Take a fully trained team of explorers and fighters and then stumble around a space station for a bit in this sequel to the hit RPG, Shadowlands.
It's been explained on more than one occasion that, here at Amiga Power, the reviewer's opinion is what counts in the end. The rest of the team have their say, of course, but ultimately, if a reviewer really doesn't like a game, he's completely at liberty to say so. Whatever anyone else might be telling him.
In the case of Shadowlands, however, Mark's been intolerable. "Look at those shadows - aren't they terrific?" he said. "What a great weapons system," he said. "What do you reckon to those puzzles, eh?" he said. "You'll probably be giving this a pretty high score, won't you?" he said. "Say, about 88?"
In fact, to escape the pressure from above, I've had to take my Amiga, my copy of Shadoworlds and my word processor, and withdraw to an undisclosed location on the outskirts of Bath. From here I hope to be able to tell you just what I think of the game.
Shadoworlds is the sequel to Shadowlands, which was reviewed by Mark back in AP11 (He gave it 87%). While Shadowlands was set in a traditional fantasy role-playing environment, replete with wizards, warriors and magic potions.
Shadoworlds plumps for a more universally-appealing sci-fi setting with an Aliens-like plot. Having picked your team of four soldiers from the selection available - there's no "character creation" facility like in the original - you're put in a dark, deserted space station and told to discover what's happened to its crew.
Finding the solution will involve solving puzzles, fighting baddies, and masses and masses of exploring and mapping. You'll have to wrestle with door switches and teleporters, and at some points you might even find yourself down on the surface of the planet the space-station is orbiting. Integral to all this is the 'Photoscaping' system, which gives a nice graphical effect and means you'll have to use torches and flares to find your way around the space station.
Now, Mark covered the good points of Teque's light-and-dark RPG system in his Shadowlands review. He pointed out how objects have weights, and characters have strengths, and these all work together to give a realistic, intuitive 'game world'. He extolled (at some length) the virtues of the much-simplified role-playing system, which cuts out all the wisdom/dexterity nonsense and replaces what numbers remain by simple bar-graphs. He got really rather excited about the way the lighting effect doesn't just look nice, but is involved in the solutions to some of the puzzles, too. And he thought the help system was just wonderful.
Now, seeing as how that stuff's already been covered, and how I'm not quite sure a big RPG fan as Mark, I'll use what space remains for a different purpose - the other side of the story.
One: The characters are so stupid. One of the game's selling points is the way you can make characters walk around in formation, to save moving them all individually. But trying to get a formation of troops to walk through a narrow doorway is farcical. They jostle each other round for ages, then a couple of them might eventually get through, with the others getting jammed somewhere behind the walls, unable to figure out where to go next. And one character's quite happy to shoot another who gets between him and a baddy. You really don't want to have to worry about that kind of thing in the heat of a frantic battle.
Two: The control system. It's meant to be really simple to use. But to get a character to, say, move from one point on the screen to the other involves the following steps: First you need to select the character you want to move by clicking on one of the pictures at the bottom of the screen. Then you have to move over to the generic figure in the middle and click on its leg. Finally you click on the point on the screen you want to move the character to. If you just want to dodge a laser bolt, this is plainly ridiculous. Why not dispense with the first step by having a full figure for each character? Plus, it's really hard to see which character is currently selected, or which character is which on the screen. And battles are made even trickier by the limited range you can give orders over. If you've got one of your characters and a monster at either end of an otherwise empty screen, you've got to walk your character to within a few feet of the monster, through whatever it might be throwing at you, before you're even allowed to take aim. Very irritating. With all that business with the controls to worry about as well, you really haven't a chance.
Three: fluid levels. The one hangover from fantasy RPGs in Shadoworlds I could really do without is the need to keep checking on your team's fluid levels, topping them up if they run low. If you let them run out, your team dies. (Fluid, in Shadoworlds, is a nutrient solution that combines food and drink.) Consequently, I found I spent far more time worrying about fluid levels than solving puzzles or shooting baddies. I don't remember seeing Sigourney Weaver, locked in mortal combat with an Alien, suddenly turning to her colleagues and saying, "Sorry, lads, I haven't had a drink in twenty minutes. You'll just have to manage without me."
I could go on. Shadoworlds is full of similar flaws - flaws which could easily have been eliminated by slightly more thoughtful playtesting.
And for the exciting twist at the end. You might have got the impression from my opening comments and the rather dejected tone of the paragraphs that followed, that I wasn't terribly impressed by Shadoworlds. Well, you couldn't have been further from the truth. I thought it was fab. I've had enormous fun reviewing it, and I suggest that you rush out and buy it immediately, even if you don't normally go for this sort of thing. It's just that its (relatively minor) shortcomings annoyed me so much that I'm going to have to knock a couple of points off the devastatingly high score I'd otherwise have given it. I hope Mark doesn't mind.
Spells are a thing of the past (literally). In Shadoworlds, combat takes place with guns. Your party sets off on its quest unarmed (for some reason), but soon comes across a variety of weapons. The simplest are light sabres, and small arms like pistols, which take up one slot in your inventory. Best of all, though, are two-handed weapons. These are found in halves - barrel and stock - and can be mixed and matched to make custom artillery. Fix a cannon barrel onto a laser stock and you've got a laser cannon. Swap the cannon barrel for a machine barrel, and you've got a rapid fire laser. Simple, huh?
Uppers: All the advantages of a role-playing game - enormous size and depth, character interaction, lots of variety - without the penalty of complexity. So everyone will enjoy this. The puzzles are really cunning too - if a little unlikely at times.
Downers: While the lighting system works beautifully, creating buckets of atmosphere and tension, overall the visual side is a little dull. The action frequently gets ahead of the control system. Character intelligence is limited - you have to take care of literally everything.
It's got all the advantages of its predecessor, while bunging in enough new stuff to make it worthwhile. It did hack me off at times though.