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Platform

PC

 

Genre

Action

 

Publisher

Meridian 4

 

Developer

Frozenbyte

 

ESRB

M (Mature)

 

Released

Q4 2007

 

 

- Crisp graphics

- Solid gameplay

- Excellent sound and music

- Great "bad sci-fi" feel which adds to the fun factor

 

 

- Slightly iffy physics here and there

- Stereotypical characters might turn off the picky

- One or two sub-optimal weapon choices

 

 

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Shadowgrounds Survivor

Score: 8.0 / 10

 

 

Hudson : Is this going to be a stand-up fight, Sir, or another bug hunt?

Gorman: All we know is that we still have no contact from the colony and that a xeno-morph may be involved.

Hicks: It's a bug hunt.

- Scene from Aliens

 

For all of the good "serious" science fiction stories, movies, and games out there, there are the "bad" sci-fi stories, movies, and games.  Not all "bad sci-fi" is created equally.  There are some "bad" sci-fi titles where the idea on its face is pretty weak or the title somehow fails to inspire confidence (Split Second, Space Truckers), yet they turn out to be really good movies that are enjoyable or even funny.  Then there are "bad" sci-fi titles which completely fail to impress and often the viewer or player to alternate between searing rage at the waste of resources and profound sorrow at how big names have gone for the paycheck and lost any credibility they once had (I'm looking at you, Sci Fi Channel Originals!).  Happily, Shadowgrounds: Survivor falls into the former category.  There are cliches all around, there is hammy overacting, and yet it delivers good solid run-n-gun gameplay with copious explosions and creepy atmosphere aplenty.

 

shadowgrounds survivor          shadowgrounds survivor

 

The guys at Frozenbyte have done very well on the visuals for Survivor.  They are not noticeably better than the original Shadowgrounds, but they are still very well

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done and convey  the proper mood for the environments you're playing through.  Of particular note is the nicely done "environmental" effects such as fire and poison gas, and the way they tie in how your character and the hordes of enemies can be damaged.  Additionally, there is Aegia PhysX support which allows for boxes to be kicked around, glass to shatter in interesting was and 

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body parts from alien scum to go bouncing hither and yon.  My recommendation is that you make sure you have the absolute latest PhysX drivers in your system before playing Survivor.  While the character models for the aliens are suitably bio-mechanical, the models for the player's avatars and the human NPCs they run into seem a little wide-eyed and lack distinctive facial expressions, a minor detail which seems to help reinforce the "good-bad sci-fi" feel of the game.

 

On the audio front, Survivor delivers the goods with an impressive array of sound effects for the various weapons that you'll employ throughout the course of the game, a suitable techno-style soundtrack with some spooky tunes thrown in here and there, and all the cheesy goodness you might expect from the voice actors.  They're not overacting, which would have seriously hurt the game, but rather they deliver their lines with clarity and just the right amount of emotion for their respective characters.  If there's any complaint regarding the sound, it's the few isolated spots where they might have employed a sound effect or two (such as when enemies appear on your motion tracker) but didn't. 

 

Gameplay is fast and furious for the most part.  Throughout the game, you take on three different personas, each with their own set of weapons and special abilities which are unlocked as you progress through the game.  Weapon upgrades are unique among the three characters, though there are some character abilities, like the motion tracker and hit point boost, which are common to all three but must be unlocked individually.  While some of the weapons are definitely useful, and their respective upgrades make for some interesting choices during gameplay, there are some that I found myself rarely if ever using.  Yeah, having a rocket launcher seems de rigeur for any sci-fi type shooter, but it's actual utility, even with upgrades in place, made it superfluous when I had other weapons available to me.

 

shadowgrounds survivor         shadowgrounds survivor

 

The three different characters that you play through the course of the game are stereotypes of every other sci-fi movie and game out there.  The marine's nickname is "Marine" for crying out loud.  The engineering type is Russian and is willing to swallow napalm to get his drink on.  And the sniper-type character is practically the love child of Sarah Kerrigan and Sam Fisher.  However stereotypical they are, the characters do have distinctly different playstyles, and whichever one you find yourself most comfortable with will impact how you finish out the endgame.  It's in gameplay that Survivor makes most of its stumbles, and they're not serious ones, but they are noticeable.  Rotating the camera with your keyboard while aiming with the mouse cursor takes a bit of getting used to and when you're mobbed with enemies, looking for an escape route, it can sometimes be a little frustrating.  The employment of physics is kind of wonky, as you can kick or shoot large crates considerable distances, but you can't lob a grenade more than a few feet.  For all of that, the gameplay is definitely engaging.  The game itself can probably be finished in a marathon one day session if you're not looking to explore and find all the secret nooks and crannies the developers put into the maps.  And should you find yourself craving more, Frozenbyte thoughtfully put in a level editor for you to play around with.

 

For $20 on Steam, Shadowgrounds: Survivor delivers solid action gaming.  It doesn't have the world-shattering ethical choices of Mass Effect.  It doesn't have the strange sense of surrealism found in Dreamfall.  It's an old school run-n-gun shooter that perfectly captures the flavor of the best "bad sci-fi" movies out there.

 

- Axel Cushing

(March 31, 2008)

 

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