June 14th, 2011 | By Stephen Johnson
Shadowgrounds is a top down, fast-paced shoot-em-up similar to that of Alien Breed. Humans have expanded their civilization to one of Jupiter’s moons and you’re one of the unfortunates. An alien invasion hits and you must stop them before they reach earth. You’re tasked with being the game’s Duke Nukem, although there aren’t many babes on this planet so you’ll find this protagonist quite reserved, unless there are aliens to kill.
The game sports a varied group of enemy types to keep things entertaining, all with different approaches to killing you. Smaller spiders will hide in the shadows and try to sneak up on you from behind, whereas the larger ones are fast and will charge you head-on if you get too close. Each level introduces a new alien type slowly so you can learn their behaviour before you encounter the next kind.
It’s the same story with your gun arsenal. All are unique and prove useful on whatever type of alien your fighting, enabling you to experiment with all your guns to find your favourites. The upgrades are what you’d expect, normally being increased damage or a bigger ammo capacity but they all however have a secondary ability to unlock. Some prove extremely useful such as the laser rifle’s constant beam or the minigun turret. You regularly find all ammo types too so you don’t feel the need to be reserved with your big guns.
The levels are kept quite fresh bearing in mind the setting. The planet is a dust-covered wasteland, so research facilities with greenhouses and underground mines with glowing crystal are a nice touch and well thought out. This doesn’t stop you seeing a lot of metal buildings but you’ll find yourself enjoy the times you do explore somewhere new.
This game does a great job of keeping things challenging as well once you’ve found some of the more powerful guns. Bigger swarms and tighter environments keep you on your toes whilst combining different enemy types makes you really think about your tools and prioritizing your kills.
The last pieces of equipment you have are your motion scanner and flashlight. The game is, for the most part very dark, making these tools fundamental in your gameplay. The scanner works well in mapping out stationary targets but isn’t much use in tracking the ones on the move. The flashlight on the other hand has a few unique uses such as scaring off smaller aliens or breaking invisibility. Turning it off altogether at times can alternatively enable you to sneak around targets, keeping your killing methods diverse.
During gameplay, with its dark environments filled with wreckage and human corpses, it makes a good effort with building atmosphere. It’s soundtrack also scores well here, with ambient orchestrated themes during the quieter moments and heavy guitar solos during exciting boss fights. Dull dialogue, some bugs and badly made cut-scenes let those good points down unfortunately. Just when I’m getting hesitant about opening the next door something bursts the bubble. Walking too close to walls caused me to get stuck and cut-scenes lacked any animation. Vehicles in particular play a key role during the string-along plot but haven’t been animated, making for wheels dragging across the floor. Characters model’s also don’t have any speech animation but I’m willing to be generous on graphics due to this game’s age.
Problems aside, there are two things I craved during my play-through that would make a big improvement as a whole; Boss fights and Checkpoints. Bosses are a rarity with swarm events being preferred, which is just more of what your already fighting regularly. Boss battles don’t only just act as a challenge but are a great way of breaking up repetition and keeps your players interested. Save points in Shadowgrounds are between each level, which can last up to 45 minutes depending on exploration and the size of the area. If you quit half-way through a level, you’ll have to start right from the beginning.
No matter the amount of faults I can think up with this game, it never put me off. Through all the sometimes boring settings and robot feel of the characters, Shadowgrounds assured excitement. Cooperative play exists in this game but doesn’t have the hectic challenging fun that Trine’s multiplayer had. The game is already hectically challenging which fades with extra players, making this game have no real replayability. Play this game on your own in a dark room and watch how late you stay up.