Shadwen PS4 review
Publisher: Frozenbyte Developer: Frozenbyte Genre: Stealth Players: 1
Age Rating: 16+ Other console/handheld formats: N/A
Shadwen was developed by Frozenbyte, the team best known for the very colourful and magical Trine series. Having moved away from that series for now, Shadwen is quite a contrast in both its look and tone, with it being darker and less fairytale-like than the series that helped put the developer on the map.
Shadwen is the titular sneaky assassin that you take control of in the medieval inspired world that the game takes place in. But before you get to her main task, which is to kill the king, you take control of a young girl called Lily. This section doesn’t only set up the story but it also serves as a tutorial as well.
It’s not long before Shadwen and Lily meet up, and then the game becomes a gigantic escort mission. Oh joy. As a stealth game, you take control of Shadwen, but there’s a twist in the way that you must also somehow get Lily from one place to another without being seen, the emphasis of the gameplay being based on distraction techniques rather than killing. Here, your actions in the game also affect how Lily will act towards you in the story; killing guards will put you in the dog house with her, but leaving them will gain her trust. Other than this, the narrative is minimalistic at best and, in some ways, lacking in logic, and it can hardly be called one of the main driving points of the game.
Lily is completely against Shadwen murdering guards with her pointy knife, so if you want the girl to like you, then you’ll have to keep any killing to a minimum. This is of course easier said than done in a game that limits your offensive actions to killing, and killing alone. As Shadwen is unable to knock guards out, you have to rely on distraction instead, and as there are lots of guards to deal with throughout the game, you’ll have to be as cautious as possible if you do choose to play this way.
If you do decide to do some killing or feel that it is the best option during a certain situation, then Shadwen is able to drag their bodies away and stick them in a hiding spot. This is a typical stealth mechanic, although I thought it was worthy of mentioning here as, amusingly, the stiff physics makes it look as if Shadwen is pushing or pulling a wheelbarrow as opposed to an adult male. In fact a lot of the animation is rather questionable. Using a grappling hook to latch onto objects in the environment can see Shadwen being dragged and pulled in all different directions while her body movements remain stiff, and the walking animations of the guards makes it look like they have had a rather unfortunate toilet accident in their trousers. The animations are nothing if less than amusing.
Back to the aforementioned grappling hook: you’ll get your hands on this handy item after a crafting tutorial, in which you have to plunder chests in order to get the materials you need to build it (a number of traps can also be built this way). The grappling hook cannot only be used to pull yourself up to higher sections of certain environments, but it also allows you to pull boxes and whatnot to distract guards, shifting their attention away from their normal duties. There’s humour to be found in the way that some guards suggest that dark spirits could be behind the mysterious movements. You can then decide to kill the guard/s or to keep your knife well away from their throats, which obviously pleases Lily. Killing is the far easier option, but Lily isn’t going to like you for it.
Lily will only move forward if she has a clear path ahead of her and you aren’t able to move from area to area without her at your side, but sometimes she doesn’t act as you’d expect. I have experienced moments in which the girl refused to listen to my instructions, and that’s in spite of a safe path being open to her. She sometimes even shows herself in front of guards, then decides to run back to where she came from, and I have even seen her get stuck against objects from time to time, preventing her from moving forward. Even out in the open and in front of a guard, Lily oddly can’t be spotted and although this does save the frustration of her landing you in trouble, it does extinguish any threat the guards pose to her if she can happily frolic past them in full view.
The recurring in-game kill or not to kill moral choices isn’t the only twist. Like SUPERHOT, time moves when you do in Shadwen. It does allow you to pause the action and plan ahead, although it doesn’t work quite as well here as it does with all the flying bullets in SUPERHOT. As Shadwen is a stealth game that requires enemy movement when you yourself are stood still, Frozenbyte have used their common sense in the way that you are able to hold a button down to put time into its normal state while you remain stationary and rooted to your current spot. You can also rewind time, which helps out in a number of ways, particularly if a guard spots you, as this always leads to instant failure. Yes, there’s no one-to-one combat here to save your hide. Also, in SUPERHOT, enemies will still react the same way even when you restart a level – they have a pattern to their movements that enables you to plan how to move around them. In Shadwen, enemies do not have a predictable path, and although rewinding time can alter the outcome, it doesn’t help you predict enemy movements or allow you to plan your way around them to progress, so it is more about random luck than stealthy forethought.
Overall, I think Shadwen is a likeable enough game with a few flaws, but the issues I have mentioned sadly aren’t the only ones that the game suffers from. The grappling hook, for example, feels overly limited for scaling heights and, as mentioned earlier, the physics in the game can be odd from time to time. Animations are overly stiff, some of the environments look and feel too similar to one another, and there’s also a lack of variety in the guards – in fact, I think I counted only two types of enemy throughout. Speaking of lack of variation, the biggest problem is that the game begins to feel rather repetitive, and there really isn’t anything to break up the pattern that develops from the start of the game, which is a shame. The game has also been sold on the fact that you can make a guards death look like an accident. You would assume this would mean that, when investigating the body, other guards will think the dead guard was just a bit clumsy and leave it at that, but no. Once checking the body, the guards switch to full alert, assuming that the dead guard was killed and not by an accident, and this leads to an instant failure, meaning using objects to make a guards death look like an accident useless.
Shadwen certainly does have a number of good ideas to make the game stand-out in a crowded genre, and for that Frozenbyte should definitely be applauded, but it’s disappointing that the game could have been so much more than the end results. Sadly, it just feels like it has been released in a bit of an unfinished state, but if you are a fan of the genre, the game may well be worth a look, particularly as the core aspects are serviceable enough.