If you’re like me, you probably have a massive backlog. I can’t blame you, Steam sales are the bane of our existences. This means you’ll sometimes buy games and wonder why you got them, like Chrome. I almost wrote something about that but I couldn’t stomach it after two levels.
So let’s see what else I got. Alan Wake is too well-known, writing something about the six Star Wars games I own would be a bit too popular, I don’t think there’s anyone interested in me talking about the Wallace & Gromit Telltale series…
A-ha, here we go. A game from a Finnish developer who’d later be known for the fun Trine series of games: Shadowgrounds.
This game holds a bit of a memory because of how Steam was ten years ago. See, Steam was a different beast back then. There wasn’t much outside support outside of a few indie games, like the wonderful Darwinia and the one-note, forgettable Rag Doll Kung Fu. Frozenbyte’s Shadowgrounds was one of those early adopters of Valve’s content delivery service, though this was during that period where games like these were still sold in physical boxes in stores. Though it would likely be shoved into the bottom of a GameStop bargain bin these days before being thrown out.
(Story spoilers within! If you wish to play it yourself spoiler-free, it’s on Steam for the low price of $6.99, or $12.99 for this and its sequel Shadowgrounds: Survivor!)
Set on the moon Ganymede, you play as engineer William Tyler, who’s sent out on a mission to repair some generators with some colleagues. Until stuff goes wrong. Armed with only a pistol, you fight loads of aliens as you solve the mystery and see what happens. Along the way you meet allies, and try to make sense of this mess.
This a top-down shooter. It reminds me of Valve’s Alien Swarm, though European readers may liken this more to Team17’s Alien Breed series of games. You have a crosshair that aims in the general direction of enemy targets, and it plays fairly straightforward: Shoot the aliens before they attack you and kill you.
A lot of the arsenal is fairly commonplace stuff for these kind of action games: You start with a pistol, then later get an assault rifle, shotgun, rocket launcher, stuff like that. The only unique weapons on display is a laser rifle, a longer-range railgun and an electric zapper weapon towards the end of the game.
Back to the story. As Tyler progresses through the water plant, he meets with Corporal Jane Arwyn, and the two eventually reconvene back to a hidden military base. Eventually Tyler becomes errand boy as he helps Lt. Baxter and his men stop the alien menace. Throughout the game there’s a lot of PDAs and computers that explain the shady dealings that this military base does, which is kinda cool. There’s also silly fluff like this.
There is a neat mechanic in play. Enemies may occasionally drop upgrade points, which you can use to upgrade your weapons. While most of them are fairly simple “do more damage” and “extended magazines/no reloading,” each weapon does have a secondary fire. Some of them, such as the shotgun’s or the grenade launcher’s, can be valuable in a firefight. Nothing’s more fun than dumping 12 shotgun shells into a big enemy.
What definitely threw me off and will likely confuse first-time players is the lack of a proper “save” system. The game autosaves after completing levels, but there’s no quick or manual save. In addition, instead of restarting to the last save upon dying, you’re given “respawns,” which is the classic lives system. Run out of respawns and you have to restart the level. You can use this to your advantage to skip past some annoying backtracking sections, or to refill your health when doing a nasty boss fight.
After killing a bunch of aliens, Tyler and Arwen meet up with scientist Harold Weiss, who later team up with Colonel Roger Smith, as they go deeper into the research labs of IGTO as they hijack an alien pod they were researching in secret to eventually go into the alien mothership.
By the time you actually get to the alien mothership, you fight a bunch of aliens, get trapped in rooms to fight swaths of enemies inside hexagonal cryopods, run past annoying laser puzzles, and fight your way to the final boss.
It’s… pretty annoying. The first phase involves attacking them while avoiding their giant space laser and automated turrets, then the second phase involves shooting their shields and eventually attacking them from the inside, again while avoiding said giant space laser and automated turrets. Granted, with the lives system in play, it isn’t super difficult since any damage you dealt will stay there when you get back to the main area to continue the fight.
After defeating the final boss, you and Weiss get ready to prime the bomb to destroy the mothership, then a bunch of aliens persuade you otherwise, saying the bomb will absolutely destroy the universe. The pods and aliens were meant to warn humans of detonating the bomb, with no success. Realizing your good deed, the friendly aliens beam you off the ship and presumably back to Ganymede, saving the human race… for now.
That’s about it. The story isn’t amazing, the voice acting is a little stilted at times, and there isn’t any complex puzzles to solve. It’s a shooter through-and-through, and if you want something mindless that’s also fairly quick – it took me about 5 hours to beat – then you can’t go wrong with this.
Despite that, I did enjoy my time with Shadowgrounds. It’s not the most amazing game, but this is pretty fun for what I played of it. Especially since this was made by a small group of people from Finland, and I’m always down for playing indie games by small developers. Maybe I should try their other games now…
RANDOM THINGS I NOTICED THAT I COULDN’T FIT IN ANYWHERE:
- The composer of this game, Ari Pulkkinen, made a fun action-packed soundtrack with help by Amen of Lordi fame. He’d later be known by composing the quirky little theme for a little-known mobile game called Angry Birds.
- I experienced a strange bug in the Water Treatment Facility where I softlocked the game before a big boss fight, apparently the boss didn’t load in or something. The only way for me to play it out originally was to use a console command (setMissionSuccessCounter 1). I later figured out quickly skipping the cutscene with the Escape key caused the boss fight to load properly. It seems I’m not the only one with this problem, it might just be an issue running on modern machines.
- Despite it being generic aliens, some of the enemies look like monsters I’d see in other games. One of the big aliens with the guns almost looked like a ghetto Baron of Hell with guns. The spider monster here looked like something I fought in another game. Hell, I fought a mech in a later chapter that I swear reminded me of Metal Gear.