Shadow the Hedgehog
Developer SEGA Studio USA Publisher SEGA Genre 3rd Person Shooter Platform OTHER Release 18th November 2005
- It's not a stretch of the imagination to believe that the previous 3D Sonic franchise instalment
wasn't best-received. There was little appreciation to be had from the series' most devout fans; most of whom grew up in the 80's and 90's and with the Megadrive Sonic titles. Thus in 2005 these older patrons of the Hedgehog, Blue
didn't take kindly to the childishness of Sonic Heroes at all. Looking at the Sonic franchise today, you'd be hard-pressed to find a reason why Sonic fans, especially those in their late-teens and early 20's would continue to cling to the franchise, but just remember that before Sonic Heroes there was Sonic Adventure
and Sonic Adventure 2
, two distinctly 'mature' games, as it were. The Adventure series struck a very delicate balance between the mature
market which Sonic teeters on so gently. It's almost as if back then, they understood that Sonic fans from 1991 may have an interest in the reborn franchise nearly 10 years after-the-fact. But I say no more on the subject and hope you understand why this paragraph was included later in the review.
Shadow the Angsthog
Shadow the Hedgehog is perhaps the most misguided, abysmally written, awfully conceived video game of the last decade. It's up there with the likes of 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand
, it's just that bad
. The game focuses on a 'darker', more sinister storyline full of guns, angst and vehicles. So it perhaps wouldn't surprise you to learn that it was Sonic Team's United States
branch which handled the development of this game; California-based, SEGA Studio USA
. Only there's two problems here, one being that this was the studio whom formally worked on the quite frankly fantastic Sonic Adventure 2
and the other; it was comprised almost completely
of Japanese developers. So here we have one of the golden-oldie-no-no
's of creative industries; letting people from a completely different
culture, try and guess their way to making a culturally relevant video game for a culture they don't fully understand
or know how to cater for.
Perhaps I'm not being clear. Okay, so clear your mind. If I asked you what would be the most predominant feature of say... A Japanese video game. What would be your answer? Long, girly hair on girly-looking men? Huge swords? Women wearing as little as possible? Well, what you just did was think of Square Enix
, or perhaps that last one's just your usual prerogative
, either way, painting with a broad brush is pretty painful. Especially when you consider one of Japan's best-selling franchises; Monster Hunter
is a MMO-Action Adventure game where you go around taking down gigantic dinosaurs with your bare hands
. Or what about games like Professor Layton
? That sells phenomenally well. If you then turn the tables and think "What do other cultures think western
gamers like?" then you start to see the problem. They see best-selling titles like Gears of War
, Call of Duty
and Mass Effect
stick out and wave their hands in-front of them jumping up and down, much like Square Enix's RPGs do the same for the masses in the west. And then you start to see what the Japanese think is a 'good western game'; so long it includes guns
it's sure to sell. Right?
Grr. I'm with the military so I just wave my gun around at children.
That is perhaps the only way I can rationalise why they thought the inclusion of weapons
into a Sonic game was a good idea. They wanted a game which would appeal to the American audience with what they believed
to be a good interpretation of what American consumers would want. Perhaps some part of it was also due to the prior mentioned mature
Sonic fans whom felt Sonic Heroes was too 'childish' for them, again, most of them being American. So already, you can see how excruciating this game is going to be without even really talking about the game itself. It says a lot about how bad
a game can be when you get the distinct feeling that the entire development process was flawed from the out-set.
Shadow, the One Tree Hill is behind you, man. Turn around.
So about the actual game then, it starts out with Shadow, a character which should have stayed dead at the end of Sonic Adventure 2, but annoyingly seems to keep coming back to ruin what could have otherwise been one awesome character, standing on the outskirts of... somewhere
, pondering about his existence, who he is and what his place is in the world like an episode of One Tree Hill
, when suddenly a portal or something
opens in the sky and aliens drop down from above to wreak havoc. Rather than help the people getting brutally savaged by the aliens, Shadow looks on, still contemplating whether he should grow a fringe over one eye or if he should just dye it a light blonde colour, until he's accosted by a floating, one-eyed squid
which tells him, in a very grumbly voice that "the time has come" and other cryptic nonsense, not explaining anything useful and then flying away again. And so begins an open-ended storyline where Shadow must find his reason for existence
or basically just doom the world. Along the way, you'll team up with either Black Doom
, the leader of the Black Arms
which comes from the Black Comet
(we get it, he's evil) or one of the various [and extremely annoying] hero characters, which are in the form of just about every recycled character from Sonic Heroes. And to top it all off, the game's strung together with poorly directed, poorly scripted cutscenes with poorly delivered dialogue.
