By Ferry "Sadhonker" Adams on May 24, 2016
Today it is time for us to take a walk on the sneaky side. Letís play a game that is completely built around stealth. No not Hitman! More like Hit-woman, actually. Come with me as a take a look at the shadowy world of Shadwen.
Shadwen is a third-person stealth/action adventure by FrozenByte, known mostly for their hugely successful and really cool Trine games. The game is set in an unspecified past. When you first start playing the game, you will be put in the ragged and worn shoes of Lily, a young orphan girl with only one thing on her mind: finding food before she starves to death. Luckily, she hears about a gorgeous apple tree, just filled with delicious ripe apples. As you can probably imagine, to Lily, an apple sounds like the most delicious thing on earth right now. Thereís only one problem; to get to the orchard where the apple tree is located, youíll have to make your way past numerous unfriendly guards that really donít care if youíre starving or not. According to them, as long as no one gets past them and their checkpoints, everything is just fine and dandy. Itís exactly this short-sighted attitude that presents a problem; if the guards catch you, he will attack you on the spot.
So, as you make your way through the city towards the orchard, youíll learn the basic controls of the game. You can walk, sneak, duck into cover and manipulate objects by pushing against them. Iíll assume that we all know what walking does, so I wonít elaborate on that. Sneaking evidently does about the same as walking, but much, much quieter, enabling you to move behind the guardsí backs without them noticing you. Whenever you see a bush or a haystack, you can duck into them, effectively making yourself invisible to spying eyes. A nice feature is your ability to manipulate items in the world. When you push a barrel, it will roll quite noisily for a certain distance, attracting the attention of the nearby guard who, in turn, will leave his post to investigate the disturbance. This enables you to sneak past him, staying completely unseen and unheard. Thereís more you can do by manipulating items, but Iíll come back to that later.
Immediately, one core game-mechanic rears it somewhat odd head; when you stop moving, time stops completely, giving you the opportunity to scope out your surroundings and see where the guards in the area are located. As soon as you start moving again, time starts ticking away again. Now, some of you might be thinking: ďIsnít it a hassle that youíll have to keep moving all the time?Ē And while this is a good question, this is not the case. By pressing down the appropriate button, time will pass, even if you are currently not moving. I know it might sound slightly over-complicated and I will admit it did need some getting used to, but when youíve mastered the time shifting technique, it will make your life a lot easier. And if just freezing time wasnít enough, the game also lets you rewind time if you feel like youíve made a mistake and want to retry a certain point in the game.
So, back to Lily. When she has made her way to the orchard, she is found by a guard, who seems keen on punishing her for trespassing. Meanwhile, a short way from the orchard, we meet the titular character of the game: Shadwen. This adventurous young woman is on her way to the palace, to kill the king. Ok, when you say it like that, she doesnít sound so nice, does she? Well, she is an assassin, so I donít think being nice is something she aspires to. However the case maybe, while traveling towards the castle she notices a big guard hassling a little girl in the orchard and decides (against her better judgement) to help the girl out. This is where the second core game mechanic of Shadwen comes into play. Will you simply stick your knife into the guardís neck or will you distract him so that you and Lily can escape the orchard without having to kill anyone? Decisions, decisions...
ďWill Shadwen risk the girlís budding trust by resorting to violence, or try and find another way while keeping her real purpose concealed?Ē, is what the developers have to say about the situation on the Shadwen website. What this basically means is that there are always two ways to skin the proverbial cat. You can either kill every guard that stands in your way, letting Lily pass safely from hiding spot to hiding spot or you can tell her when to move and guide her to the next hiding spot without resorting to violence at all. So, on the one hand, you have the violent approach, while on the other, thereís the peaceful option. And right in between these two options, thereís the sneaky violent option. Remember when I said that you could manipulate objects in the world? Well, when youíre playing as Shadwen, you have a lot more options than just trying to divert the guardsí attention. You can create traps that flatten, burn or blow up guards, while making no one extra suspicious because these deaths look like accidents. Freak accidents, Iíll give you that, but accidents nonetheless.
Visually, Shadwen looks cool; I especially like the painted look of the stills in the cutscenes. The rest of the game has a dark and ominous look that, while it may not be the best weíve ever seen, fits the gameís premise perfectly. The 3D models are good, nicely detailed and fit the environments. And although a somewhat more polished look might have better suited the game, it does look good and has some really beautiful environments. The controls are pretty responsive and get the job done. The game's real strenght lies in the fact that you are able to control time and manipulate objects. These features make Shadwen absolutely worth playing! It might not appeal to everybody out there, but Iím certain that thereís a lot of people who would thoroughly enjoy playing it.
Sure, Shadwen has a few flaws, but it has a heart of gold and that has got to count for something, doesnít it?! So, on the whole, it is an enjoyable experience and it might even be the perfect way to introduce people to the stealth genre. It has all the ingredients you need, but doesnít strike you down the moment you so much a take one step out of line. The time-freeze and time-rewind functions enable you to try different approaches to various situations as much as you like without having to replay forty-five minutes worth of gameplay, just to back get to the point where things went awry. Saying that Shadwen is like Hitman with training wheels is not doing the game enough justice. Obviously, it lack the finesse of some of the AAA stealth titles out there, but it is filled with a couple of great ideas. So, if you are not scared of a challenge and are not too stuck up to overlook a few minor issues, give Shadwen a try.
May 17, 2016