Reviews

Lumbarjack – Shadowgrounds

Shadowgrounds is a top-down, sci-fi shooter that approximately half the PC-owning world has in their backlog thanks to its inclusion in the Humble Frozenbyte Bundle…. But, is it any good?

Shadowgrounds opens with approximately three minutes of pure exposition. It’s the usual schtick about humanity colonizing a planet in our solar system, all told through the medium of mediocre voice acting.
I’m probably going to have to bust out the thesaurus here to stop from repeating myself, because sadly “mediocre” is the word of the day when it comes to Shadowgrounds. The plot is unoriginal and uninteresting, the writing is poor-to-middling, and the voice acting is – yes, mediocre – but also unnecessary. Voice acting tends to be expensive, so why Frozenbyte felt the need to put so much of it in a game with rudimentary animations and laughably bad cutscenes is beyond me.

The characters all move as if they have poles up their arses, the wheels on vehicles don’t actually spin as they drive around, and in one particularly bad example the player character simply goes through the floor when he is supposed to be descending on an elevator. I think of all the money and man-hours poured into this half-arsed attempt at making the game “cinematic” and wonder why they bothered.

As with Dead Space, in Shadowgrounds you play as an former-soldier, now-engineer who is initially tasked with repairing various pieces of broken equipment at the facility, before reluctantly taking up the mantle of hero.
But really, it’s all moot. The writing – and especially the dialogue – is that special sort of drivel that will go in one ear and out the other.

Shadowgrounds starts off pretending that it might be a survival horror shooter, with critters that hide in the shadows and actively flee from your flashlight, but it quickly gives up on this pretense. You’re soon given an increasingly powerful array of weaponry – which is just as well because the photophobic aliens are soon replaced by bigger, nastier baddies who don’t give a shit about your flashlight. It’s kind of a shame, really – the dynamic lighting is really quite good, but after the first thirty minutes the interplay between light and shadow stops mattering, and the lighting system takes a backseat to the lackluster gunplay.
You’ll face enemies that spit poison and shoot laser rifles at you, and you’ll even face a near-invisible Hydralisk, but there’s no real strategy to speak of. You shoot at them and they die – simple. And also repetitive. They eventually introduce enemies with shields that need to be attacked from the rear, but this is irritating rather than interesting, and with enough damage dealt to the front they’ll still die like every other alien on Ganymede.

Credit where credit is due though – I enjoyed the large variety of weapons on display, and the upgrade system. If they couldn’t make the gunplay engaging, they were at least able to make the guns themselves interesting, and I particularly liked the cluster-bomb grenade launcher and the ricocheting gauss rifle.

Shadowgrounds feels longer than it is, which is never a good thing. You want to lose time to a game because the world, characters or gameplay has you completely immersed… You don’t want to force yourself through a game because you keep incorrectly assuming it’s almost over.
All progress halted at around the 4.5 hour mark thanks to a game-breaking bug – surely an act of kindness on the game’s part.

Shadowgrounds isn’t a bad game, and at the very least it must have taught Frozenbyte a number of lessons that they have since employed to make the far-superior Trine games, but I still find it difficult to recommend. If it’s already in your backlog, you must surely have something else you could play. No? You don’t? Well, it supports local co-op, so get a friend over so you don’t have to sit through the terrible story alone.

Recommendations:

  • Don’t Bother.
  • If you are going to ignore the above recommendation, at least play it in co-op.
  • Shadowgrounds: Survivor is meant to be a bit better, so if you’re intent on playing a Shadowground, perhaps play that instead.
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