Sunday, July 22, 2012

Shadow the Hedgehog Review

            So I return triumphant, or at least existent, from my brief vacation. During said vacation, the Steam Summer Sale occurred, netting me several more games to add to the huge list I elaborated on before I left (and keep in mind those were just the ones I’d already played). While I try to juggle playing everything from every time period at once I figured it’d be good to get some content in without too much of a wait, so I’m going to capitalize on something I played before I left for vacation. As a reward for waiting for content you get…a crappy game about a human sized mammal making a laughable attempt at attitude.

If you guessed this…who am I kidding no one would guess this, even though it fits the description. Funnily enough, this is an eco-friendly rip-off of the series containing the game I am talking about.

            As most people know, Sonic didn’t handle the transition to 3D as well as his counterpart Mario did. Mario’s slower paced gameplay switched to a new non-linear gameplay format in 3D that worked great, but Sonic stuck to linear levels. In addition, given that precision platforming is harder in 3D, the newer games dialed it back and had a lot more fast-paced on-rails segments. Though these looked quite nice and were a fun novelty, they weren’t as engaging as a game and made the games whizz by far too fast to be worth the price of a full game.

            So one of the main problems for every 3D Sonic game was that of keeping the playtime at a reasonable level. People familiar with what happened to the Sonic series next (hint: it didn’t do as well) have probably guessed that the games didn’t always do this in good ways. Most 3D Sonic games have at least a small amount of boring filler content padding the hours. At the same time, the creators presumably wanted a fresh take on things after Sonic Adventure 2. What we got (in 2005) was an example of the somewhat infamous tradition of the gritty reboot, Shadow the Hedgehog.

To some extent, the box tells you everything you need to know, and not in a good way.

            Shadow the Hedgehog has the same abilities he had in Adventure 2, aka the same ones Sonic has. He can run fast, spin dash, jump and execute a homing attack on nearby enemies when in midair. However, in addition to that this game added some new mechanics, although this isn’t exactly a good thing. The biggest one was the addition of guns, a variety of which Shadow could pick up and fire at his enemies, with a slightly homing aspect handling the problem of aiming in a third person perspective. Of course, the homing aspect didn’t fix the problem entirely, and it’s still relatively easy to miss a lot or hit the wrong targets when firing guns. To make matters worse, the problem of hitting the wrong target is exasperated by the moral choice system.

            In an initially kind of interesting twist, Shadow the Hedgehog has a bunch of different stages that each has branching objectives. Most stages have a good, a neutral, and an evil objective, though some only have two, and which you completed determined which stage you went to next. The game had 5 different ending stages, and each having a good and evil path led to a total of 10 different endings. This all sounds pretty cool, if a bit less so when you realize you have to replay a lot of stages if you want to get every ending and unlock the true final boss/ending.

Another time when I really wish I could capture my own screens. I can only find a single image of the mission select screen on the internet and it’s ridiculously low res so you get the lame Wikipedia boxes version.

            Even if you can take going through the first stage 10 times and the final stages twice each (and they’re usually 15-25 minutes long), there’s another problem with the moral choice system. You’re allowed to switch your objectives at any time during a stage, but this causes some persistent problems. One of them is that there is no such thing as friendly AI, and all sides of the conflict are attacking you at all times. Of course, “attacking” is a strong word given that some enemies literally just walk between a couple points and fire in the general direction of the enemy, even when you’ve already killed the enemy, but it’s nonetheless a regular annoyance.

            When you’re not getting hit by your allies, they’re usually complaining to you. The lack of friendly fire combined with the difficulty of aiming guns means that you’ll inevitably accidentally shoot some allies. But despite the fact that they do the same to you, whatever ally you’re working for will never shut up about what a terrible person you are for doing so. In fact, there are even times when destroying your allies is the only way to proceed because it’ll open a gate or something, and your allies will still complain. Another thing that often causes complaints is Shadow’s super moves. He has two meters at the top of the screen, filling up when you kill good or evil enemies. The evil one emits a destructive blast when full and the good one rushes you forward in the stage (or in highly nonlinear stages just stops time). Both harm everyone regardless of side, which is sure to cause some complaints. In addition, the good one can often zoom you past side areas with nice stuff or even sometimes necessary objectives.

            Speaking of objectives, this game is pretty terrible at giving you ones that don’t suck. There are generally 3 types of objective in the game, though some vary. Most neutral objectives are merely reaching the end of the stage, and the good/evil objectives are usually either kill every evil/good enemy or activate/collect every one of some number of objects. Notice how in both of those last two I said every. This is one of the worst parts about the game, because there’s nothing more boring than scouring a stage because you missed one of the 60 enemies who was sitting in a corner (I’m not kidding, some stages have that many). Hell, the first bloody stage of the game has some enemies only accessible by going behind the stage goal. The objectives are repetitive, boring, repetitive grinds that are highly repetitive.

Oh sorry, well you were speeding through the stage at 500 miles an hour did you happen to miss one of the dozens of grey soldiers on grey background because he was sitting out of camera shot? Better search the whole stage again for him!

            The story…dear god where do I begin on the story. Shadow disappeared at the end of Sonic Adventure 2. The Shadow in this story begins it with amnesia. That’s right, I said the Shadow in this story. It’s left uncertain whether or not this Shadow is the same Shadow, a clone, an android, or something else entirely. The endings offer different things that Shadow could be, and the story on the way is simply a mess. It’s quite possible to go through the whole game and not understand a single main character or villain’s motivation, or what exactly is happening, or even what happened in the past. Often times the stages you go to seem completely unconnected, and offer no explanation as to why Shadow is there or how he got here. Sometimes it even goes a step further and literally just teleports Shadow to other places with little apparent rhyme or reason, and at least one of these I’ve seen seems to be an accidental out-of-place cutscene. The writing is just plain bad. About the only thing that remains constant is that aliens invade and are evil.

