Shadwen Review (PC)

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Shadwen Launch Trailer

Developer: Frozenbyte
Publisher: Frozenbyte

Main Review

Review Context: Though there are a lot of games with stealth elements that I love, I don’t usually go with pure stealth titles like Splinter Cell.
Date of Playthrough: May 2016

Processor: Intel Core i5-3570K CPU @ 3.40 GHz
RAM: 16 GB
Video Card: Nvidia GeForce GTX 760
Resolution: 1920 x 1080, 60Hz
Controls: Xbox 360 controller for PC
Disclosure: This review was based off of a review copy.

Shadwen is a third-person stealth game in which a grappling hook wielding assassinette named Shadwen happens upon a young girl being harassed by a guard. The girl, named Lily, witnesses Shadwen kill the guard and thus can not be allowed to escape knowing what Shadwen looks like, but Shadwen isn’t about to kill a poor girl. Instead, she takes Lily with her, and together they make their way towards the castle. Almost a sort of stealth sandbox, Shadwen puts an interesting spin on the stealth genre using time manipulation.

In Shadwen you play only as Shadwen, excluding the tutorial level. Shadwen is very agile and is equipped with a blade and a sweet grappling hook. This hook is able to attach to almost anything made of wood and can retract, pulling Shadwen towards the point of contact. This is useful for climbing on top on something without having to swing up there. She can also use her grappling hook to manipulate objects in order to distract guards or clear her path. The blade is good for killing obviously, but Shadwen can only kill guards from directly behind or by dropping from above. In fact, certain guards can only be killed by plunging attacks. Lastly, Shadwen inexplicably stops time when ever she stops moving. No Prince of Persia hourglass meter here, Shadwen can rewind time indefinitely in order to fix any mistakes.

ShadwenScreen01

Lily can’t kill or climb but boy can she sneak. The goal of the game is to, as Shadwen, guide Lily through the sea of guards and obstacles in order for her to open certain double lever doors. This is interesting because it lets the player play as a character who can easily sneak past everything. Shadwen can climb almost anything and swing with enjoyable abandon to almost anywhere she pleases. It is very fun being this sort of character as the player, but when the player has this much level of freedom it is hard to design levels around. How do you present obstacles to a character that is insanely good at circumventing obstacles?

That’s where Lily comes in. Not only does this give an easy way for the developer to design interesting levels of varying difficulty and solution, but since the player has such an able character to use, it’s possible to solve these problems in many different ways. Lily stuck at a door with two guards staring at its inside? No problem, scale the wall, hop in the window, knock over a shelf with your grappling hook, and voila, Lily is inside. For this idea to work however Lily’s AI must be not be just good but quick. It can’t feel like your struggling to get the AI to do what you want it to. Thankfully, in Shadwen Lily is surprisingly able herself. She is extremely quick to jump on opportunities to sneak past guards, almost as if she knows where they are going. So much so that she often begins to move before the player realizes they have created a big enough opening.

ShadwenScreen02

There is also a neat crafting system. Throughout Shadwen are chests containing random crafting materials. Once a blueprint has been located a tool can be created by combining crafting materials. These range from spike traps and poison dart traps, to noise makers to distract guards. Once used, they have to be remade using crafting materials, so it’s best to exercise fickle use of these items. Despite them being decently effective I rarely found myself using them. I was always able to achieve my goal just with my grappling hook and dagger before I even thought to use these items. The chest however did provide a fun little bit of extra challenge. Often being well hidden or behind out of the way guards, they added little side missions that rewarded the player for using Shadwen’s intense mobility instead of constantly focus on Lily

Shadwen’s only real flaw is a general lack of polish. Shadwen’s style and visual fidelity are pretty much on par with today’s standards and is thus more than pleasing to the eye. However, animations aren’t the smoothest, the grappling hook can be hilariously weird at times, and guards sometimes fall to their own deaths and sometimes knock things over onto their heads killing themselves. I think the biggest reason why Shadwen feels unpolished is because of the way they designed the time mechanic. Time stops when you stop no matter what. This could be considered good design, as it stops the player from wasting precious seconds inadvertently, but what this really does is constantly break the player’s immersion and train of thought. It feels janky just have everything come to a screeching halt whenever you stop to think or look, even though the game itself is very smooth. Often times I performed an action and then jumped to a vantage point saying to myself, “Okay, now let’s see what Lily is doing,” only to wonder for 10 seconds why she hasn’t left her bush before remembering suddenly that time is stopped. Not to mention the odd effect that encircles the screen when time stops, it just doesn’t give the game a good feel.

ShadwenScreen03

There is a button called “pass time,” which can be used to do exactly that, but If they had just flipped it so that time stopped when I stopped only when the button was pressed you would have the same level of efficacy, but without negatively effecting the game feel. It is honestly a small gripe overall, as the time stoppage is exceedingly useful for aiming grappling hook shots and not getting snuck up on by guards. Still, anything lost by not having time always stop like that can be fixed by just rewinding time anyway, so it seems a shame to have such a minor decision affect the game.

Despite the meager shortcomings, Shadwen is a fun experience from start to finish. The problem with the stealth genre is that it takes patience. Patience that has to be re-shown anytime a mistake is made and progress is reset. Shadwen removes this flaw with its infinite rewind ability. Didn’t see a guard who caught you? Rewind! Went for the stealth kill and missed? Rewind and try again! Got your self stuck in such a convoluted series of mistakes that you don’t know how to get out of it? Super rewind! Shadwen shows a ton of potential. I think if the developers had a bigger budget they could turn this idea into a big name title by not only fixing the polish issue, but with a grander story and more extras, I think Shadwen could be a new big hitter. Having said that, Shadwen in its current state is still worth its weight. Combine the ease of play with the shear fun of easily penetrating enemy defenses as the ever agile Shadwen and you have one of the most enjoyable stealth experiences I’ve played in a long time.

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Styx (PC)
Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus (PS2)

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