Shadowgrounds PC Review

We got to get our hands all over the top down shooter Shadowgrounds from FrozenByte Software. The first and most immediate response is, "Hey I’ve done this before!" As most gamers from more than 5-10 years ago will instantly find the old top-down shooter methodology very familiar. Thinking back to games like Smash TV it could lead to a very fun experience (As Smash TV is still available for download on Xbox Live to this day). While it was fun to wax nostalgic with this shooter that would feel at home in an arcade booth, and the engine is beautiful, it was still lacking something.

Shadowgrounds begins with the Earth pushing its space exploration program out to one of Jupiter’s remote moons, and there’s where you come in. As a low level handyman/mechanic you’re just idly working away underneath a car, when all hell breaks loose and suddenly it’s up you to sort it all out. Does it sound kind of like a B-Movie plot starring Ice Cube to you? Because it does to us.

While the plot is lacking, seriously lacking, let’s get to the finer points of Shadowgrounds. The engine is incredible. Your first instinct is to think of the viewpoint as a way of ‘skimping’ out on the graphics, however the developers have taken great pains with this engine to give it pixel shading, real-time lighting, soft shadows, and everything you’d expect from modern-day top notch first-person shooters. Your trusty flashlight casts eerie and perfect shadows over every exquisitely rendered object in the game, lending an ever present horror-esque appeal. Speaking of flashlights, thank the gods above, it lasts a long time, recharges quickly and can be held while you’re shooting weapons (No Doom 3 switch juggling).

So yes it looks good, but how does it play? At heart, this is a shooter. You start out with your pistol and move on to machine guns, rocket launchers, flame throwers, shotguns, and even portable sentry guns which are particularly fun. As a result, a great deal of the gameplay involves shooting the crap out of everything in sight. Near the beginning you’ll face off against creepy little spider aliens that are afraid of your flashlight and scamper around in a very nerve-wracking fashion. Soon enough you’ll be pumping hundreds of rounds into towering beasts with twin missle launchers, multiple times your size, en masse. The weapons are satisfactory, though every weapon can be upgraded in multiple ways to do more damage, hold more ammo, reload faster, and create occaisionally devastating secondary fires. Most of them are very responsive and accurate and even a few that aren’t can be upgraded to be more so. Nothing terribly out of the ordinary as far as variety but there is a decent spread of killing tools. The sound of the gunshots and firing could use a little work though as it tends to sound a little flat and weak.

The comparison has been made several times to Doom 3, and in a way this is a very close brother to the darkened shooter we know and love. Despite the top-down viewpoint, there is a ton of ‘scare’ moments where enemies crawl through wall ventilation shafts, from the floor, or from behind barrels. You will find it very reminiscent of id’s game offering, but we still think it stands pretty well on it’s own. Several of the plot concepts, weapons, and situations are drawn from a long line of sci-fi horror movies and games, but this doesn’t in itself make it a bad game.

Repetition does rear it’s ugly head from time to time. You can only see so many little armadillo demons creep out of the floor and rush you before it stops getting scary and turns into just wasting your precious ammo. The missions are broken up from tedious solo exploring to pairing you with NPC helpers to complete various and difficult tasks. While the AI is pretty decent they will occaisionally box you in and get in your way, but it does lend to the fun and carnage. Arcade style respawns lend to the old school aspect of the whole game as well, but also in classic fashion, limited spawns are allowed before the level must begin anew. This can at times be rather frustrating.

To view this package as a whole, it’s not the most amazing thing in the world. A weak plot, been-there done-that cutscenes, semi-generic weapons, and a view perspective that has been rarely seen since 1990 make it sound worse than it really is. Firing your suped-up chaingun into a twisted melee of freaky alien demons in a crowded room filled with explosive barrels and watching this awesome engine render all the flames and explosions and enemies with hardly a hiccup deserves kudos. The plot is bad, but that hardly matters with the fun you can have with this game. Skipping the cutscenes and getting down to some serious killing has something to be said for this title. If you are craving some shooter action and maybe something a little different, likely this title will give you your fix, but don’t expect the world from it.


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Author: GamerNode Staff View all posts by

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