The other thing that remains constant? THIS IS STUPID.

            But wait, there’s more bile to come yet! The camera is often pretty bad, in the typical fashion of cameras facing awkward angles and not showing you what you need to see. The stage design in general is sometimes terrible, with stages being confusing mazes rife with dead ends. It can sometimes be difficult to figure out where to go even for linear missions, let alone the horror that is navigating them when you only have one more of some dozens of objectives to find. Sometimes a stage can take literally about half an hour despite the fact that you move very fast. This makes it very annoying when you’ve been searching for that long and run out of lives and have to start the whole damn thing over again. This is also exasperated by the fact that the difficulty balance is all over the place. Some individual stages are far too difficult compared to the ones around them, and often times in an individual stage I’ll be perfectly fine for like 10 minutes of gameplay and then lose several lives to the same point. The controls are occasionally a bit fiddly, though it’s not as much a problem as some of this other stuff. Oh, and there are vehicles, which is just silly.

You can run as fast as that car! This should not be a thing! Ever!

            I haven’t even really talked about the stupidity in general of making a gritty reboot to such a light-hearted franchise. I guess it felt too obvious to me, because I assume you readers are all smart enough to know that when a series beginning with a plucky hero rescuing animals reaches the point where its grim-faced animal protagonist is gunning down humans with a look of rage on his face something somewhere went wrong. The whole game just oozes misplaced anger and darkness to the point where if you’re detached enough like I am it almost becomes a bit hilarious. I mean come on, the menu selection sound is a gunshot!

            But despite piling a mountain of hate on the game that it very much deserves, it isn’t all bad. So now I’m going to tempt fate and actually say some good things about Shadow the Hedgehog. The game uses a bit too much grit and darkness, don’t get me wrong, but the stages actually do have a decent level of variation and some of them even have a fair amount of color or an interesting look to them.

From the green tinted labs of Lost Impact…

To the glowing neon yellow of Circus Park…

To the brightly lit space of, well, Space Gadget…

And even the crazy multi-colored cyberspace of Digital Circuit and Mad Matrix. Let it never be said that the game doesn’t have occasional color variety.

            The branching levels may have been executed horribly, but I think it’s actually a pretty interesting idea. Had the objectives been more reasonable, the stages better much better designed, and, uh…well the point is that in theory branching level design and branching levels in general could be a really cool thing and other platformers (and hell, games in general) should give it a shot more often. The music in the game is, well, among the worst soundtracks I’ve ever heard in a Sonic game. However, Sonic games contain some of my favorite soundtracks of all time, and even a lesser one like this has at least decent music. In fact, a few of the tunes are actually great.

Westopolis is the first stage of the game, and thus you’ll hear its music a lot. It’s a bit slower and has a heavier guitar than usual for Sonic music, like most songs in the game, and thus is not a personal favorite of mine. But hey, it’s still at least alright.

Now admittedly I have a strong bias for electronic music, but I think Digital Circuit’s fast paced techno track sounds fantastic.

The music for The ARK stage is somewhat of a remix of Shadow’s Final Rush stage from Sonic Adventure 2, and is some excellent music.

            So to sum up, Shadow the Hedgehog is a game with some decent ideas crippled by some terrible gameplay and story decisions. It has enough good ideas in it that I could see how someone, particularly with the aid of nostalgia, could see it as a good game. But could I recommend it to someone objectively? No no a thousand times no. When I said the gameplay and story were cripplingly bad, I meant it.

            But before I leave you, there is one more positive thing about Shadow the Hedgehog I’d like to tell you. You can unlock some new weapons for beating the game, and one of the weapons you can unlock is called the Satellite Laser. Using it you can target an enemy or several at once, and when you release the button after a slight delay they are struck by a gigantic, orbital laser beam. A gigantic. Orbital. Laser beam!


            Thank you, that is all.


  1. First I'd like to say that Gears of War has those lasers and they are even more awesome in that game. Second, congratulations on your 17th post. That takes more commitment than most have. Heck, I don't think I've commented even 10 times on this blog.
    About the actual game, I remember thinking the game was crap when I got it, but I don't actually remember it well enough to know why. All I have is this vague memory of being lost in a stage for half an hour and just giving up. While it might be interesting to go back and remember fully why I didn't like it, much better games deserve my attention, and it's your job to revisit bad games anyways.
    I'm also surprised you didn't bring up the silliness of a character hip firing an automatic weapon easily as tall as the character himself. I just can't get myself to look past that.

    1. Ah, I see, didn't know about Gears, credit where it's due. I guess more broadly than the orbital lasers I just wish more games had cool or interesting weaponry rather than lazily rehashing the same type of guns over and over. The industry at large seems to be sticking to some very specific subgenres of shooter.

      As for the silliness of Shadow and his giant rifles, like I said in an earlier paragraph it's almost too easy. If I pointed out every bit of this game where the "grim" atmosphere went wrong (or where there was a gameplay glitch/annoyance) I'd be here all day. The opening cutscene basically sums it up if you wanna look it up on YouTube. Dark, gritty music plays as Shadow drives a motorcycle into a car, guns people down with a look of rage on his face and shows random teleportations powers. He never stops looking angry, and the end of the scene shows him atop a pile of bodies stepping over a beaten and bruised Sonic. They so BADLY wanted this game to be popular with a certain demographic, and the result is an almost self-parodying thematic mess.

      Thing is, we all know that. The one thing everyone remembers about this game (and that all the press mentioned) is how stupid it was for a relatively cheery/upbeat series like Sonic to get a gritty reboot. So instead I focused more on the less remembered gameplay failings instead.

    2. Looking at the things less examined seems to be a common theme of your blog.