Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Demo Daze - Shadowgrounds

With E3 in full swing
this week, there are plenty of other blogs out there fulfilling these vital functions:

1. Rampant fanboyism for a console, genre or beloved character.
You might see statements such as "OMG PS3 can simulate anguish to twenty decimal places!" or "This will be a good year for games based upon hitting moving targets with firearms," or even "It's nice to see Donkey Kong return to his roots in a BDSM rhythm game."

2. Completely unfounded speculation.
"During the presentation I noticed a gleam in the Microsoft rep's eye that clearly said 'Halo 4 will take place on Earth, as in, the actual, physical Earth. Bungie is already genetically engineering aliens and creating personal shield technology."

3. Hard-biting cynicism toward anything and everything.
"Sure, the Wii controller might look and play well, but it's made of fucking plastic."
"I saw the new Pokemon game running on an LCD watch and let me tell you right up front: it kills children. Without mercy."
"Last year was the last time this show will be relevant, and even then it was shit."
"I was so wasted this morning that I almost enjoyed Microsoft's latest attempt to cash in on their videogame production. It's like they want money in exchange for a product. Sellouts."

This deluge will continue, and at some point I may jump in the fray. But for now I have detached -- somewhat. Over the weekend I trolled for various demos and pulled down anything that looked even mildly amusing.

The first demo is Shadowgrounds. You can go for the boxed version or snag it from Steam.

I wasn't sure what to expect from this game. It has a 3-d look but a fixed topdown perspective. The controls are standard WASD with the mouse spinning your character in a circle (one-dimensional mouselook) -- took me maybe five minutes to really get used to the control.

If I wanted to boil it down to a formula, I'd say it's Aliens mixed with Smash TV, and that's a very good thing.

You play a mechanic in a base on Ganymede. While going out during a storm to repair the power station, two of your fellow workers disappear. Naturally, you go after them and bad things happen.

The use of light in this game is striking. Dark areas obscure creepy crawlies, while turning on your flashlight makes them flee. Shadows stretch across the ground as you pan your light through shelves and fences.

You pick up weapons quickly, and that's good. The focus is on managing your ammo and choosing the right weapon at the right time. There is also a simple weapon upgrade system that extends ammo clips or give you alt-fire options.

Objectives are clearly spelled out and easy to follow, especially with the use of a map and waypoints. You get a certain number of respawns during a level - there's no in-level save, but I didn't have too much trouble. There are plenty of tense moments, running for health packs or searching for just a little more ammo, but the mobs never felt impossible, even if they seemed overwhelming at times (in a good, heart-racing way).

The AI is a bit sluggish at times and creatures can get hung up on geometry. This was the most noticeable flaw. Don't go in expecting the graphics to astound you. Also, don't go in expecting something innovative. Still, it's moody without being melodramatic.

I'm seriously considering throwing this one some dough. Bursts of shoot-em-up gaming goodness with old-school flavor along with an impressive lighting model and all the sci-fi horror staples.

I'd recommend this game when you have an itch for twitch.

Sometimes you just need to fry some arachnoids.

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