Shadwen is a stealth action adventure and puzzle game available for download from the PlayStation Store for the PS4. Frozenbyte is mostly known for developing the magical Trine trilogy, although Shadowgrounds and Shadowgrounds: Survivor was released in November 2005 and 2007 respectively. A few months prior to Shadwen; Frozenbyte released the amazing Trine 3: The Artifacts of Power, while looking to the future with brand new IPs including the fast-paced old-school platform game Splot in October 2014 and the latest being Shadwen, but can the game fulfil the potential of re-inventing the stealth action adventure genre?
The story revolves around the lead character; an assassin named Shadwen as she sets out on her journey to kill the king, although she stumbles across an orphaned girl called Lily through a chance encounter which provides one of the signature gameplay elements by placing Shadwen in the uncomfortable scenario of taking action in front of Lily or doing everything possible to conceal her true purpose by not resorting to violence in front of Lily’s eyes.
Shadwen has the ability to loot chests for important items such as early on in the game when particular components must be found to construct a grappling hook in order to manoeuvre from lower ground to higher platforms, while a further ability includes Shadwen guiding Lily to move at an appropriate time when a guard or multiple guards are distracted. Shadwen and Lily share some abilities such as being able to hide in bushes and haystacks to remain out of sight from guards which also provides time to observe any patterns to the guard patrols, helping each other to open doors that require two levers to be pulled simultaneously, moving objects that make a noise when touched such as bottles to distract the nearest guard to the object out of position in order to sneak past, enough strength to push lighter objects to move beyond them and further abilities such as fast-forwarding time to temporarily speed up the movements of surrounding guards and even the impressive ability of rewinding time to resume from a few seconds before being found by a patrolling guard.
The character design places the most emphasis on the two lead characters as Shadwen is a serious looking female assassin on a mission to kill the king, while Lily is a lonely young girl that unfortunately has nowhere to go and nothing to eat yet remains somewhat upbeat and excitable as she continues to deceive the odds of survival by fending for herself, while enemies include patrolling guards.
The environment design includes outdoor areas such as villages and indoor areas such as underground crypts with just as much aerial traversal as ground based exploration, especially for outdoor areas which certainly provides added depth to the majority of the environments throughout the 15 levels.
The performance during remote play is excellent with the graphics, audio and general performance possessing the same level of quality as the PS4 version, while the control scheme has been appropriately optimised resulting in a comfortable control scheme during remote play as L2 for the grappling hook has been re-mapped to the bottom left of the touch screen and R2 for melee attacks has been moved to the bottom right of the touch screen, while the rest of the control scheme remains exactly the same as the PS4 version, therefore resulting in a remote play experience that will keep players satisfied within a portable environment.
The controls are well mapped to the DualShock 4 controller with the control scheme consisting of holding L1 to rewind time; holding R1 to pass time; pressing R2 to perform melee attacks on enemies; holding L2 or up on the d-pad to wind rope from the grappling hook; pressing X to jump; pressing O or R3 to crouch; pressing triangle for Shadwen to guide Lily; pressing square to drag the body of an enemy; pressing down on the d-pad to unwind rope from the grappling hook; pressing left or right on the d-pad to cycle through to the previous or next item respectively; changing the direction of the left analogue stick to move Shadwen or Lily; changing the direction of the right analogue stick to rotate the camera; pressing the share button takes you to the share feature menu; and pressing the options button to display the pause menu. Tapping the touch pad opens or closes your inventory, while the light bar produces a bright white when controlling Lily, a bright shade of yellow when guards are on alert after hearing or seeing something move and a dark tone of red when found by a guard, although there is no vibration implementation which is surprising as the controller could have vibrated when pushing an object or obstacle, during the use of the grappling hook or even when a guard has noticed movement or heard a sound to have become on alert.
Graphically, Shadwen possesses some nice touches such as the sun shimmering in the sea during the second level, foliage on trees and buildings situated in the villages, while the lighting inside the crypt and on the exterior of buildings is pretty good as it provides just the appropriate tone between brightly lit and dark areas which is essential in any stealth game, alongside some decent character models.
