Shadowgrounds Review

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One day I was looking for a game to play but wasn’t sure what I was in the mood for. I was scrolling through my Steam library and after a little while, I stumbled across a game called Shadowgrounds. I immediately thought to myself what the hell is this and when did I get it? Developed by Frozenbyte, Shadowgrounds was released for PC in April, 2006. I looked at the store page and discovered it’s a top down shooter that lets you blow away aliens. I then thought to myself I like top down shooters and I like aliens, so I figured I would give it a shot. It reminded me of the Alien Breed games.

The protagonist is Wesley Tyler, a mechanic on the IGTO Repair Base on Ganymede. After repairing some generators as ordered, he loses contact with other technicians and encounters hostile alien creatures. He teams up with other military personnel to combat the aliens and is tasked with various different missions. Basically, the game is about an alien invasion. It’s not the greatest story ever told and the voice acting is pretty bad but the game is atmospheric. It’s got this whole creepy sci-fi thing going on but I can’t say I found any part of the game frightening in any way. It’s more of an action game than a horror game.

Shadowgrounds is a top down shooter that can be played solo or cooperatively. The core gameplay is simple; run around, complete objectives, shoot aliens, and try not to die. The game plays out in levels or chapters and you have a limited amount of respawns per chapter. You cannot save manually and when you die, you consume a respawn. You can run, roll, and activate a flashlight which will drain through battery that recharges when turned off. You can interact with things like terminals, open and close doors, and learn more about the world and events by reading information found on computers and PDAs in the environments.

You’ll come across weapons, ammo, and medikits and enemies can leave behind upgrade parts when killed. The first weapon you receive is a pistol and it does have infinite ammo. Shadowgrounds features a nice variety of weapons and you can spend upgrade parts to improve them. You can improve reload times, increase firing speeds, and unlock alternate fire modes among other things. Each weapon feels satisfying to use, more so when they’re upgraded, and some are better for certain situations. The pulse rifle is a great weapon against most threats and it can be upgraded with an electric taser that can immobilize foes. You can wipe out a group of aliens in seconds with the minigun and you can upgrade it so it can be placed on the ground to act as a sentry which is awesome. You’ll get your hands on some explosive firepower like a grenade launcher and rocket launcher that can be upgraded to fire nukes. Cther cool weapons include a shotgun, laser rifle, flamethrower, railgun, and electric gun.

You’ll engage different types of aliens on your journey including several bosses. Most of the time, you’re outnumbered and will have to run around, circle strafe, and roll to evade attacks. One of the most common enemies you’ll face are Wrenchers which have a dangerous leap attack. They become less of a threat when you upgrade your pistol or have any other weapon but they can be deadly in large numbers. One of the more interesting enemy types is the Scytheworm. They can make themselves invisible which can make it easy for them to surround you but they can’t hide from your flashlight. The final areas of the game can be a bit tedious to get through because Brute Soldiers are common. These guys have shields that protect them from damage but they’re vulnerable in the back. They can be a pain in the ass. Each enemy in the game behaves differently. Some are big, some are small, and some fire projectiles. The varied roster of enemies does keep things interesting.

Shadowgrounds does get more challenging as you progress and as more new and tough enemy types are thrown at you, more weapons are introduced as well. You’ll have to know what the enemies can do and what weapons are best for certain situations. You can drain through ammo quickly if you don’t switch out weapons often but ammo pickups are usually not hard to come by. Enemies will come from behind objects, vents, and out of the shadows. You’ll sometimes be tasked with repairing something and will have to fend off enemies as you do it. Unfortunately, the friendly and enemy AI in Shadowgrounds is far from amazing. Once spotted, enemies simply attack you and don’t try to avoid your shots or do anything too sophisticated. I’ve seen them stand around and do nothing even though I was in plain sight. The challenge comes from having to survive mobs of foes. You’ll have to avoid projectiles and try not to get overwhelmed. Every now and then you’ll be accompanied by NPCs who will engage enemies with you but you can easily lose them because their pathfinding is terrible.

On your HUD is a radar that shows you where nearby enemies are and as you navigate around the environments, more of the map for the current area is revealed. You’ll battle enemies at a Water Treatment Facility, Communications Center, Research Base, and in mines, among other locations. Many objectives have you going from A to B but you’ll have to do other things as well like find items, rescue NPCs, defend areas, and repair things. While you can always reference an objective marker on your radar, you’ll often have to figure out how to get to your destination. Sometimes paths are blocked off and there’s a lot of dark areas so it can be easy to miss a path and sometimes even enemies. If you take the time to look around, you can find pickups in the darkness or behind things. There’s a lot of breakable objects in the game and destroying them will often reveal items. The environments do encourage exploration and are, for the most part, well designed. There’s usually rooms and areas off to the side you can explore for resources. It shouldn’t be hard to figure out where to go but some areas can be confusing.

Shadowgrounds looks pretty good overall. The lighting is good, the environments are detailed, and I like the alien designs. When you destroy stuff and blow things up, debris and objects go flying through the air. Many of the details and visual effects are the reasons why the game feels so atmospheric. You’ll walk through buildings with flickering lights, a hazy mist covers the ground in some areas, muzzle flashes illuminate dark areas, and dead bodies and blood can be found everywhere. Enemies bleed when shot, pools of blood forms under dead bodies, and enemies can explode into a shower of body parts. Weapons fire sounds excellent, making each one sound and feel powerful. The music ramps up when engaging enemies and the soundtrack is filled with some great tunes. On the technical side, the game ran smoothly and I encountered what I’m calling distortion bugs which makes it appear as if textures are missing or they’re warping and it occurs frequently.

I really enjoyed Shadowgrounds. I love its simplicity. It’s just a fun run and gun top down shooter. Shadowgrounds is an atmospheric game with an okay story. The gameplay is action-packed with fun weapons and cool enemies. Each weapon is useful and the upgrade system can be addictive. I would consult the upgrade screen frequently just to see what I wanted to unlock next. After a while, blowing enemies into chunks becomes a common occurrence and never gets old. Shadowgrounds does actually feel like a spiritual successor to the classic Alien Breed games. In fact, I found an Alien Breed III mod for the game. Shadowgrounds does officially support mods and comes with a level editor. You can find tutorials on how to use it on the game’s website which is still up as of this review.

I would recommend Shadowgrounds to those that enjoy action games and top down shooters. You can get it on Steam for seven bucks, on GOG for six, and I saw it on sale on Steam the other day for a dollar and change. For the price, it’s definitely worth checking out and you might be surprised at how much fun it is.

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