Review: Shadwen (Computer)
- Release Date (NA): May 17, 2016
- Publisher: Frozenbyte
- Developer: Frozenbyte
- Genres: Stealth, Action
- Also For: PlayStation 4
Single playerLocal MultiplayerOnline MultiplayerCo-operative
Shadwen: Needs More Polish
Shadwen begins with a short storyboard sequence showing the assassination of a king! Oh no! We're introduced to our characters, Shadwen and Lily, and then we're whisked away to "Earlier that evening" where we meet and control Lily, our little orphan companion in the game, for the first and last time. We're given our first objective, finding an apple tree, and now we're on our way!
In typical stealth game fashion, you must use the environment and objects around you in order to avoid nasty, unsuspecting guards. However Shadwen adds an interesting mechanic seemingly borrowed from the recently released SUPERHOT: Time moves when you do. When standing still, time freezes, allowing you to plan your movements carefully and examine enemy guard positions. You can pass time with the press of a button and, if you make a mistake, can rewind time as well. With all this power in our control, we make our way through the tutorial level, performing basic stealth actions, hiding in bushes and haystacks, avoiding guards, and we finally make our way to the apple tree! Woo! Apples! But oh no! A guard appears out of nowhere! Oh no! We're caught, and this guard means business, demanding he "check under our petticoat!" Oh no! I hope some dashing young woman comes and saves our poor little orphan Lily!
Now we're introduced to Shadwen, a knife-wielding young woman and our would-be assassin of a king. You start out in an abandoned fishing village, where you're tasked with building a grappling hook using the game's rudimentary crafting system. After constructing your grappling hook, you begin your journey to the castle where, surprise surprise, you see Lily and the asshole guard! Now, my immediate action was, of course, jump on that guard's back and put a knife in him, but apparently the game's story vastly changes when Lily sees Shadwen kill a guard or sees a dead body of a guard she killed.
After this initial encounter, the real game begins. You control Shadwen, and only Shadwen, making your way stealthily through various rooms and areas on your way to a castle with Lily following behind. Your secondary objective, besides getting through the level, is protecting Lily...and here's where the problems start. For starters, this "stealth" game requires virtually no stealth whatsoever. The guards are dumb, practically blind, move at a snail's pace, and are, quite frankly, stupid. When I initially started the game, I would sneak around, using my grappling hook to get into advantageous positions to get behind guards to kill them, but I quickly realized that you don't have to do any of that. The guard's line of sight appears to be immediately in front of them and that's it. The most stealth you actually have to use is when splitting up groups of multiple guards so you can take them out one by one. Even if you are caught and immediately killed, you can just rewind to before you're caught and fix your mistakes.
Lily's AI is also troublesome at best. She will automatically continue through the level as soon as any guards in the way are taken care of, either by distracting them or killing them and this can pose a lot of problems, especially when you're trying for an all kill run like I did. As previously mentioned, Lily seeing you kill someone/seeing a dead body can change the story. In order to avoid her seeing this, you can hide bodies in piles of hay or bushes...but because Lily will just run all willy nilly as soon as her AI sees she is out of a guard's line of sight, you have to either quickly kill guards and hide their bodies before she sees them or distract the guards so she moves on, and kill them later. I found the best solution, which is absolutely not how you're supposed to play the game, is to simply kill all the guards in an area save the one keeping her in one spot at the beginning and then let her run through unharmed through the area when you're done. You would think the developers would include some sort of command system for Lily, and they did!...except it doesn't work at all. There's only one command, and that's to tell Lily when you want her to go. This would be helpful if she would actually listen, but as soon as she reaches the spot you point out (which doesn't even have an indicator, by the way), she will immediately revert back to her previous programming and continue on as if nothing happened. You can't tell her to stop, you can't tell her to stay, you can't tell her to go around another way. You can simply point to a spot, she'll run to it, and then run right back.
Physics are also exceptionally bad, thanks to the grappling hook system. Most of the time, when you're just trying to drag something it works ok. When trying advanced tactics, like attaching to a structure and pulling yourself up or trying to swing an object to hurt guards, problems ensue. I've clipped through floors, planks of wood, guards themselves, and I've even caused a satanic ritual where a group of guards worship a magical, forever spinning barrel. No, seriously:
But hey, at least the game has a compelling story, right? Well...no, it doesn't. I'm not really aware of any factual story, at least concerning Shadwen and her motives. The most you find out is through random guard banter, where they constantly talk about the war that just finished where, presumably, the king you assassinate won. He burned down a forest to kill "spirits" and that's about as much as you hear. While they're obviously trying to imply that Shadwen is from this forest or something, it's not exactly clear that she's actually from this forest, or has anything to do with it. During loading screens, you also hear small snippets of conversation between Lily and Shadwen, but nothing important is really discussed beyond Lily's dead parents. Eventually you enter the king's throne room and the same scene from the beginning of the game. Having taken care of all his guards, you reach the final decision: kill the king, or no? Whatever you choose, the game ends there, and the consequences of your actions throughout the game are revealed.
+ Interesting gameplay mechanics.
- Physics are wonky a majority of the time.
- Lily's AI is absolutely terrible.
- There's no way to stop Lily from moving from a designated spot.
- The guard's are blind, deaf, move slowly, and are dumb.
- Guard's seem to completely ignore Lily, which basically invalidates the "risk" of her getting caught.
- Time manipulation makes the game extremely easy.
- Virtually no real story that drives you.
Shadwen looks pretty good, for an indie title. The Victorian-esque design of the levels fit pretty well with the games setting. There are some bugs and graphical issues throughout, however, that definitely bring the game down.
The overall gameplay is ok, but a bit too "easy". Time manipulation is an interesting feature for a stealth game, but it makes the game so simple it's difficult to find any actual challenge.
There are multiple ways to play Shadwen, you can go for an all death run and kill all the guards, or simply sneak around and avoid killing altogether. There are supposedly multiple endings, but I really don't know how "different" they could possibly be beyond Lily staying or leaving.
out of 10
(not an average)
From a first glance, Shadwen should be pretty great. Everything seems to look good and gives the impression that this game is totally finished. Then you make it past the first area and you quickly realize that Frozenbyte hasn't learned anything from their Trine 3 experience. Shadwen could be a promising game. There's a lot of potential with time manipulation, and if they could fix the AI this might even be worth a playthrough. But as it presently stands, I can't recommend this game.