Platforms: PC and Playstation 4 (reviewed)
Shadwen is a stealth game that has Shadwen, the titular assassin you play as, maneuvering her way through a town on her way to assassinate the king. On her way, she meets up with Lily, the girl you control in the first chapter of the game. During that meeting, you’re given an option on how to handle the guard that’s harassing Lily: either lure him away so Lily can escape or kill him. That, in a nutshell, explains the entirety of the game. Lily will follow you either way, which is a bit baffling if you chose to kill the guard in front of her, and your goal from there on is to guide her to the next area.
Shadwen starts off with only a knife at her disposal, but gets the pieces for a grappling hook to use within the first few minutes of controlling her. This item will play the most pivotal role in the game as it allows Shadwen to climb up to areas she couldn’t otherwise access, swing from platform to platform, and pull objects to get the attention of guards. Doing this in close proximity to a guard will get his attention (and any other guards he’s near as well), clearing the path for Lily to move to her next hiding spot or for you to take them down. It seems simple enough, but Shadwen can only take down one guard at a time. If a guard sees her kill another guard, it’s an immediate end, but thankfully, there’s a way around that.
The game allows you to rewind time, making those all too easy to make errors more of a hindrance than an actual failure state. It might sound all too easy that way, but the wonky physics of pulling a crate or box around will have you trying to pull in different directions and leave you rewinding to get it just right. Unlike in Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, you don’t have a limited use of this ability. You’re able to rewind time to the beginning of the stage if need be (at which point it would just be easier to back out of it and start anew, but hey, the option’s there if you feel like it. I initially saw this as a bit of a cop-out, but as the stages grew longer and the amount of guards increased, it actually made what might be a throw-the-controller-across-the-room-and-never-pick-it-up-again moment more of a frustration than anything.
With Shadwen unable to actually meet a guard head-on, this mechanic becomes all the more important as the game goes on. If a guard gets a clear eye on Shadwen, the game comes to a halt. If she falls too far and that would kill her, the game comes to a halt. If a dead guard is spotted and the alarm is raised, the game comes to a halt. You have one brief moment to strike a guard from the front and then run around to his back to finish him, but it’s a tricky maneuver to accomplish, leaving sneaking the better option. Even when you do get a guard out of your way, you still need to get Lily safely past them. Lily will move forward on her own if the path is clear, but you can also make her go to a spot that might be better suited while you open up the path for her. In a “kill ’em all” playthrough, this won’t ever be an issue, but if you’re trying to not kill anyone, it becomes quite tough to plot out your path even early on.
The biggest hurdle to overcome is how the game plays. When you move, the world moves. Cease moving and the world stops in its tracks as well. It’s definitely something that takes some getting used to, even more so than the movement scheme in Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons. While waiting for a guard to pass, you need to hold down R1 to keep time moving forward while you hold still. It, much like just about all the controls in the game, takes some getting used to. The first swinging segment is where I had the most trouble. I was constantly forgetting to take my thumb off the left analog stick and would find myself missing a grappling point and plummeting to my death. Again, this is easily rectified, but still a frustrating initial hurdle to get over.
Shadwen is the exact reason I try to finish a game before I review it. If I had gone with my initial impression, the score would be a lot lower than it is. Still, the difference in the difficulty from a murdering rampage playthrough to a stealthy, no-kill one is more an exercise in patience than skill that can drive you nuts if it’s the route that you decide to go. I found myself enjoying Shadwen much more when I chose to take out every guard and didn’t have to tell Lily where to go. It can be fun once you get used to controlling it, but I can understand it driving people away before they give it that chance. It would be tough to recommend to anyone but the biggest of stealth game fans, but at least it’s not the worst in the genre I’ve played this year.
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