+ Cool traversal possibilities
+ Time-stop and rewind mechanics
- Clunky physics
- Awful ending
- Mind-numbingly repetitive
- Non-responsive camera
Platforms available: PS4, PC
Platform reviewed: PS4
Remember SUPERHOT, the innovative first person shooter where time only progressed when you moved and everything went still when you stood in your place? Well, it gained a sort of cult following for turning the tired FPS genre on its head, so now Frozenbyte (which you may know as the developers of Trine) tried to do the same with the stealth genre, and the result is Shadwen.
The story begins with Lily, a starving orphan, trying to sneak past some guards in order to steal a juicy apple. She’s no Solid Snake, but she does have a tool to help her out: time. Players can plan every move thanks to the fact that the action is paused when you’re not moving (you can still manually advance it by pressing R1 while standing still, though, a feature which SUPERHOT lacked altogether). Furthermore, you can also rewind time, which makes things a whole lot better by eliminating the trial and error that abounds in games of this genre.
It’s a great concept out of the gate, and it immediately makes you want to try out different combinations and paths towards your goal. You only play as Lily for the brief tutorial stage that involves non-violently sneaking around, as you’re soon introduced to Shadwen, the main character of the game. Unlike Lily, she doesn’t have second thoughts about killing, which is a good thing since her main focus lies on killing the King.
As Shadwen, you’re armed with a knife and a grappling hook, which makes reaching difficult areas a breeze. She can quickly climb to the top of wooden structures and silently take out guards with ease. It’s great being able to swing from balconies and traverse the rooftops unnoticed, but the game’s clunky physics make it a whole lot more frustrating than it should be. Everything from crates to dead bodies tend to “freak out” every now and then, thus not behaving as said objects. Plus, the grappling hook only works as intended for about half the time, and the other half is spent aimlessly trying to grab onto a ledge you know for a fact can be climbed.
While these physics glitches can be looked over, the repetitive level design simply cannot. Every stage is basically the same: deal with guards on area after area so Lily can traverse it unharmed. This may sound like just another typical stealth game, but the arrangement of the guards is almost identical in every level. The only challenge you’re faced with is separating two guards who are talking to one another and then kill them separately. The rest is as simple as pressing a button or, should the need arise, rewinding time.
There’s not enough to keep things fresh throughout the 15 story levels, and even though the game gives you additional weapons to try out, like explosives and traps, it never presents you with new opportunities to use them. You’re never forced to change your strategy or route, which only makes the game get boring fast. The fact that there are only two types of enemies (regular guards that can be taken out with a backstab and “armored” guards, which can only be stabbed from above) only makes matters worse.
The game’s camera also presents itself as another nuisance to deal with, thanks to some jarring shakiness when you’re hiding in tight spaces which, for a stealth game, is pretty much 99% of the time. It’s often hard to see where the guards are, which forces you to wait for them to stop searching so you can move again, as going out under suspicion is a huge risk when you can’t see a thing,
Lastly, the game’s ending is, quite frankly, terrible. Considering your goal for the whole adventure is to kill the King, you’d expect the closing chapter to involve sneaking into the castle and dropping unnoticed into the throne room, where you get to decide whether or not to take the monarch’s life. But nope, it just closes out with an awful animated cutscene and you never even get to see the King himself in-game. What a way to reward those who stuck around for the ending.
All in all, Shadwen boasts some cool mechanics and can even be entertaining at times, but it never truly feels like a cohesively good game as a whole. The repetitiveness of the levels, clunky physics and awful story only hinder what could have been a great entry into the stealth genre.
This review is based off of a code for the game kindly provided by Frozenbyte studios