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Shadowgrounds is reminiscent of the classic Alien Breed games. It’s a fun and atmospheric top down shooter where players get to repel an alien invasion, either solo or with a buddy. If it left you wanting more, then you’re in luck because a sequel was released in 2007. Developed and published by Frozenbyte, Shadowgrounds Survivor was released for PC in November, 2007. It features a new storyline and mechanics and more aliens to blow away.
The plot focuses on three survivors during the alien invasion on Ganymede. The story plays out in episodes with multiple missions per episode and alternates between three survivors – Luke, Bruno, and Isabel. Each protagonist must fight their way towards the colony of New Atlantis to team up with whoever remains of the human resistance. The game focuses more on action than it does on the story and the voice acting far from great. I do think the story in the first game was more interesting but Shadowgrounds Survivor does retain the creepy atmosphere.
Shadowgrounds Survivor can be played solo or cooperatively with up to four players and comes with multiple difficulty modes. It is a top down shooter and each protagonist can run around, shoot, activate a flash light, and store medikits to be used at anytime. They each have their own weapons and can hold up to a max of three. As you slaughter aliens, you’ll gain experience and eventually level up. However, each mission has a level cap and if you explore and try to kill every enemy, it’s not hard to hit the caps. Leveling up earns you Character Improvement Points and reaching certain levels unlocks certain upgrades. Enemies will drop Weapon Upgrade Parts when killed but they can also be found in the environments.
Most of the weapons and their upgrades from the previous game are present. Luke will use a pistol, pulse rifle, and rocket launcher, and can lob grenades. Bruno will use a flamethrower, shotgun, and minigun, and can toss poison grenades. And Isabel will use a pistol, railgun, and plasma rifle, and can throw EMP grenades which will stun enemies. The plasma rifle is one of my favorite weapons in the game because it can easily obliterate foes. Some of the weapon upgrades are unique to the characters. For example, one of Luke’s pistol upgrades allows him to lock onto targets and one of Isabel’s pistol upgrades lets her activate a shield for a brief time. Just like in the first game, you need Weapon Upgrade Parts to upgrade weapons but Survivor lets you also upgrade or improve your character. You spend Character Improvement Points to upgrade the characters and they do share a set of special upgrades you can unlock but each one also comes with unique upgrades.
All of the aliens from the previous game return. There’s one new type that resembles the Arachnoid Enforcer and it fires a projectile that can stun you. It can actually be quite annoying especially when you’re up against multiple. You’ll always be outnumbered and will have to run, shoot, and strafe to survive. Things do get more challenging as you progress but the game does feel more balanced than its predecessor. At least on the Medium difficulty. You’ll frequently be attacked from multiple directions and if you’re not paying attention, it can be easy to get swarmed by foes. I can’t say I found any encounters excessively difficult and many of the upgrades make it easier to deal with tough threats. I do wish more enemies were added to the roster because while the combat is fun and feels refined in Survivor, it does feel a bit too familiar. If you played the first game, you know what most of the enemies can do and you should know how to deal with them.
Where Survivor primarily differs from its predecessor is in its mission design. There are far less objectives to complete in Survivor. Every now and then you’ll have to repair or defend something and NPCs will sometimes fight along with you but most missions have you running from one end of the level to another. And there are numerous areas where the objective is to simply survive waves of enemies. Even when you’re just moving from area to area, there’s usually tons of enemies to kill. Some of the standout missions have you manning sentry guns and piloting an assault mech but most of the time, you’ll be engaging foes on-foot.
The missions or levels are fairly linear with branching paths and areas off the beaten path. Exploration can lead you to resources like weapons, ammo, medikits, and secrets. Hidden throughout the environments are pickups that unlock bonus options for subsequent playthroughs. Progressing through the story also unlocks missions for the Survival mode. Survivor does include a decent variety of environments. The game will take you around the outskirts of New Atlantis, snowy areas, in the sewers, and through several facilities. Explosive barrels are seemingly everywhere and you can destroy objects like crates which may house pickups.
In addition to the story is the Survival mode. As the name implies, the objective is to survive and try for a high score. You choose a mission or area, all of which are based on locations from the campaign, your character, and you’re given a set amount of Weapon Upgrade Parts and Character Improvement Points to distribute before jumping into the action. The areas are small and enemies come from every direction and won’t stop spawning until you’re dead. Killing enemies rewards you with points and you will gain experience, level up, earn character improvement points, and can collect Weapon Upgrade Parts.
Visually, Shadowgrounds Survivor doesn’t look too bad and does look a bit better than its predecessor. The presentation really shows its age during certain cutscenes when the camera zooms in to focus on characters and interactions. The character and enemy models look good during gameplay and the environments are detailed. Explosions often result in parts and debris flying through the air. Muzzle flashes illuminate dark areas, enemies bleed when shot, you can blow the heads off certain foes and, with the right weapons, blow them up resulting in a shower of gibs. The soundtrack is decent with tunes ramping up during combat. The sounds of weapons fire, reloads, and explosions are excellent and are the real highlight of the audio work. On the technical side, I ran into a couple of known issues. When I first fired up the game, it failed to load the first mission and crashed but installing a legacy Nvidia driver resolved the issue. The other bug I encountered is similar to a bug I encountered in the first game. It’s a distortion bug. Some textures or objects appear distorted but it can be fixed with a command.
I enjoyed my time with Shadowgrounds Survivor but I do think the developers should have done a little more. The Character Improvement stuff is nice but I would have preferred more upgrade options. Maybe even just a single protagonist. The multiple protagonists is neat but there’s not much that really differentiates them and I don’t think the story does enough to make any of them particularly interesting. Their weapons and some upgrades is what makes them feel different although I don’t really like being limited to only three weapons. On the plus side, the game does retain what made the first game so much fun. The run and gun gameplay. You’re going to get to blow away mass amounts of aliens and I had a blast doing it. Killing an alien is fun and blowing up an entire group is even more fun. It can be addictive. Like the first game, Shadowgrounds Survivor does support mods, although I didn’t find many.
Shadowgrounds Survivor is a good sequel. I think it could have been better but what’s here is certainly enjoyable if you like top down shooters. I would recommend it to fans of the genre and you can get it on Steam and GoG for pretty cheap nowadays. If you feel like blowing away some aliens, definitely check out Shadowgrounds Survivor.