Platform: PS4, Windows, Steam
Reviewed on: PS4
Genre: Stealth, Action, 3rd Person
Players: Single Player
Written by Dragoon 24th June 2016
Shadwen by Frozenbyte is a great example of why more is not always better. It takes many well implemented mechanics from great games and tries to lash them all together in a airtight and cohesive package. Unfortunately what we are left with is a mess of clashing design and shoddy imitation. There are some faint hints of gold but it's obscured and tarnished by the unnecessary bulk of the complete package. There was definitely potential here but Frozenbyte missed the mark and got caught up in their own hubris.
Shadwen is a 3rd person stealth action game that tasks the player with controlling the titular character who is on a mission to assassinate the king in a medieval setting. One of the main story elements and one of the most frustrating ones is the fact that Shadwen is accompanied by a young girl who she must escort through the levels before she can advance herself. The girl will only move when the guards are either dead or distracted which means it isn't enough to sneak through them yourself, you have to get her through as well.
There's a reason stealth games are usually a one character affair, it's frustrating to get through a level by the skin of your teeth and then realise that your companion hasn't followed. You then have to decide whether to backtrack or take advantage of the games rewind feature, which feels like it was ripped right out of Prince of Persia. If you make a fatal mistake or want to retry an approach you can rewind time with a press of the button with no repercussions. This means you can never truly fail and can experiment with different tactics but it makes the game too easy and removes any tension or risk from the game.
Another time based mechanic taken from another game is the fact that time only moves when you do (SUPERHOT anyone?). This is an interesting mechanic and it does offer a more strategic, slower paced take on a genre which more often relies on reflexes and quick thinking. My only gripe with this is the fact that the game doesn't seem to register jumping as movement, I often found myself freezing mid jump which would then throw me off when time started back up.
Shadwen offers two different styles of play, one where you kill all the guards to get through the level or one where you distract the guards by taking advantage of the game’s physics objects. Shadwen obtains a grappling hook early on which she can use to climb and swing around or as a tether to move objects such as barrels about. This would be a nice little feature if it worked well but quite frankly, it doesn't. When you're using the hook to swing it will often glitch and cause you to climb strangely, there were times where I would end up climbing along the ground which was just odd. The same applies when you use it to interact with other objects, they don't tend to move how you think they would and it's sometimes awkward to break the tether.
One of Shadwens biggest issues is it's AI, to be blunt the guards are pretty stupid. They can spot you right in front of them but as soon as you step into a bush they will instantly lose you and give up the search. I found out that I was able to easily kill the guards by abusing their poor AI, I could just run up to them from the front and then stab them in the back as their alert animation started. The game tries to stop this by having the guards kill you as soon as they see you but it's easy enough to abuse, this coupled with the rewind mechanic means it's simple to clear a level of enemies.
Graphically Shadwen goes for a more barebones look, it's not bad but it's very run-
Other than the previously mentioned physics the game runs very well on PS4, there were no noticeable framerate drops and no gamebreaking glitches that I encountered. As for the controls Shadwen felt very floaty, it was difficult to judge Shadwens jump range and there were times where she would fail to grab a ledge which seemed to be within reach. The same applies to the grappling hook, it often failed to hook on to a surface it should have and when you do hit it on something it was often awkward to climb on
top of a platform if you grappled on to the bottom of it.
Overall Shadwen is a game that tried to do too much. If Frozenbyte had spent more time polishing what they already had rather than trying to shoehorn in more mechanics they would have had an interesting little game here. Instead we are left with an uneven package of half baked ideas and poor implementation. The game honestly feels unfinished and maybe with more time and a bigger budget they could have had something great. It may not be winning any awards for art or sound design but it's not an assault on the senses by any stretch. Hopefully Frozenbyte can learn from this and be sure to spend more time on polish, quality over quantity is the key to a good game.
Interesting time based mechanics,
Floaty character controls.
A messy example of failed execution, Shadwen misses its mark with a 4/10.