Review: Shadow of the Beast (PS4)

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Title: Shadow of the Beast
Format: PlayStation Network Download (8.6 GB)
Release Date: May 17, 2016
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Developer: Heavy Spectrum Entertainment Labs
Original MSRP: $19.99 (US), €19.99 (EU), £11.99 (UK)
ESRB Rating: M
PEGI: 18
Shadow of the Beast is exclusive to PlayStation 4.
The PlayStation 4 download version was used for this review.
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy

I was ten years old when I first played the side-scrolling action game called Shadow of the Beast. It was round my friend’s house and after spending the entire day playing the game, I left feeling slightly jealous but happy that I experienced such a great game.

The 90’s came and went, gaming evolved massively but I still saw specks of that seminal game in many others and I believe it played a massive part in igniting the passion of many a developer’s mind.

There were rumours of a new Shadow of the Beast game for as long as I can remember. I always hoped but still a small part of me wished that it would remain a fond memory. Rarely does a reimagining ever live up to our expectations, because there is always something that sours the experience.

Now over twenty-five years have passed and I am reviewing the new game from Heavy Spectrum and I am overcome with trepidation and excitement as I take control of Aarbron, who I prefer to simply call The Beast.

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Gameplay:
The original game was tough, and many players struggled to get past the halfway point. Precise hits and moves were needed to defeat or avoid each enemy and the onslaught got harder as the game progressed. This new one has expanded upon the simplicity of the old mechanics and has delivered what can only be described as an intricate ballet of destruction.

It retains the side-scrolling movement and so for the majority of the encounters you only have to contend with attacks from the left or right. Soon the enemies come thick and fast and it quickly becomes a skilful juggling act. Slicing a torso in half to the left and quickly beheading an enemy to the right.

… better scores and bragging rights …
It is all about timing, not just in the bloody battles but when you need to leap across a gap or hop up a small ledge. If done correctly all the movements are smooth, fluid and very satisfying. The controls are very good once you master them and translate well on the PS Vita when using Remote Play, although you might want to remap a couple of buttons.

Sadly there are no set control schemes to quickly switch to and the game doesn’t automatically switch when you play on the handheld. Saying that, only one or two games do that so it isn’t a real gripe.

All the gruesome kills are easily performed with one or two button presses that translate on-screen into a brutal dance as the Beast effortlessly chops down countless enemies. With successful hits and blocks, you are awarded points that combine to give a score at the end of each encounter. Perfect hits and counters add to the Combos and increase the chances of better medals.

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All of the points and collectables that you manage to find hidden among the large levels translate into Mana. This can be spent on upgrading the Beast and unlocking any talismans that you find. Replaying earlier levels with new skills can help to amass even better scores and bragging rights, more on that a little later.

The expertly crafted cutscenes and action help tell an enchanting story that propels you through the game at a nice pace. I found myself constantly craving the numerous encounters so I could lay waste to the ugly-looking creatures.

Shadow of the Beast is not just a mindless fierce massacre as there are some devious puzzles and moments that require some excellent timing too. One particular section will even frustrate a few eager players. It will only be when they take a few steps back will they have a moment of clarity.

… should challenge even the seasoned gamer …
This game doesn’t hold your hand and only helps a tiny amount, just enough to get you on the right track. Each new skill or technique is only a little nudge. Like a father pushing their child off on a bike without stabilizers, the youngster full of joy as they realize they are alone, you may falter and get hurt a few times but the satisfaction from perfecting an encounter is worth the struggle.

It will take some time to unlock the feast of extras that you find in the menus and all of it is well worth checking out, not only for fans of the trilogy but any gamer will enjoy what they find. The length of the game is excellent too and the other difficulty levels should challenge even the seasoned gamer.

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Visuals:
Heavy Spectrum did not take the original and make it all new and tasty with better textures and lighting, they went above and beyond. Shadow of the Beast is born from the minds of obsession and love. Love for the majesty and desire the original had.

Where the original had a simplistic blimp floating in the sky, this has great warships thundering across a now beautiful landscape that stretches as far as the eye can see.

Every enemy and landscape has been crafted from the beautifully drawn artwork and now the technology not only does it justice but also gives some scenes and moments such grandeur and an epic scale. I am really aching to go into detail about some of the areas and things in the game that really impress but I know you would not be grateful.

… disgustingly great …
Lighting and particle effects add a very earthy feel to the highly detailed areas and the fluid animations of the Beast and others add to make it a very cinematic experience. In fact, there are times where it could give a God of War game a run for its money. Blood splatters on the screen and floor while dismembered bodies lay strewn in your wake. It all looks disgustingly great.

I can still recall playing the original and being amazed at the many layers of parallax scrolling. It added a sense of depth that I had not seen before. Well now, from the very first moment and beyond, this new game delivers that same amazement that I felt all those years ago, just using much better technology.

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Audio:
Music can usher in the fondest of memories when you hear a classic again. It can evoke such powerful emotions and this soundtrack is wonderfully sublime. Just as the original amazed everyone that heard its inspiring score, this comes close to being as stunning and moving too.

Another great moment is the voice work and its originality. I dare not go into too much detail suffice to say that you may want to check out the various menus and save up that Mana to unlock several things.

… something truly spectacular …
Online/Multiplayer:
This game is singleplayer only but does feature a magnificent score chasing mechanic. Every encounter is tallied and logged, compared and contrasted with friends and every other gamer. You know if a friend beats your hard-earned score in a previous brawl with alerts. It makes the game ever more rewarding and so much fun.

The social features of the game are impressive and at times, beneficial. You will quickly find out why as you progress through the game if you are observant.

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Conclusion:
Most players will have no knowledge of the original and that is fine, they do not need to, as this is a new beginning. The difficulty and variety that made the trilogy so good is still present today and a few more layers of skill have been added too.

I can tell Shadow of the Beast has been made by people who really loved the original game and they have made this version into something truly spectacular. Once you learn the brilliant and challenging rhythm to the gruesome action it becomes highly addictive. Watching the grisly butchering of countless enemies never gets old and I cannot wait to see what comes next.

The Beast is back and it is better than ever.

Score:
9.0

* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Share functionality on the PlayStation 4.

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