Like taking a crayon to paper and writing this script.
The open-ended nature of the game means that how you complete missions affects your progress through the game. Completing the "dark" missions will send you down a different level path than say completing the "normal" or "hero" missions, however you can mix-it-up by completing any of the three different mission objectives for the vast majority of levels, however each 'story' you acquire will consist of 6 levels culminating in a boss at the end of the game, you'll typically run into at least 1 boss during the 6-level sprint if not two depending on what stages you play. However, as you may expect, the game doesn't really keep a tight rein on the story to make sure the tone is consistent. Even if you complete all the "hero" missions and are firmly on the "good" path through the game, Shadow still can't make up his mind if he's evil or not, with choice (and hilarious) dialogue such as "This is too easy. It's like taking candy from a baby... Which is fine by me
." Ultimately, however, it doesn't matter what story you acquire, so long as you have defeated all 10 of the game's 'final' bosses, you unlock a "Final Story" mode which is quite predictably the game's "Super Sonic" (or "Super Shadow" in this case) boss in which he ends up defeating Black Doom, destroying the Black Comet and saving the world, while other Sonic characters act like giant tits on the Earth continuing slap-stick humour while Shadow broods on that giant-orbital-space-laser-come-space-colony: Ark. The end.
Enough of the horrid story, though. Let's talk gameplay. Basically, the game looks and plays an awful-lot like Sonic Heroes. I say "looks an awful lot like" since every Sonic character model in the game was lifted from Sonic Heroes for use in Shadow the Hedgehog. So while the environments are these dark, dingy places resembling some post-apocalyptic wasteland... The Sonic characters look incredibly out of place. And it's not just their appearance either, the characters you encounter seem so lackadaisical, you have a destroyed metropolitan area around you and all Sonic can think to do is laugh and joke around while you weigh down alien invaders with hot lead. Shooting mechanics aren't much fun and lack any sort of 'lock-on' feature make using projectile weapons a laborious task. Some weapons, mostly ones which include projectiles with a blast radius have a aiming reticule which can be helpful, but often you'll be left with weapons which give you no aiming assistance what-so-ever. It's hard to see why, really, did no-one think a laser-sight on weapons would be advantageous in a 3rd person shooter? They couldn't have really added a cross-hair on the screen like a lot of 3rd person shooters since where the camera points isn't exactly where Shadow will be aiming. But, you know, just some targeting assistance
would have been welcomed at the very least. I think
. Either way, guns are
optional and you can just use your normal jump attack or homing attack to defeat enemies, although weapons are far stronger and hit more frequently plus have the advantage of you using them without the fear of losing rings by getting-in close to an enemy.
Homing jump, doesn't matter what mission you're doing. It will always lock on to the wrong target.
Shadow has some moves that carry over from Sonic Heroes, he can jump and hit enemies that way, use the "homing jump" to hit enemies and can grab onto walls and jump from them and if there is an adjacent wall can grab onto that wall as well, although with the improvement now that Shadow can run along the wall for a short distance before jumping off. Shadow now has some close-quarters combat moves as well, I like to call his style of martial arts; Flailing-arms-jitsu
because he basically throws any appendage around in a crazed fashion hoping that if anything comes into contact with his swinging arm or leg that it would fall down and plead for mercy. There's also a sliding move, however is used on the rare occasion to get under contrived scenery
like a small gap at the bottom of a wall which conveniently leads into a hallway which is otherwise inaccessible. Certain stages have vehicles which you can enter, these vehicles range from Jeeps to motorcycles to even flying crafts, however said flying crafts move on-rails and have very little in the way of control. Some vehicles do have an advantage use, for instance a set of mechanical legs
you find in some stages can make you jump really high, although unlike many vehicles in the game the use of these mech-legs
aren't optional and are required to progress in the game. Motorcycles in the game also have a missile-like attack which comes in useful and as you may expect, running into enemies with any vehicle will deal damage to them, where as normally running into enemies will cause you
damage. There are some drawbacks to being in vehicles though, although they will take damage for you, they're slow. You can easily run faster than any vehicle in the game. Their controls are also somewhat suspect, as you press A to drive. Pull the control stick back when you're at a complete stop and you'll reverse. However, to drive again, you need to come to a complete stop. This inevitably leads to you reversing and then you slowly back down a steep hill which you can't come to a complete stop on. No amount of mashing on the A button will make you go forwards unless you come to a dead stop and push forwards on the control stick
. At which point you give up, abandon the vehicle and carry on as normal.
