Review: Shadowgate (2014, PC/Mac)






As I said before in my preview of Shadowgate: point-and-click games, more commonly known as the Adventure genre, are becoming few and far between these days. Some of the more recent notable games of the last few years would be The Walking Dead series or The Raven, but if you want to travel back in time you may recognize the Monkey Island series or Maniac Mansion, which was also ported over to the NES during its lifetime. Given that every title in the genre does something different, measuring this adventure to the old school Shadowgate rather than comparing it to other adventure titles only seems fair since even the devs call it a re-imagining. The changes, similarities, what it does well now and what it lacks are up for inspection. Its mostly the same Shadowgate, but this time you get a lot more reasoning behind the journey.

As Jair Cathegar, you are instructed by the wizard Lakmir to take on a perilous task by traveling far and finding your way to the living castle of Shadowgate, then navigating its many perilous halls to stop the evil Warlock Lord, Talimar the Black, from unleashing the Behemoth to destroy the world. A little ways in to the game the bulk of the plot is explained to you through a couple of cutscenes. Lakmir, who is a surviving member of the Circle of Twelve, the only other being Talimar, has grown too weak to fight him face-to-face. Which is where Jair Cathegar comes in. He's descended from a long line of kings and prophecy states that he will be the one to defeat Talimar, but standing in his way is the castle and it's many, many, MANY traps and treasures. Almost everything you pick up can be used for something down the line but there is also a hefty amount of trash. Discerning which is which is up to the player. On the hard difficulty, you're limited to how much you can carry and since the puzzles adjust with each level something that can be used at one point may instead work somewhere else on another difficulty. Its these three levels that give the game am immense replayability factor.




Fools Rush In
The first thing you should know about playing Shadowgate is that its not for those who lack patience: you will die a lot and if you're not adept at using your noggin to solve some complex puzzles then I'm afraid Shadowgate isn't for you. Additionally an attention to detail and a keen eye for things that stand out is also definitely required. If you enjoy games with a steep level of challenge then you'll love it. If you're looking for a nostalgic trip you may or may not be disappointed: while a lot has changed, conjuring up memories of past solutions might help you in some ways but not in every case. In the first screen you find a talking skull named Yorick that offers vague hints and the occasional commentary, he's a decent traveling partner and provides a few passing chuckles, you're notfied by what he says when you hear bones clatter ominously. If you don't like his chatter you can simply choose to hit him to make him speak less. There is no direct combat, just a command that will let you HIT something, including yourself. You will encounter a few beasts that will attack and sometimes finding a way to avoid combat is your best bet.
From the dragon immolating you with fire breath to falling down a pit, almost everything can kill you, the game is still fraught with the familiar death traps that made the original so tricky to navigate. Shadowgate can be smooth as silk when you remember all of the possible combinations of things and think cleverly on when and how to use items. Sometimes being stuck in an area will require backtracking by several rooms. Keeping your torches lit is also a priority. Yorick will notify you when the light is getting too low, and letting it burn out is a bad idea. Once the fire is gone, you can't start another one, and it'll be awfully hard navigating the darkness by feeling your way around.

Shadowgate now has a spacious interface with the inventory and other options no longer taking up most of the screen. Part of the action unfolds through a text box at the bottom while an animation shows. Yes, a basic reading skill is required to play. The most dialogue you'll come across will be written on notes, the voiceovers are sparsely placed throughout the game.
The way of playing takes some getting used as it seems you need to be sure which command you're clicking at the top of the screen or which item you're selecting. Sometimes trying to click on an action requires a second click (or my 2-month old mouse is already breaking). The menus and inventory seem to get in the way of the game itself so if you prefer keyboard bindings over mouse movement you can set those up in the options, or in case you want the very old-school MacVenture feeling.



Painting Life 
The land of Tyragon is a dark and dreary one where magic is abundant and there remain spells crafted from people whose names have been long-forgotten, and Castle Shadowgate is almost the epicenter of it. The room and inventory art was done by Chris Cold, who has been able to create not only a variety of dungeons but ones that flow well together from one room to the next, they're greatly designed and all fit within the theme of what you would find given the atmosphere of the world. The cutscenes were animated by Wang Ling, also a digital painter, and are somewhat reminiscent of what you would see during the cutscenes of Guild Wars 2. You won't have to worry about too much brown or gray with splashes of colors in certain areas (as seen above) that almost command attention, each space is different and the map in the bottom left of the screen is a handy tool to help you remember where things are.

The voice acting, though few, is top notch with voices neatly matching the characters but the main thing you'll hear will be the soundtrack which is impeccably orchestrated: immersive, haunting, mysterious, calm at times and adrenalized at others, fitting the moods of the rooms perfectly. But don't you wish there was a bit more nostalgia to be had? Have no fear. In the options menu you'll find an NES music mode that inserts the original tunes from the 1989 NES release as well as the transitions and text-scrolling animation. Basically you can turn it into a big nostalgia trip with updated visuals. Its a nice addition that has no bearing on the gameplay itself but is a very welcome one.

Invokan, Agaap, Entraiz...
As of writing this I haven't been able to complete the game. I had a lot of trouble with it until Dave Marsh, one of the creators, helped me out. That being said I can't tell you how long it will take to complete but with the puzzles and items changing with each difficulty level you'll sink in at least a dozen hours. While Shadowgate holds itself together like a AAA game you can't help but feel overwhelmed as your torch light slowly dies and you've exhausted all options to figure out what to do next, you will feel stupid that the answer may be something you simply overlooked. A lot of thought and effort have gone into remaking everything and making it all work together and it shows... almost a little too well. When you hit a stride it feels good but when the game comes to a halt then you need to think your way through. You might find yourself trying items and actions repeatedly on random objects in the hopes that something will happen, but it never does.

Upon entering the pitch black dungeon, a shaft of light pierces the darkness, illuminating a book upon a pedestal. Opening the pages you find only two words written in the entire book: "PRICE DROP!" Then a trap door opens below your feet and you plummet to your death.
If you've been curious about it, its best to wait for a Steam Sale. Nostalgia or not, Shadowgate is a pure challenge to play and many people will be turned off by that, which is a shame since this time around it has a lot more to work with. Amazing visuals, captivating music, and a bit more depth to the story give a more complete sense of the world than what we had on the NES. Games are meant to be fun but Shadowgate proves to be a lesson in patience and observation. The immersion in the world matters little if you're not allowed to guess. I'm not saying "don't buy this game," I'm saying you should wait for some brave adventurers to go first. But if you're craving a challenge, you may have found one worthy to test your mettle.


Keep Playing

Comments

Popular Posts

Review/Control Freak: Armored Core Verdict Day

A Second Look @ Star Wars: Republic Commando

Unpublished blog: Collect or Evolve: A Gamer's Dilemma