Shadowgrounds: Survivor (PC) review
"Iíve no problems re-exploring claustrophobic corridors or rusting walkways infested with menaces not too happy to see you. I look forward to blowing them away in ridiculous numbers. Maybe itís the sadist in me, or maybe Frozenbyte have simply gone ahead and made an addictive little game."
Let's be honest; very few of you have ever been trapped behind enemy lines, desperately fighting for your life against a hostile force that vastly outnumbers you. It's not an everyday event, but it's exactly the predicament the three protagonists in Shadowgrounds: Survivors find themselves in. They can damn their luck all the more: those they're up against are vicious, bloody-thirsty mutants hailing from an alien world and somewhat irked to find three squishy humans wandering around on their turf.
Think Starship Troopers, delete the majority of the plot and focus on the action. Imagine swarms and swarms of other-worldly bugs the size of a Ford Buick surging at you in waves. Ignore love on the battlefield, deep character interaction and computer-draining cinematic -- you've no time to be entertained so superficially: you've got a miracle to perform.
And that's what getting out alive from the gutted colonies feels like at times. Presented in an almost throwback fashion, Survivor is a top-down, balls-out shoot-a-thon that takes great pride in always having something to shoot at with a plethora of differing and upgradeable weapons. In this, it takes a lot from the earlier Shadowgrounds, which makes sense as Survivor is more of an alternative take on the original title then a full blown sequel.
Storming through the ruins of dilapidated, snow-filled encampments, any of your three characters need to run the gauntlet of uncountable alien beasties that will leap from roofs or sprint from the shadows. Essentially, the most tested of your skills will be how steady you can keep your line of fire while running backwards, but even this tried and tested approach will find itself counteracted by sheer number (especially if you hike the difficulty up early -- something Iíll recommend you do). Thereís a simplistic, retro feel to the game that harks back to similar titles like Crusader: the plot is minimal, thereís not rollercoster twists or turns, itís just the story of three people left for dead desperately trying to defy the odds and get out alive.
Thatís not to say that Survivor is firmly rooted in the past. Each of your awfully-named characters (armed with subtle monikers such as ĎMarineí and ĎSniperí) split the originalís game artillery between them (with a few unnoticeable firearms being lost in the shuffle). Weapons can be upgraded by collecting upgrades from beaten foes that change simple sniper slugs into projectiles that will ricochet off surfaces, letting you make carefully-plotted bullets bounce around corners, or giving every missed shot a chance to rebound and strike your target in the back.
While this is an element refined from the old game, whatís brand spankiní new is how you can also spend upgrades on the characters themselves. Some upgrades cover all bases, such as the ability to automatically use medi-kits or increase their potency, but there's also unique individualistic skills, like a more blood-crazed version of bullet-time, which lets you speed around a slown-down screen like a psychotic loon, making bloody piles of charred flesh out of enemies that've been slowed to a crawl. Massive aliens with more teeth than brains cells are so much easier to gut when theyíre forced to move like theyíre swimming in tar.
Even when youíre not blasting aliens, thereís always something to destroy: everything you see in the game is destructible, and you never know what youíll find by making something go boom. Throughout the game are hidden bonus options, much like the skulls in the last couple of Halo games. Finding these let you activate anything from a God mode, a monochrome filter or allow you to tinker with the physics engine. Deathís so much more fun when what you hit promptly flies off the screen like itís been mangled by a wrecking ball rather than splattered with a slug.
Thereís simply not enough game to write a massive 2,000 word review (you can see the editor in me looking relived) but this is very much to SurvivorĎs credit. Itís not allowed itself to get bogged down in all the cosmetic shenanigans so many titles these days seem to think is obligatory, and has instead super-glued a plasma rifle to your hand, kicked you out the door and ordered you to blow the hell out everything you see before it sees and eats you. In keeping things simple, itís giving me very little to complain about; the control scheme is tight enough to allow me to do what I want to do without suffering cheap deaths, the gameís outlook really benefits from fantastic real-time lighting effects , and make great use of this for the more atmospheric set pieces. I could complain that the game is short and, unless you bump up the challenge, a little on the easy side, but as soon as Iíd ploughed in the five hours or so needed to beat the game, I jumped back in, wanting to find a few more bonus items or wanting to see how the upgrades Iíd not invested in worked.
Iíve no problems re-exploring claustrophobic corridors or rusting walkways infested with menaces not too happy to see me. I look forward to blowing them away in ridiculous numbers. Maybe itís the sadist in me, or maybe Frozenbyte have simply gone ahead and made an addictive little game.
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