Thursday, 17 February 2011

Shadow the Hedgehog

Shadow the Hedgehog is not the thoroughly awful game some people have made it out to be, but is marred by a lacklustre effort on Sega’s half in the presentation and some poor design choices. Unfortunately there are just too many mistakes, errors, and flaws that cover up what could have been a relatively solid platformer…

People say that times change and it’s true. If Shadow the Hedgehog had come out almost immediately after Sonic Adventure 2 in 2001 in exactly the form it was when released in 2005, it probably wouldn’t have scored so disastrously. For this release Sega combined the best aspects of the engine from Sonic Adventure 2 and Sonic Heroes, both with their individual faults, all of which are retained in one form or another.

It’s a nice idea but it lacks originality, the game doesn’t feel fresh, it feels the same as the game you played five years ago but looser. The truth is that Shadow simply moves too fast, he’s still control him and the levels are designed to accommodate his speed, but the engine is simply too loose for precise moments.

Whilst not improving the core engine through which the game is seen and played, Sega have tinkered with everything possible in the periphery. This game is chock full of extras; in PC gaming this is no more than an expansion pack. Think Yuri’s revenge to Red Alert 2, the same but with more. The trouble is that the engine of Sonic Heroes was not revolutionary two years earlier and most of the things that separated it from Sonic Adventure 2 (2001) have been stripped away.

Papered over the outdated engine there are a selection of weapons, one of the games most contentious issues surprisingly. The ability to shoot in a Sonic the Hedgehog game is an interesting idea but the application is hardly stellar. Some of the weapons show initiative; the heal gun is fascinating and deserves a shoutout, but sadly it’s not enough. For all the media attention, both positive and negative, the mechanic of gunplay in this game just doesn’t really affect things; its periphery. Another thing that’s periphery but implemented even more awkwardly are vehicles, which are slower and more cumbersome than Shadow is normally. Also several levels tie you up with a partner who is only slightly above useless, although you can take over some of them with the secondary controller for added amusement (trying to control a second player with no camera following them is not easy).

Another large failing of the in level mechanics though are that, no matter which side of the war you are fighting on, both the aliens and Gun Soldiers will attack you. Offering a ‘good verses evil’ moral decision choice to players was not original then however your actions very rarely actually affect what happens in the levels themselves.
The saving grace this game offers is that everything is optional, and I mean everything. If you think guns have no place in Sonic, fine, you don’t really need them. If you don’t think riding a motorbike is appropriate for someone as fast as Shadow, just don’t get on it. This is really a game that allows the player to make what they want of it. Anyone prepared to play the game as it wants you to could potentially get a lot out of it. Camera problems aside the gameplay is basically solid if very temperamental… And I hate telling people to adjust their mindset in order to start enjoying a product but this really is the case here.

The game has plenty of replay value, which if you despise the engine you might not appreciate, but simply getting through all the levels will take hours off you. Not only do you have to complete six levels (in an order you choose) which affect the plot (in a way you choose) to produce one of twelve different endings, but then the true ending has an entire extra level and final boss added on. Some people don’t like the system, but it doesn’t force it on you and you can skip movies you’ve already seen.
The game’s voice actors are new, and different, some improving and some being horrendous. Best served is Tails whose voice finally fits, but beware Vector’s one level, it hurts… Story wise it all flows nicely, explains some questions you probably never asked about Shadow and finally finishes off his back story. This is not a masterpiece of story telling by any means but it does actually try to tell something unlike its direct predecessor Sonic Heroes.

In truth walking away from Shadow the Hedgehog will leave anyone with mixed reactions. There are just too many bugs and poor choices for me to call this even remotely a great game. However the presentation and advertising has made this extremely divisive, and it doesn’t quite deserve the bad press and ‘lowpoint of the series’ label it was stickered with at the time. At worst this was just a sign of future problems to come for the Sonic franchise…

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