Shadwen by Frozenbyte
The third person stealth genre has taken on many permutations, from the action-focused Metal Gear Solid games to the more methodical Thief franchise. This is a genre that typically demands that you play a certain way and be as meticulous with your decisions as possible. Shadwen by Frozenbyte is a stealth action game that tries to perturb those genre conventions by mixing up the formula.
You play as an elf named Shadwen who wants nothing more than to slay the king who has wronged her. At the start of her mission, Shadwen meets a lost young girl who decides to tag along because she has nowhere left to go. She is with you throughout the game, moving from one hiding spot to another as you progress. You also have the ability to order her around, as long as there are no guards in the way that can spot her. It means that you have to help create a clear path for her to progress through. This mechanic works well, as guards will not try to capture her or kill her. She is also smart enough to move from hiding spots on her own without you having to worry about her too much.
This situation creates a moral dilemma when you discover that every time the child witnesses you killing a guard or sees a dead body, she gets distraught, as indicated by a broken heart symbol you can monitor via your inventory screen. This means you have to either not kill anyone or hide the dead bodies so that she doesn’t see them. This affects the way the narrative plays out, as well as the interaction the two have during loading screen dialogue.
Unfortunately, this morality system and the overall narrative is the weakest aspect of this game. Most of the narrative is told during loading screen dialogue between Shadwen and the child, as cut scenes only take place at the beginning and end of the game. Character motivations just don’t feel as well developed as they could have been. The morality of not killing people affects the ending, but it’s not developed any further than that. Through dialogue, you learn the child favors kindness and peace, so not killing anyone through your play-through will get you a better ending, but neither ending is satisfying. They could have used the child and her innocence to tell a narrative with some emotional resonance, but the opportunity is squandered.
Shadwen is a third person stealth game that relies on a useful time manipulation mechanic. Time moves forward when you move, and you have the ability to rewind time at any moment, allowing you to fix mistakes in an instant. This becomes an important mechanic that you’ll use often, since you quickly discover that one hit from a guard will kill you. This can make the game feel too easy, since you can use it at will.
But the upside to this time manipulation mechanic is that it allows you to experiment. The game is less punishing because it was designed as a physics-based playground. Levels are filled with objects like exploding barrels or boxes that can be manipulated to fall onto and kill enemies. Since there are plenty of opportunities to manipulate the physics of these objects, it’s clear that killing guards with objects is what the game wants you to do. Strapping a bomb onto a box and pushing it off of a ledge to kill a group of enemies is very satisfying.
60% of the Time it Works Every Time
Since Shadwen is focused on using your environment in creative ways, it is mechanically different from most other games in its genre. The game features a useful grappling hook you can use to not only pull objects but also reach high ledges and climb structures. Mobility in this game is key, and areas are open enough to allow you to move freely. High vantage points and creeping along ledges are essential for success. The game also features an effective killing move you can use simply by attacking right before you land on someone, stabbing and killing them immediately. This focus on mobility gives the game a faster pace, making it feel exciting when you have to think on your feet.
Other genre staples that are expected are present as well. You can take guards out by sneaking up behind them. You have an arsenal of gadgets which can be crafted from materials found in chests throughout the game. Crafted contraptions are useful tools at your disposal to distract, poison or explode enemies. Guards will spot and look for you, but will soon forget about you after you’ve found a hiding spot. It’s a stealth game that feels familiar but different enough to make it feel unique. It’s a more forgiving stealth action experience, but also a more enjoyable one for that very reason.
I am a fan of stealth games, but I often find that they can be too punishing. Most games force you to not make any mistakes or you’re screwed. This takes the fun out of it for me. In any other genre, mistakes are bound to happen, yet you’re not punished as severely. And most modern stealth games, like the new Hitman, don’t punish you as heavily for making a mistake. The time manipulation mechanic can make the game feel too easy, but the fun comes with the creative ways you can kill enemies. So if you’re looking for a challenging stealth game to play, unfortunately, this game won’t scratch that itch.
Light and Shadow
Presentation wise the game does it’s best to convey a particular tone without necessarily impressing. Graphically the game looks good overall, but lacks some visual flair. Most levels in the game have the same dreary look to them, making a varied color palette something you’re going to miss. It helps keep a certain tone for the game but really makes areas feel too familiar. The scenery doesn’t change much, and you spend most of the time outdoors. The tone is also hammered home with equally gloomy music. Again, the music fits with the game’s tone but isn’t varied enough to stand out.
The strongest aspect of Shadwen is that it focuses more on a sandbox style of level design, allowing you to be creative in figuring out how to sneak and kill your way through the game. It’s a more casual stealth game for those who like the genre but are turned off by how punishing some other games can be. It has some rough edges, like the lackluster narrative, but it’s not that big of a deal when the core gameplay is this entertaining.
Shadwen is available via Steam.
Watch the official trailer for Shadwen below: