It’s a good trade.
There’s a certain arrogance to gaming culture. We’re a bunch of know-it-alls, with some very firm beliefs about what makes a game good. We’ve all come to the quiet conclusion that if a game comes at bargain-bin prices, it must be bargain-bin quality. And we know we’re right! Good games cost a good amount of moolah, and bad games try to trick you with tiny price tags.
[image1]Shadowgrounds: Survivor is an excellent challenge to old biases. At a mere $20, this game is more fun than most $60 games that have come out recently. The foundation of Survivor’s gameplay is that of the top-down shooter. Fans of the old classics like Smash TV and Geometry Wars will feel at home quickly. The controls are easy to pick up, and you’ll be mowing down aliens with ease and efficiency in no time. The game keeps a constant stream of foes coming at you, too, so you’ll have to stay on your toes almost all the time. Survivor has an excellent balance of difficulty, getting hectic enough to raise your pulse but never getting out of hand.
Survivor’s story, such as it is, does little more than provide a framework for why you’re guiding a marine, a dude with a flamethrower, and a psychotic sniper around while they murder aliens. The dialogue is sparse and to-the-point; there are no giant revelations or philosophical diatribes. Survivor doesn’t pretend to be more than it is. It does, however, set the mood and keep you moving from location to location in a fairly cogent manner, which is more than I can say for some games.
It’s an elegantly simple and refreshingly straightforward game to play, though there’s a lot happening in the game. Dozens of enemies come at you, boxes and crates bounce about from explosions and are shouldered aside by rampaging aliens, and fresh-made corpses explode in gore. Moment to moment, you unswervingly worry about where your gun is pointing and where your feet are taking you.
[image2]Survivor mixes some simple RPG-like qualities in. As you blast your way through hordes of aliens, your character levels up, netting skill points to spend on learning new abilities, improving his health, and increasing the benefits from medkits. Aliens also drop upgrade parts that can be used to improve your characters’ weapons, adding secondary fire modes, expanding the clips, and providing you all the more bang for the bucks. Even better that the buck comes at the expense of an “oh, you’re dead” alien.
Mix in co-op, survival missions, and a bevy of secrets that unlock fun cheats like low gravity, and Survivor has plenty of material to keep your attention. Running your way through a low-grav run of the game is hilarious. There’s nothing quite like bum-rushing a crate into the air from the top of a cliff, climbing down the cliff during the course of the level, and then ten feet away from the level exit, have the crate deck you on the head.
Graphically, Survivor is a bit of a mixed bag. It has some fantastic lighting and shadow effects, and for the most part the environments look good. If you move slowly and pay careful attention – something I did only because I had my critic’s eyes open – you’ll notice some ugly texture stretches here and there, and you’ll observe that most of the models are pretty basic – one might even say PS1-era. When everything is moving and shooting guns at once, though, with alien worms popping from the ground and grenades exploding and barrels being shot to pieces, it’s just not worth noticing.
[image3]The music is fairly run-of-the-mill electronica. There’s some good, tense chunks of music, though there’s also some fairly cheesy-sounding up-tempo music during a few confrontations. The voice acting is mostly pretty good – not exactly professional actor quality, but solid and appropriate for the characters. Better, the sound effects are excellent; the gunfire, the explosions, the rush of flames, and the angry screams of aliens as they leap with large talons at your exposed flesh all keep you glued to the screen.
While Shadowgrounds: Survivor arguably does nothing we have not seen before, its clean, solid presentation and hectic, engrossing gameplay make it worthy of praise. You get a lot of game for pocket change, and that it’s a great shooter makes it worth every penny.