Shadow the Hedgehog review
If you're a really successful game character and you have a lookalike, it's a good idea to give said lookalike his own game, however much you hate him. So, following in the footsteps of many game characters, Sonic the Hedgehog homing attacks out of the way for a bit. As you can surmise, Shadow the Hedgehog diverts attention away from the happy-go-lucky blue 'hog, instead concentrating on his mysterious, dark, emotionally void lookalike (who, let's be honest, has dominated the series since Adventure 2).
Let's recap (spoilerphobics might want to skip this paragraph). Shadow (supposedly) fell to his death at the climax of Sonic Adventure 2. Later, he was discovered in stasis by fellow Emerald hunter (and borderline furry) Rouge, a happy reunion which was later shattered when she discovered a warehouse full of Shadow robots in similar stasis booths on Eggman's battleship. So Shadow, poor lad, has been left not knowing whether he's the real McCoy or just another android (apparently getting an X-ray isn't an option he's thought of). And thus follows a slightly complicated plot in which Shadow resolves to track down Dr. Eggman and a mysterious alien who claims knowledge of Shadow's past, and various side-stories.
Of course, Shadow, with his dark spines, angular eyes and excessive chest fur isn't the happy-go-lucky hero his lookalike is, so it's not surprising that his game is a decidedly darker plot than the Sonic Adventure/Heroes saga. Sonic Team have adapted the game accordingly. In an attempt to make this (traditionally family-friendly) series appeal to the older, "mature" gamer, Sonic Team have done away with the cuddly plot and replaced it with a few new tweaks. Shadow is thrust into a storyline involving alien terrorists, various flashbacks and (perhaps for some much-needed comic relief) Eggman's plans being typically scuppered by the alien invasion.
To give it its due, the storyline isn't that sub-par. It fills in a lot of holes from previous games and it's quite clever. Nor is its unique style of playing. Each stage has two or three missions (spread across three loose categories of allegiance - "hero", "dark" and "neutral"), and depending on which path Shadow chooses he determines what the next stage will be or which opponent he ultimately confronts in the final showdown. Hero missions generally involving teaming up with one of the series' myriad other "central" characters, and typically involve fending off aliens or putting paid to Dr. Eggman's latest crazy schemes. Neutral missions are the standard choice, and centre on Shadow's quest to discover his own past. Dark missions usually have you acting as a pawn of Black Doom or Eggman, carrying out various unscrupulous deeds and generally doing whatever Sonic wouldn't. The non-neutral missions are introduced by various (mostly familiar) characters from Sonic lore, who also provide hints as you play. Doing certain things associated with a specific allegiance also bolsters Shadow's two energy meters; when one's full, he can activate a Chaos-powered attack. The hero one warps him ahead (or freezes bosses), while the dark one attacks nearby enemies. Unfortunately, the mission you're playing doesn't seem to influence whether or not NPCs will want to shoot at you. Still, it's a good idea, if perhaps not pulled off quite as well as it could have been, and on the plus points bosses are plentiful and the "build your own" storyline idea is quite intriguing.
The game's graphics are reasonable, and the FMVs are lush. For some reason the game seems to struggle with the frame rate on occasion, but it's generally not a problem. Fortunately the game isn't all angst rock in terms of music, and the score's quite good. And the dialogue - oh, the dialogue. Where to begin? Sonic games aren't exactly known for being Shakespeare but Shadow takes this to new heights. Eggman is suitably silly and most of the voices are quite good, but while the majority of the voice acting isn't too cheesy, the dialogue is. Well, parts of it. Shadow's ridiculous barrage of mild language is so repetitive it becomes meaningless. It is a real pity; had they put a bit more thought into it instead of overdoing it, this could have the best Sonic yet in terms of dialogue.
The stages are typically varied; you get classic Sonic environments like desert ruins, cities, space stations and so forth, along with a few nods to previous Sonic games and their stage names. Difficulty varies between stages, and it's quite well-balanced. As for controls, Shadow is a mixed bag. Shadow does have access to the homing attack which is easily activated with a second prod of the jump button. He can also roll under obstacles and perform a variety of moves. Unfortunately his other movements aren't quite as efficient. Shadow slips and slides and while, fortunately, pinpoint jumps are rare, they get frighteningly common in some stages. Vehicles (see section below) handle fairly nicely, but Shadow completely grinds to a halt when he fires some weapons, which while handy for staying airborne over moving platforms, requires a quick shift between running like the wind and shooting things.
Oh yes, the weapons. Perhaps most hyped among fanboys (and fangirls, Shadow's surprisingly popular with the ladies apparently) is the decision to allow Shadow to wield a variety of weapons. Lances, rocket launchers and even a satellite cannon are among many weapons at Shadow's command. Weapons can be picked up from defeated characters (friendly or otherwise) or found inside crates or lying conveniently on the ground. There's no option to aim your weapons (with the exception of turrets) - in first or third-person - and combat is fiddly, with the game's "helpful" auto-lock feature not being able to tell friend and foe apart. Now a game where you can't aim most of your weapons isn't necessarily lacklustre - well, look at Metal Gear Solid - but Shadow tries to combine that with the same high-speed action as his likeness' previous games. Often you'll be whizzing past (or into) an enemy you've just spotted before you can align your weapon and attack. It's hardly blending the two genres in the masterful way accomplished by the likes of Ratchet and Clank or Star Wars Battlefront. Also on offer are vehicles, which include walking mechs (essentially a throwback to SA2's mech missions, but without the competent aiming mechanism), various road vehicles and a selection of alien flying vehicles (which to be honest are quite good fun).
Shadow is a game with plenty of positives, but nearly as many negatives. With Shadow's repetitive sort-of swearing and the inclusion of weapons, it's easy to think Sonic Team have taken the Jack Thompson formula for what makes so-called "mature" games appealing to older players, cut it down and slapped it on what was already a mediocre Sonic Heroes sequel without the three-character system. That's slightly unfair - it does try - but unfortunately it doesn't quite do it as well as it could have done. There's plenty of evidence of effort and the game does have some good ideas; it's just not quite there.
With 70 missions, over 350 combinations (each being recorded as a separate storyline you can view the FMVs of) and a hard-as-nails challenge mode, it's not a game completionists are going to ace in a few days. More to the point, it would take a completionist's skills to bother completing the whole thing; most other players are probably going to get bored after the 15th or so time they're playing the same mission on the same stage. Get it if you're a fan, otherwise consider playing one of the Adventure/Heroes saga first.
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