Black Evil Squid Thing. See? I can write this sort of script too.
If you pick the hero route through a mission, you can have a AI follow you which will often go and attack enemies. This is quite a handy feature, as you can leave the AI to stupidly go deal damage to a bigger, more powerful enemy while getting pummelled into the ground, saving you the agonising task of playing the game
and risk losing rings. Meanwhile, you can sit back and ponder how much you wish you were playing something else in the process. Infact, the game has lots of these little "it's okay, you don't need to do anything" moments. See, when you do good or bad things in the game, "good" being, say, smashing up Black Arms troops and "bad" being smashing up GUN troops, the two bars in the top corners of the screen start to fill up. Once the red, "bad", bar fills up, you can perform the "Chaos Blast" move which destroys anything within it's blast radius. A move which you can perform several times over before the bar runs dry. If you fill the blue, "good", bar up then you get access to the move "Chaos Control" which when in-stages you can move at super-speed through the stage. So effectively, they've given you the option to skip large chunks of a stage. That was nice of them, almost as if they decided that the game sucked so much
that it was necessary to make you skip parts of a stage. While I'm also picking on the AI, you'll often find stages where you have alien or GUN forces waiting around. To give the impression that there's some sort of intelligence going on with these characters, you will often find them shooting at enemies... Until you destroy all the enemies and these supposed AI will just shoot randomly in whatever direction they damn well please. Not so much to hit you, but you can easily fall into their crossfire as they decide they want to shoot the floor or a wall or something. So basically, they face enemies and at random intervals they open fire. Sneaky programming.
Chaos... Get me through this game quicker!
But here's where things don't make sense. See, you usually have three types of mission in a stage, "good", "bad", and "normal", right? Well, the "normal" mission is usually just to get to the end of the stage. Where as the "bad" and "good" missions are usually some tedious task like "destroy 45 Black Arms troops"... And that's the first mission in the game
. It's like someone looked at the Team Chaotix mission-structure in Sonic Heroes and thought it was a good idea or something. Just getting to the end of some of these stages will take a good 10 minutes
. Often, if you're going to do the "good" or "bad" missions, it'll take you in excess of 20 minutes
. One late-on stage has you running around the Space Colony Ark finding those annoying extendy-arm-jelly creatures
from Sonic Adventure 2. There's 35 of them
. It will take you a good 40 minutes
to find them all. And even then you only get a B rank. There's no reason why a stage should be so damn long. And it's very easy to miss an enemy or whatever you're finding. And the developers knew this, infact were most likely banking on this since any checkpoint you touch in the game has the ability to teleport you back to any prior checkpoints you've touched. So perhaps you already see where this is going, if your mission on the "good" side is always "find/destroy X number of Y" and you get a move which takes you closer towards the end of the stage by helping the "good" side... That means by using the move they reward you with by helping the good-guys, you will miss not only mission-critical objectives but also their related checkpoints, which means that if you do
use the move, you'll just have to teleport backwards later in the stage to before when you used the move
and catch up on all the stuff you've missed. Yes, it makes no sense
The reason stages take so damn long to finish is because they're huge. Unnecessarily huge. You'll find large expanses of same-y looking scenery with absolutely nothing to do in them. No enemies, perhaps a rail you can grind on, or weapons to see. It's all just padding. You quickly lose interest in the stage and just want it to be over. Only, that's the whole game. The whole game is just one, long, annoying, frustrating and ultimately boring game which has nothing unique or original about it. It's just a mash together of poorly executed morality choices held together by a weak storyline which you laugh at more often than you do care
for anything which is happening. It tries so hard to be this 'badass' game, what with it's dark, dingy environments and Shadow's "hell"s and "damn"s like it's a child which has just learnt a new swearword and is desperately trying to get it's parents attention by saying it, giggling and running away. I don't even want to mention the bosses in the game, there's not an awful lot to say about them, they're all boring, all tedious and will take upwards of 10 minutes to beat. Why? Why does everything need to take so long? 10 minutes of the same boring patterns a boss has along with cheap-as-hell moves is enough to drive anyone crazy, I actually feel sorry for the poor playtesters of this game... Although that's implying SEGA actually hires, or even if they do hire, actually listen to their playtesters.
It amazes me that everyone knows about these powerful jewels... But no-one has thought to, you know, safeguard them at all.
