Some genuinely cool time mechanics make Shadwen an interesting premise at first with the ability to freeze and rewind the action a cool trick. The ability to reverse a fail state is at odds with the genre of the game and the bland environments only drag Shadwen down into an ultimately dull and disinteresting affair.
Playing as the titular assassin the game starts in one of its static cut-scenes as you murder the king with a young girl in tow. You’re then transported back a few hours to play as Lily to begin the tutorial. It’s a decent start but the narrative fails to hold your attention for long and the environments fails to impress. You soon move on to control Shadwen herself, piecing together your grappling hook and learning, heh, the ropes of movement and how time freezes when not moving, before encountering Lily.
The main premise of Shadwen appears to be whether or not you commit acts of violence in front of the girl and how that eventually affects your relationship with her. Sadly, there’s simply not enough to hook you into this narrative and believe any of it matters. True, Shadwen is a stealth game first and the gameplay systems are what you’re here for, but without any decent dressing this is a meagre feast.
To kill or not to kill?
As you’ve now, oddly, taken a young girl under your grumpy wing the game consists of escorting Lily through the levels without being seen. Distracting guards by pulling down crates or boxes or by stabbing them in the back. Despite wanting to come along with you Lily is disgusted by such violent actions which has a bearing on the story later on. So you’ve the complete stealth option or the murdering option (or a mix) - both of which require you to be out of sight all the time. If a guard sees you for longer than a few seconds then it’s game over and any discovered guard will lead to these grown men, with weapons, to run around like headless chickens and ring their bell signalling game over as well.
One of the great features of Shadwen is that this failure state can be literally reversed by winding back time. There’s no explanation as to how you can do this but it makes the hardcore stealth element less irritating and places the focus on puzzle solving. Assisting this is how time stops when you stop moving - even in mid-air the action will stop enabling you to plan and execute your next move. This comes in useful especially when trying to make a series of jump with the grappling hook.
What it gives with the ability to plan out and intricately manage your abilities and movement it destroys in atmosphere and tension. The whole point of a stealth game is the stress of remaining unseen, the way a mere videogame can make you sweat and panic as you try to avoid detection and the satisfying way you can ice bad dudes and disappear without a trace. All that is swallowed up but the way you can rectify a mistake at a moment’s notice and effectively neutralise any threat that appears in the game.
Lily will not approve of this option
This means that Shadwen plays more like a puzzle game than the true stealth title it wishes to claim. Once you realise this then the mechanics become more palatable and the challenge is enjoyable. But only up to a point as Shadwen lacks the overall story and atmosphere to keep that interest going. As a gamer who loves story, characters and the worlds that videogames like to create and put you in I found none of Shadwen’s enticing at all. This was not helped by awkward dialogue between the guards that sounds like they’re giving little mini-melodramatic plays to you, sounding unnatural and ridiculously stupid.
The short exchanges between Shadwen and Lily add only the sparsest of detail to each of their lives and by the time it gets meaty I was far too bored to care.
Gather items to build more elaborate ways to sneak or maim
Though you only start with the grappling hook you can discover blueprints for other items like a decoy tool or ground mine, enabling your particular style of play to be expanded upon. Finding the parts to create these items usually means discovering chests that are hidden away or guarded heavily. They add a few more welcome wrinkles into the mix that improve the gameplay if you’re willing to look for them.
The most egregious failing of Shadwen is Lily. She will consistently appear in full sight of the guards with no consequence before running away to a hiding space, thus ruining the idea that stealth is paramount. Then she’ll either refuse to move despite the way being clear or just brazenly run around the whole map to the exit without any guard seeing her. I mean, these guards must be the densest humans on the planet as every sound or crate flying around the place is put down to the “Dark Spirits”.
Distracting guards to get Lily through the levels is key
Difficultly can be changed at any time and at the easiest setting guards’ field of vision is visualised by a bright cone and the game highlights objects that can be interacted with. This scales up to hard where nothing is highlighted and you’re left to constantly monitor the guards whereabouts and line of sight.
Performance and Graphics
There's a few graphics options but not many
Minimum System Requirements:
64 bit / 32 bit *) Windows 10 / 8 / 7 / Vista
Processor: Intel Core i3/i5/i7 1.8 GHz CPU dual-core. AMD 2.0 GHz dual-core.
Memory: 4 GB RAM
Graphics: NVIDIA GeForce 260 / Radeon HD 4000 Series / Intel HD Graphics 4000
DirectX: Version 10
Storage: 6 GB available space
Recommended System Requirements:
OS: (64 bit / 32 bit *) Windows 10 / 8 / 7 / Vista
Processor: Intel quad-core 2.0 GHz or dual-core 2.6 GHz
Memory: 8 GB RAM
Graphics: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 560 2GB / Radeon HD 6850 2GB
DirectX: Version 10
Storage: 6 GB available space
There’s not much to write home about when it comes to the visuals of Shadwen, not because the engine lacks quality but because the environments never lend themselves to stunning views. The murky and dirty nature of a medieval town is conveyed well enough and the bright cones of the guards awareness adds a much needed layer visual atmosphere.
Getting some Boom Fizz Science on
Did I tell you about the Dark Spirits? Well, if you play Shadwen nearly every conversation will mention them to the point of annoying hilarity. I can see that Shadwen is trying to build a mysterious world and gleaning this information through only guard conversations is a consistent approach. However, whereas games like Dark Souls or Thief entice you in with a fascinating world that you want to learn about or have gameplay systems that are the primary focus, Shadwen is immediately dull and awkward. The voice acting for the guards is limited and the actress for Lily doesn’t exactly convey a downtrodden young beggar girl, it does the opposite in fact.
Coming from the developers of Trine I expected a little more quality from Shadwen, the uninteresting environments echo the bland characters and gameplay that evolves too slowly. A level editor and mod support will give it some longevity and you might find some enjoyment from making a purely non-violent run through the game. But even the extra items couldn’t spice it up enough for me to find Shadwen anything other than a passing curio.
TOP GAME MOMENT
Dropping a crate on a bunch of guards and watching as their mates run into all my traps. Yeah, it’s just the Dark Spirits.
Interesting time manipulation.
Dull environments and story.
No tension or stress to create a stealth atmosphere.
The Dark Spirits.