Shadow of the Beast: There are projects in the world for which you wish success not out of special love, but simply out of principle. Those that are important not as an independent unit, but as a harbinger of something greater. Something that can change the industry for the better – unless, of course, the first pancake turns out to be a lump that has collapsed into the mud.
And don’t get scared ahead of time: Shadow of the Beast is a good game, albeit far from perfect. But this is so, a nice bonus to the following fact: Shadow of the Beast is a reboot of the once cult series, made by fans of the originals with the permission and support of the copyright holder, a hefty international corporation in whose bins these rights have languished for decades.
Reboots of old series are not new, but usually the publishers themselves say: “Hey, it’s time to squeeze a couple more bucks out of our portfolio!” and decide who, how and in what time frame will do it. Sometimes the result does not even seem like a knife stuck in the backs of the fans, but still, priorities are an important thing. And there’s a big difference between a game that’s made out of a desire to make that particular game and make money along the way and a game that’s made primarily for the money.
The new Shadow of the Beast is sometimes accused of being too faithful to the covenants of ancient times – it is outdated, they say. It is not true. Before us is a game created by people who sincerely love, respect and understand the original, which means they don’t try to change everything in the series except for the name, but at the same time they don’t suffer from an overabundance of fanaticism or cowardice, and therefore don’t try to mindlessly copy everything from the original, what they could reach. Of course, Heavy Spectrum Entertainment Labs did not forget to play on the nostalgic feelings of the fans, but it seems that in the first place they tried to make their debut project evoke in modern gamers a feeling similar to the feelings of their predecessors, sitting at computers in the late eighties.
The original Shadow of the Beast struck with the beauty and mystery of the world presented in it. The novelty strives for the same. Visually, it seems to be a kind of indie brother of God of War: during the battles, the blood and limbs of enemies fly in all directions, and the camera periodically carefully moves away, allowing you to admire majestic structures and giant monsters to your heart’s content.
However, it is not enough to praise the artists for their stylish designs, their diversity, and the competent transfer of what was conceived to the polygonal engine. More pleasing is the fact that during the passage of Shadow of the Beast, a rare feeling practically does not leave: that everything on the screen has a meaning. That is the corpse of a giant lies in the background, then this is not because someone said: “For a long time we haven’t slipped any distinctive elements on our backs”, but because in the world prescribed by the authors there lived a specific giant who laid down his head under the walls of a particular castle for a particular reason.
Is this the right feeling? Rather yes than no. You see, the authors of Shadow of the Beast have taken a very, very unusual approach when it comes to storytelling. In the course of the passage, the plot practically does not distract from the gameplay, only occasionally switching to short screensavers with a minimum of dialogues. Moreover, even the few available conversations are conducted in mysterious languages, the translation from which the player is unlikely to buy before the second or third passage. This, however, does not interfere: the central plot is simple, effective and understandable without words.
But in the world of Shadow of the Beast there was a place far from just the protagonist’s straightforward revenge. It’s just that the authors carefully hid everything else. So, a detailed story about the events of the game on behalf of the off-screen narrator was naturally chopped into pieces and scattered across the levels as secrets. And many other elements of the lore were taken to the bestiary, where, as enemies are killed, important information about them is entered.
The plot is not the only thing that the creators hid especially for lovers of caches. Amulets that allow you to strengthen the hero, stabs with experience and medicines, a lot of especially difficult battles – a lot of interesting things are hidden in the inconspicuous corners of the levels, and only very skilled bloodhounds will be able to find all this from the first run … well, those who are not too lazy to look through the walkthrough.
The game in general really wants you to replay it many times. She’s, let’s be honest, short. Rich and varied (there are linear corridors, and mini-metroidvania, and missions with an emphasis on shooting, and several radically different bosses), but short. And the secrets mentioned above, numerous endings, the emphasis on completing battles with the maximum rating and more points than other participants in the online leaderboards are trying to level the short duration. Well, complexity, of course.
In general, Shadow of the Beast’s approach to difficulty is one of the most modern elements of this game. There are tense fights here that are not easy to survive without damage. There is a combo counter that flies after each missed hit, thereby guaranteeing low scores and a minuscule amount of experience from the results of the battle. There are dangerous jumps, the failure of which can cost most of the hit points. There is a smooth, but steady increase in complexity, eventually bringing it to very savage heights.
However, at the same time, the game remains accessible not only for hardcore nerds, but also for relatively inexperienced players. How? Simple: by default, the death of a hero throws him back to the very beginning of the level (and they are not short here), but if desired, the player can sacrifice an “innocent soul” and resurrect in the same place where he died (unless a specific failed battle has to be started all over again, so throwing the game with corpses will not work). The ending will depend on the number of innocent souls spent, and the “casuals” who died several dozen times will see only one of the finals. But this does not look somehow inferior, and therefore they will not feel deprived. Well, or they will start replaying levels, trying to cope without losing souls and clear karma – the game allows you to do that.
So far everything sounds great, right? It’s like there aren’t really any flaws in the game. But there is a drawback. One, but serious: management. It is not that bad, but some kind of viscous, unresponsive. The hero’s jumps are performed with a delay of about a second, making you remember the times of “Prince of Persia” with “Dandy” (platforming is generally quite similar here), and combat special moves that require simultaneous pressing of the trigger and one of the face buttons react only to some particularly precise clicks, which most often do not have time. But they are very important: this is how life is restored, and points are scored, and super blows are accumulated. And in general, the fights in Shadow of the Beast are somehow viscous, as if under water. It seems that the authors deliberately made the control so – they did not adjust the animation for convenient control, but the control for smooth, beautiful and bloody animation.
Fortunately, the situation is not so bad as to completely ruin the game. Yes, the control is annoying every now and then – especially towards the end, but gradually you get used to the given rhythm more or less, and the fatal errors caused by the lack of control are corrected a second later (and at least at the cost of someone’s virtual soul). And yet, with different controls, it would be a masterpiece worthy of a place in the pantheon of the best PS4 exclusives. And as it is, this is just a very good, but regularly infuriating game for a relatively narrow audience.
Will this be enough to get more publishers to trust forgotten franchises to relative newcomers who are genuinely dedicated to their work? Unlikely. But together with a couple of other similar projects (the same Fear Effect Sedna, for example) – why not? It would be great.