Big shout-out to whatever dingle-berry within SEGA that thought the "Mad Matrix" stage was a good idea. Basically, this stage takes place inside a computer mainframe and has you shooting along lines, a bit like a Printed Circuit Board (PCB). Nice idea, bad gameplay mechanic. The game asks you to "plan out a route in advance" yet the comically bad draw distance and completely flat
nature of these lines mean you can barely see half way along a single straight of these lines. Meaning that you've basically got to hope you enter a line which you haven't already been and use uncollected rings along these paths to see you to places you haven't been, once again in the hope that you'll get to someplace new. The hero mission is to activate different nodes within the system, so you have to go to four different towers, each coloured something different. Only the game isn't helpful enough to show you which towers you've already hit. So you could easily wind-up back at a place you've already completed. This stage takes forever
because of the amount of back-and-forth the level will trick you into doing.
What? Military dude with a scar across his face was evil all along? Who would've thought it?
Visually the game's a mess. It looks like a cross between early 3D titles on the Playstation 1 and Sonic Heroes. And I only say "Sonic Heroes" because all the character models, aside from any humanoid characters, were lifted from Sonic Heroes itself, while other character models look like lego-men and the odd cutscene-only characters look comically bad it's pretty unbelievable; with out-of-proportion body parts and basically square
physique. It's what you would expect from fan projects which borrow from official sources. Looking at the whole game I think budget or time constraints had a huge impact on how bad everything looks, a lack of support from any Japanese-based SEGA branches also meant they couldn't tap into the resources which made any prior console Sonic game look as good as they did. In fairness to the game, it does have some nice explosion effects, but these really don't make up for a wayward camera which was left unfixed from Sonic Heroes, although you now control it via the C-Stick rather than the shoulder buttons. I wouldn't be so hard on this game if there wasn't three completely conflicting art-styles or directions being slapped together at once. You have the cartoon-ish looking Sonic characters, the more realistic-looking enemies and environments and then you have characters like the President or that General dude with a scar on his face
which are like a bridge between comical and serious. Did the guys in the art department have a falling out and not talk to one-another when pulling the game together or something? Also, the game has huge frame-rate issues, with slow down occurring constantly. Even the first few seconds of the game suffers from slow down, talk about first impressions...
Okay. Own up. Who wrote this script? It's like a 15 year old scribbled it on the back of his English textbook or something.
The game's soundtrack is alright
, there's some stand-out songs in the game such as "Sky Troops" or "Final Haunt" which are a nice change of pace for the game. Especially Final Haunt which, despite being a final stage in the game has a very low-key, mellow score to it. I like that about a soundtrack, when it is edgy and goes against the grain to surprise you like that, rather than just take the easy route and have a head-banging heavy-metal soundtrack to show how serious and action-packed this final encounter is. What I take great exception to in this game is the aforementioned utterly awful
voice dialogue. At the time, SEGA was mixing up it's voice talent after the unfortunate passing of Dr.Eggman voice actor; Deem Bristow in 2004 and the start of the 4Kids Entertainment dub of the Sonic X animation which included a 4Kids-based cast rather than the official SEGA-sponsored actors. Many of the actors were still getting accustomed to their new roles and as such... Many don't sound too great. Sonic, for instance, sounds like a bad Bugs Bunny>
rip-off. In-fairness, Shadow sounds pretty much exactly like he did in Sonic Adventure 2... Although he is played by the same voice actor as Sonic... Whatever
What to make of Shadow the Hedgehog, then. It's a loud, annoying, inconsistent mess of storytelling, gameplay design and visual design. It's pretty much a prime example of bad game design
, which has a confused target audience, confused tone and the fact the game just tries too hard
to make a 'mature' game based around anthropomorphic animals fighting off an alien attack while a generically engineered creature tries to work out who or what he is
. There's no point making a game where you have an open-ended, "choose your own adventure"-style game where ultimately the game over-rides whatever decisions you made in the "Final Story" to show that there was no choice. The game was always going to end in this one way whether you liked it or not. If you're going to have a morality-system in the game, at least stick to your guns and leave it open-ended rather than retcon the whole game just so you can have decent closure and try to tie it into the Sonic franchises' canon, which may or may not exist. Who really knows? SEGA sure don't. In a nutshell, this is probably the game which wont have an enduring history. It's a terrible game and has very little to do with Sonic. It's just a poor 3rd person shooter born out of ridiculous notions of what westerners perceive to be a 'good' game and that was the fundamental flaw which brings the whole game crashing down. It's also the game which Sonic fans everywhere will deny the existence of and I don't blame them.