The presentation of the game is solid with a great user interface across various menus such as the main menu, chapter selection menu, settings menus and gameplay menus with support for navigation via the left analogue stick, directional pad and face buttons, although it does not include support for navigation via the right analogue stick and touch pad. The background of the menu screens consists of guards keeping a lookout at the entrance of a giant castle overlooking large trees with wide reaching foliage and the open seas as wood burning flames provide some light upon a starry night sky and a full moon.
Voice-overs are well performed as they are delivered in an appropriate fashion that brings life to the two lead characters and the surrounding guards with a cast including Alix Dunmore who voices the lead character Shadwen having previously voiced the Goddess of Art in The Book of Unwritten Tales 2, while Clare Louise Connolly voices Lily having previously voiced Sylvi in Telltale’s Game of Thrones; Alex Jordan voicing King Gwydion and Leisurely Guards having also voiced Sherlock Holmes in Sherlock Holmes: The Devil’s Daughter, Asher Forrester in Telltale’s Game of Thrones and Anton Schieldhand in The Book of Unwritten Tales 2; David Shaw Parker voicing Seasoned Guard having previously voiced Ramon and Guard in Broken Sword 5: The Serpent’s Curse and Old Joe in The Muppet Christmas Carol; Glen McCready voices Rancorous Guard having previously voiced Crum in Wallace and Gromit’s Grand Adventures, Miles in Risen 2: Dark Waters and Risen 3: Titan Lords, Lord Oaksworth in Tropico 5 and other videogames, alongside Daniel Kendrick voicing Whippersnapper Guard having previously voiced Gared Tuttle in Telltale’s Game of Thrones. Sound effects include Shadwen or Lily sneaking by when crouching, running, pushing objects or obstacles, creaking doors and guards walking along their patrol path, alongside ambient sound effects such as birds and puddles of water. There is tranquil music in more peaceful locations such as at the start of the second level with more climactic music when a guard is nearby to Shadwen or Lily. There is no DualShock 4 speaker implementation which is surprising as it could have layered the audio by producing the character and guard voice-overs, sound effects, ambient sound effects or music.
The trophy list includes 48 trophies with 36 bronze trophies, 8 silver trophies, 3 gold trophies and 1 platinum trophy. The trophies are mostly spread across three sections including completing all 15 levels, killing all of the guards from the second level until the fifteenth level and not killing anyone from the second level until the fifteenth level, therefore between two to three playthroughs will be required given the four remaining trophies revolving around different outcomes. It is estimated that depending upon skill and a good trophy guide to provide some helpful tips that it would take around 10 to 20 hours to platinum the trophy list.
There are two difficulty levels including medium and hard with the major differences being that the medium difficulty provides helpful highlights for your surroundings, although the hard difficulty does not which is actually the only difference between the two difficulty levels, while the lack of an easy difficulty is a showcase of how hard the game is capable of being at times.
There are no multiplayer features which is a surprise given that there are two lead characters in a game developed by the creators of the Trine trilogy which has always utilised multiple lead characters to perfection within co-operative multiplayer. I would have liked to have seen some form of co-operative multiplayer for two players with one player taking control of Shadwen and another player controlling Lily independently instead of Shadwen directing Lily on when to move beyond a distracted guard in what could have been a drop-in/drop-out split-screen and online co-operative multiplayer version of the single player story.
Split-screen and online multiplayer could have expanded further afield than co-operative multiplayer as competitive multiplayer could have adapted the single player story for two to four players with a player controlling Shadwen and a second player controlling Lily attempting to sneak past multiple guards which would be controlled by human opponents trying to fulfil their mission of spotting anyone venturing onto land they are not allowed to be on during their watch.
There are no online leaderboards which is surprising as they could have included leaderboards for the amount of enemies each player has sneaked past, knocked out or killed and the quickest completion time for all 15 levels individually and collectively.
The replayability comes from attempting multiple approaches throughout the course of the 15 levels by taking the stealthy approach to not be found by a patrolling guard or alternatively knocking out guards or even killing them, while there are also two difficulty levels for players who want even more of a challenge.
Overall, Shadwen is recommended to anyone who appreciates a challenging and thought provoking old-school stealth experience which even has a unique premise of time remaining still whenever your character is not moving with further time manipulation powers.
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes. For more info on our review policy click here.
What I Like:
- Time manipulation powers
- Alternative approaches to gameplay between stealth and action
- Two difficulty levels
What I Dislike:
- No co-operative multiplayer
- No online leaderboards