very enjoyable. Their power is clearly seen on both the surroundings and the enemy: objects explode to pieces, aliens catch on fire, jump high up after a bazooka shot, or are sent flying back by the shotgun. When everything takes place simultaneously and I come out of it alive, I usually run ahead ready for the next batch of meat.  The action is superb and addicting.

 

   

 

Graphics/Sound

This seems like an appropriate title for a game centered on dark environments and featuring a powerful lightning engine similar to Doom 3ís, yet here there is a lot more action and there are a lot more shadows compared to iDís shooter. By more shadows I mean that they are actually seen by the player at all points in time. When using the flashlight in Doom 3 you see an object and a barely visible projection of its shadow on the surroundings. Here, thanks to the isometric perspective, shadows are clearly seen in their full glory, and since there is plenty of litter, holes, and corners around the levels to showcase the engine, walking around with the flashlight can be very atmospheric. Otherwise the world looks sharp and clean, but most impressive are the battles themselves thanks a great use of special effects. With an A64 3200+/6600GT/1GB machine I got smooth frame rates throughout, at medium-high detail at 1024x768 and 0AA/0AF.

 

"...yet here there is a lot more action and there are a lot more shadows compared to iDís shooter."

 

Sounds overall is not as good, but only because of mediocre voice acting. It was not annoying or terrible at all, I could sit through it no problem, but more distinguished actors would have been welcome. Yet there is much more fighting than talking in the game, and thatís where sound is most pleasing. Music, explosions and weapons fire are nicely done as they must be in an action game of this sort.

 

Multiplayer

I can only say that there is co-op through the single player campaign for up to four playersófor those with a suitable gamepad--but no LAN or Internet options.  Those without the correct control hardware may find that they cannot play with anyone.

 

Shadowgrounds is a good example that games with forgettable stories and acting are still worth playing. Rich storytelling is always welcome and Iíd love to see more of it, but these are games after all and playability is a lot more important.  Certain genres benefit from immersive themes more than others, but when an arcade action game has plenty of solidly done action in it, the plot is non-essential. Actually I wouldíve had no objections had it been entirely scraped in favor of a dozen extra levels, especially when combat is this much fun.

 

   

 

 


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