Shadowgrounds Survivor - PC - Review
Frozenbyte and Meridian4 have quietly created a one-two punch of all-out action and bloody carnage with the Shadowgrounds series. In it, players assume the role of one of the several random personnel who have survived the initial attack of aliens as they struggle to survive and escape the situation in which they find themselves. Oh sure, this is nothing new here, if you have played games for any amount of time, the alien invasion/slaughter is probably the most-used vehicle in which to plot a game. The problem is, some of the best reviewed games and biggest money makers involve this well-used formula (Halflife, HALO, Quake, Gears of War) and therefore developers believe that the well has yet to run dry. Well, in this case the well is still producing water, for while Shadowgrounds (which is distributed through Steam, part of the Valve powerhouse and Sierra companies) is not going to move the bar forward, I think does a decent job of aiming for it.
Played from an almost top-down, slightly-angled view, you assume the role of three distinct characters trapped amongst the rubble of an alien invasion on New Atlantis, a sort of city/military outpost located on Ganymede, one of the moons of Jupiter. In the original game you played as a disgruntled former marine-turned-mechanic given an opportunity to reveal his true heroic colors. In Survivor, there's no shortage of heroics as you get the chance to not only try and save some NPCs, but you spread out the heroics by playing as three different characters. But don't get me wrong, this game is all about smearing aliens up and down the landscape, shooting, shooting, shooting and running, but mostly shooting as you will kill thousands, yes thousands of aliens by the time you are done with this title. Oh, it's not a one-trick pony; the game actually has a leveling system where you accumulate skill points that allow you to purchase increased abilities, like "auto" med kit or additional hit points or even quick reload. By picking up mechanical pieces you can upgrade your weapons as well; additional power, large clip capacity or hotter flame are only some of the upgrades you can work with. So there is a slight RPG feel to the game, but this is pretty much where it ends, you can't rename the characters or tweak their strength, endurance, stamina, etc.
"Still need that mop."
Look, going into this game you have to have certain expectations; for one, you can check your brain at the door, but that's Ok - there are pseudo puzzles, like fixing all of the terminals in the room while aliens try and eat you, but none of them are particularly taxing to figure out. The challenge lies in the sheer number of aliens that can attack at any unexpected time. This is one of those games where you run into a room and see ammo laying around everywhere you can expect to never let your finger off of the fire button. It is very much like the previous title aptly named Shadowgrounds, where you run around shadowy locations using your flashlight sometimes to illuminate the action.
I suppose the game was originally thought that it may be a creepy, "make you jump" type title, but it isn't. Yes, the creatures you face are straight out of a nightmare and the liberal use of spider-like creatures will probably give those who are arachnophobic the heebie-jeebies, but any sort sheer terror that the developers may have hoped for went out the window by sheer volume. Running around a desolate moon base in the partial dark is normally a good way to get you scared, but since there is rarely a lull in the appearance of aliens, no sense of dread ever comes up. Now the aliens do look fantastic. And some of them clearly are inspired by different types of insects, however, the aliens also feature some senior level management as some of them are armed themselves with bio-mechanical weapons and begin shooting you from distances. The levels are a bit more varied this time with some snow and other elements playing a role in the visual play. Now I said the aliens look good, but they also move very smoothly and confidently, often pausing like insects do, as if to try and get a better bead on you. Their movements are quick and oftentimes you will walk into an area and almost be surrounded instantly. This combined with some pretty lighting effects, smooth framerate and a really nice finished look to it, the game more than passes the graphics test. Now mind you, this is a budget title, but looks better than some full-priced games.
The audio too, does more than an ample job of keeping you entertained. As each level progresses, there are voice-overs during breaks in the action and some dialogue between characters. The voice work is done with great aplomb and even some of the character's accents seem to jive with the tempo of the game. I wished there was some more noises coming out of the aliens and how cool would it have been if they began attempting to speak English as if to psyche your character out. Hmmmm. The explosions and other sound effect come across pretty lean and mean, I would have thought that grenades were louder sounding (and caused more damage) but hey, it's the future and maybe they have been dumbed down.
"I would have thought Uranium rods would have caused more of a sunburn?"
The action found in Shadowgrounds Survivor is borderline arcade speed; this isn't the kind of game that requires great strategy, but it does provide a certain satisfaction to the average gamer who wants to be able to hop in, kill a bunch of aliens and then hop out 20 minutes later. Yes, I have been playing this title fairly regularly since I got it, and while I am still surprised at all the things I missed (the game has secret areas) I am not surprised that the game is addictive. Yes, there are plenty of things to shoot and the ability to upgrade yourself and weapons is nice, but the controls really seemed to gel with me. In the game, you can set how you want to move by assigning keys; I like the arrows, then by using the mouse, you place a targeting reticule in the direction you want to fire. You can also spin the camera's top down view around as well since it is at a slight angle, doing so helps with blind corners and other areas of the map.
Survivor also features a sort of "no way out mode" where you see how long you can last against a never-ending alien horde. There is no beating this portion of the game, the idea is just to see how long you can last as aliens bear down on you relentlessly. Is it fun? Well, it would have been better if this was online capable and you were competing against others to see who could last the longest. Also, I think the game could have benefitted from a co-op style of gameplay. What with the three different characters, there could have been some sort of online competition/gaming.
Lastly, the nice thing about this title, is that you don't have to go to a store to get it, you can go to www.steampowered.com and buy it online, $19.95 baby!
Review Scoring Details for Shadowgrounds Survivor
It is easy to control after re-mapping the keys to your liking. Some weapons have secondary fire and there is lots and lots of action. This is the non-thinking man's action title.
Surprisingly, the game looks way better then the original; I know that's not uncommon (duh), but for a value title, the spit and polish rivals that of other full-priced games.
I liked the voiceovers the characters had, and the ambient music does provide the right feel for the game, but some sound effects are lacking.
You can set the difficulty to your liking; I like things easy, my wife thinks differently.
A well-used idea, wrapped neatly in a simple game that is surprisingly fun and entertaining.
Next to the Orange Box, this is actually a sweet value title. You must like killing aliens, lots of action and the kind of game where it pays to go looking down deserted dark corridors.