PC REVIEW: SHADOWGROUNDS

Think Doom in the third person and you'll be close. by Darwin Chase

May 19, 2006 - As an homage to Doom, Shadowgrounds fails to deliver. Consider it a less-than-stellar tribute and you'll be in the neighborhood.

Taken for what it is, Shadowgrounds isn't a bad game. Despite a sprinkling of major and minor annoyances the core gameplay is decent and the mechanics are sound. It shouldn't freeze up on you and I detected only a few minor incidents of slowdown. The story and the gameplay are unoriginal and the isometric perspective should appeal to gamers that want a more expansive view of their surroundings. But a lot of the action takes place in the dark so the advantages to this view are somewhat limited.

The best way to describe Shadowgrounds is as an old-school, third-person, action shooter that is similar to Doom (but from a third person perspective) with a little bit of Aliens mixed in. There are lots of alien-infested corridors to navigate on your space station. There's lots of suspense as the aliens are not just thrown at you in swarms. They appear out of the shadows, pop up from under the floor or from overhead. The anticipation of the next encounter begins to increase your heart rate and makes the overall gameplay much more exciting, but after a couple of hours, the gameplay settles into a predictable routine. It's advisable to play this game sporadically over a couple of weeks as opposed to completing it in a few sittings. The storyline isn't compelling enough to drive you to the conclusion. In this game, it's the journey not the destination that counts.

Wesley Tyler is the main character. He's a mechanic on a space station that is located on Jupiter's largest moon Ganymede. The station is teeming with workers having a grand old time until an alien invasion threatens their very existence. Wesley gathers whatever weapons he can find and with the aid of some of his co-workers, he sets out to hunt and kill this menace. These surviving co-workers will accompany you as AI bots. You will also be able to access the computer records of other less-fortunate co-workers when you enter their areas. This will help you piece together the origins of the aliens as well as provide you with hints as to what type of aliens you might encounter and what selection of weapons would be best to use against them. The AI teammates holds their own for the most part but they do tend to crowd around when a fresh batch of aliens begin an attack making it difficult for you to use your weapons effectively.

The aliens come in a variety of forms from bipedal behemoths to multi-legged creepy crawly, spider-like creatures. You can kill them in different ways by using different weapons and techniques. You will have a flamethrower, rocket launcher, laser rifle, plasma gun and grenades at your disposal. These weapons are also upgradable. The monsters will drop various weapon-enhancing upgrades which will increase their destructiveness, range, or initiate secondary weapons systems. As long as you're pointed in the right direction the weapons are responsive and accurate enough. You don't have to be a very accurate aim but you do have to be quick. Although the attacks are not continual, when you do stumble upon a nest of creatures they will have a tendency to overwhelm you. The different weapons and upgrades keep the gameplay fresh and the fact that the aliens bleed when you shoot or slice them is just icing on the cake.

A lot of the game is played in the dark with the occasional flash of lightning or a momentary surge of electricity. A rechargeable flashlight becomes your best friend in such a situation and you can actually fire your weapon while using it. Less powerful creatures will retreat from the beam so that you can hold them off with the light and use your weapons on the more powerful aliens.

You only have a few lives for each level and when you lose them all you have to start the level over. This can be a real pain because there are times when you will respawn at an area where you will find yourself trapped, such as a room with only one exit that is being guarded by a swarm or aliens.

The co-op mode is not as much fun as I thought it would be. The relatively slower pace of the gameplay is more pronounced when you're playing with a friend. You want things to happen at a quicker pace so the two of you can avoid having an awkward conversation between attacks. The game doesn't support online or LAN play so you all have to use the same computer.

Shadowgrounds is a decent looking game. The fact that the camera doesn't have to swing around and zoom in allows for a lot less processing in the graphics department but at the same time what we do see here is done well. The environments display a good amount of detail and the alien character models are many and varied. They not only look good but they animate well. The huge alien spiders are virtually guaranteed to give you the creeps when you see how they move.

Shadowgrounds is a fun game in the old-school, third-person shooter tradition. It's not innovative by any means but if you're looking for a shooter that's not totally mindless then you might want to give this one a shot. Pun intended.

Features:

  • Upgradable Weapons
    Use a devastating arsenal of high-tech weaponry to dispose of the alien threat. Each weapon has multiple upgrades that maximize the carnage. Unleash the flames of the Flamethrower's Fuel Trap, cause mayhem with the Grenade Launcher's Poison Grenades, slash and dice the monsters with the Laser Rifle's Pinpoint Laser - and many more!
  • Big and Nasty Monsters
    Big, brutal monsters await you. Prepare to face many different bosses who will do anything to stop your journey. They are nasty, blood-thirsty beasts but you shouldn't give in to fear - remember to use the environment and the lighting to your advantage!
  • Destructible Environments
    What good are weapons and special effects if you can't wreak havoc on the environment? Shadowgrounds lets you go all-out - glass shatters, ground shakes, trees fall, barrels explode and furniture blows to smithereens. You can use the environment to your advantage.
  • They Lurk in the Shadows
    Shadowgrounds uses cutting-edge realistic lighting and glow technology to light up the battlefield and create detailed shadows producing an atmosphere of fear. But the lighting and the flashlight also affect some aliens' behavior - you can take advantage of that and can turn the tide in the game of fear by using your flashlight effectively.
  • Visit many exciting locations, including a secret military base and the alien-infested colony New Atlantis
  • Fight side-by-side with your NPC allies against the massive alien hordes
  • Check security cameras and computer logs to investigate alien origins
  • Enjoy horrifying sound effects and a thrilling music soundtrack made exclusively for Shadowgrounds
  • Powered by Frozenbyte's incredible 3D engine
  • 2-4 Player Co-op Multi-Player - 2-4 players can play the co-operative mode on the same computer to maximize the destruction.

By Darwin Chase
CCC Freelance Writer

Rating out of 5
Shadowgrounds (PC)
4.2
Graphics
No real graphic issues. The camera is largely static, the darkness is intentional, and due to the overhead angle you won't see a lot of intricate detail such as facial expressions.
4.2
Control
The weapons are easy to use but the game provides a solid challenge without being unfair.
3.3
Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The sound effects will increase your stress level but the voiceacting is so corny that the only thing you'll be afraid of is running into more cutscenes.
2.2
Play Value
The co-op mode is not available online or through LAN. You have to use one central computer. It's a lot of trouble for such little return.
3.3
Overall Rating - Fair
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.
 
System: PC
Dev: Frozenbyte
Pub: Meridian4
Release: Apr 2006
Players: 1 - 4
Review by Darwin

Review Rating Legend
1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid
2.0 - 2.4 = Poor
2.5 - 2.9 = Average
3.0 - 3.4 = Fair
3.5 - 3.9 = Good
4.0 - 4.4 = Great
4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy
5.0 = The Best