Review: Shadwen (PS4)

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Title: Shadwen
Format: PlayStation Network Download (2.08 GB)
Release Date: May 17, 2016
Publisher: Frozenbyte
Developer: Frozenbyte
Original MSRP: $16.99
ESRB Rating: M
Shadwen is also available on PC and Mac.
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

Gameplay:
We begin our tale with a motivationless cut scene which strives to throw us into the story with excitement. This is followed by an unnecessarily long loading screen. Then a tutorial during which you control a little girl sneaking to the chapel garden for an apple.

The controls are atypical from other games. When you stop moving, time stops which effectively pauses the game. If you want time to resume while you remain still you hold R1. Circle is the sneak button.

Merely moments into the game I find myself playing a level quite like one I played in 1998 during The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. It was challenging on the N64 eighteen years ago to avoid patrolling guards by hiding amongst the hedgerows. As a piece of the tutorial here it feels over-long. The point is made and understood long before the section ends.

… Cheap GAME OVERS abound …
The R1 trigger does allow time to resume while you wait but here we are again… waiting. R1 does NOT allow for speeding-up the passage of time. And if you miss the golden moment to sneak, you have to wait again for the apparently old, tired, arthritic watchman to traverse his path one more time.

The gameplay is at least a decade surpassed. Life Is Strange literally changed the game with this mechanic in February of 2015. Now fifteen months later gamers are asked to revert to time-wasting, tedious mechanics of the past.

Another huge problem is the need to press multiple buttons at once. Sneak/crouch is circle/R3. Trying to see where the guards are means using your right thumb to move the camera but when you do that you stand up and maybe knock into a hay bale. Cheap GAME OVERS abound. More time wasted.

What a terrible jumble of controls.

You do get to rewind to before you got caught and start the whole waiting, sneaking endeavor over again. Fun?

Additionally, the game lost my last checkpoint Save and I had to start the tutorial all over again. I had left the game before and restarted where I left off. Not this time! “Go ahead and replay those stupid guard parts who, by the way, murder little starving children on sight” it seemed to say.

… I feel like I have played every subsequent level before …
There is a story in this game but the gameplay proves that the story is only a thin veil over what Frozenbyte hoped would be compelling gameplay. It is not.

The eponymous character is dead-set upon killing the king. But… the little girl! “C’mon, Short-round! I’ll risk everything to drag you with me because the developers put a time-rewind mechanic into this game!”

What’s worse is that when Shadwen kills someone she has to hide the body to not freak out the child whose AI sometimes renders the effort moot.

Déjà vu can also be a term for boredom. And in Shadwen I feel like I have played every subsequent level before. There are merely two enemy types around which to sneak and each has one way of dying.

There is a grappling hook. It is necessary yet often annoying to use.

No spoilers here but if you are playing this game in the hopes that at least the ending will satisfy, you may be grossly disappointed. May be.

… well-done artistic direction …
Visuals:
Average PS3 era graphics are in evidence here. That isn’t utterly damning. Graphics vary wildly in gaming. Graphics may help a game overcome some other shortcomings. Shadwen isn’t ugly. It won’t win a BAFTA or VGA but the more fun a video game, the more apt gamers are to forgive some technical slights.

I am surprised to know that developer Frozenbyte created the gorgeous Trine games. The issue may be that the Trine series is a side scroller without the need to optimize many computations like camera and 3D graphics.

DISCLAIMER:
Out of my butt, I may be speaking. I am not a game developer. There is just a big ol’ hint, graphically, that Frozenbyte, which had amazed with graphics previously, needed to sacrifice graphical resources to other demands of this game. Maybe. It’s a hunch. Seems logical. You are more than free to dismiss my uneducated, layman’s intuitions. Hence this disclaimer.

Graphical fidelity aside, there is certainly well-done artistic direction in evidence. But NPCs, non-playable characters for the neophytes among us, are cookie cutter interchangeable in some cases.

Audio:
Nothing apart from typical, run-of-the-mill sound design. If you get bored holding R1 to move time you can always hope the lumbering guards and the like will have something interesting to say.

Online/Multiplayer:
This game is singleplayer only with no online component.

… damned by poor AI …
Conclusion:
It may be that confronting my loading screen pet peeve at the beginning of my playthrough set me off on the wrong foot with Shadwen. I did parent myself. I made sure that I gave this game every chance to be redeemed from that initial offense.

Perhaps they didn’t have the funds nor the manpower to see the advances made in time-play mechanics to upgrade their own. Not enough money nor time to join the present.

If readers have kept track of my reviews they know that I have one ideology. Games should be fun in some manner while not wasting time. Audio, visuals, multiplayer are all adjuncts to those two ideals. They are bells and whistles which can push the medium to great heights but they are negotiable. This game runs out of negotiable currency early on and then asks the player to keep paying.

Shadwen is a series of similar areas punctuated by better areas and damned by poor AI of the character you must accompany. (HEY REVIEWER: Ludo Sad.)

Score:
5.5

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

Written by Keith Dunn-Fernández

Keith Dunn-Fernández

An actor/director and more lucratively an Administrative Assistant at a small paper company in NYC, Keith loves his games. And he loves to write. And he is a bit of a sarcasmo.

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