The Needles

The Needles
Preview: Shadowgrounds: Survivor

Andy Chalk | 20 Nov 2007 21:00
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New environments have also been added; instead of being confined to a single, remote outpost, the sequel takes place across numerous environments and locations: Included in the preview build were an outdoor canyon level and a Mount Doom-like trek through the sweltering guts of a burning hot cavern complete with lava rivers and falls. (And it really was sweltering. Quite a nice visual effect.) While not having any real impact on gameplay, the environmental change-up does provide some nice eye candy, and some gamers may find the variety a relief from level design that can occasionally grow monotonous.

Like its predecessor, Shadowgrounds Survivor is particularly noteworthy for its lighting effects. Many of the game's environments are very dark - big shocker there - and the shadows cast by the interplay of the flashlight and the landscape are as impressive as any I've seen; there's a powerful little engine under all this, and it shows. And unlike a certain other game whose name rhymes with "Doom 3," the flashlight in Shadowgrounds Survivor is actually useful: It casts a reasonably wide cone of light that properly illuminates what you're shooting at and works regardless of the heat you're packing. Making it even more fun, a few of the enemy creatures you'll encounter are afraid of the light and will flee if caught in its beam. Early in the game you'll run into beasts resembling giant subterranean starfish, and while not especially dangerous on their own, they have a nasty habit of roaming in packs and sneaking up on you from dark corners. Fortunately, they're also either terrified of or allergic to bright light, so judicious use of the flashlight will allow you to hold them off or herd them together for simpler and more efficient killing.

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It's unfair to be overly critical of unpolished preview builds when encountering glitches or bugs, because typically they're still very much works in progress. But there are areas of concern beyond the "known issues" list included with the preview. Enemy AI appears suspect, for one thing: Alien creatures at times exhibited some very fundamental oddness during encounters, and while their "close and kill" behavior was hardly complex in the original game, in the Survivor preview it seems particularly dodgy. Often, enemies seemed to have trouble tracking me, and after missing a charging attack, could take a few seconds before reorienting and moving toward me again. In a few circumstances, they seemed entirely unaware of my presence; in one particular round of Survival, the aliens actually deviated away from me to move toward what appeared to be a predetermined rendezvous point in another room. Clipping issues also turned up from time to time; while it's easy enough to ignore the rare instances in which an alien appears unable to navigate around a sharp rock outcropping, it's a bit harder to overlook enemies who can not only see you through closed doors but can also come partway through them in their attempts to reach you.

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There isn't a whole lot more to be said about Shadowgrounds Survivor because there isn't a whole lot more to it: That which moves will die, usually accompanied by the meaty smack of bullets against flesh. The appeal is obviously not universal, but for the select, elite few who just cannot walk past an alien horde without pumping it full of lead, this is worth at least a second look. Shadowgrounds Survivor is expected to go for around $19.95 when it hits shelves, and if Frozenbyte can straighten out the spotty AI and occasional bits of strangeness, it'll be a pretty fantastic xenocidal bargain.

Special note: This is a preview for Shadowgrounds Survivor and I hope I don't get fired for deviating from the flight path, but it's worth mentioning that not only is a demo for the original Shadowgrounds readily available for the uncertain types out there, but the full game can be had over Steam for $9.95. It doesn't offer the variety of play options found in Shadowgrounds Survivor, but it's 10 bucks! For a healthy dose of old-school alien ass-whompin' fun, you can't go wrong.

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