It takes a lot to make a stealth game worthwhile with many AAA titles like Metal Gear Solid, Hitman, and Splinter Cell on the market. Unfortunately, indie developers have very large shoes to fill, so let's see how Shadwen stacks up.
You begin Shadwen by controlling an orphan girl who just wants an apple. Upon reaching the much sought-after apple tree, you play as a female assassin named Shadwen who's on a quest to murder the king. Soon, she meets up with the girl who she takes under her wing for the rest of the journey. The entire adventure is played by traversing various scenarios with guards scattered around. You can either kill them or sneak by but either way, you're done for as soon as you're spotted. Using your surroundings to distract guards is necessary so thankfully there are plenty of objects to take advantage of. Guards will grow suspicious whenever you knock over bottles, move boxes, leave dead bodies around, or get spotted in the distance. If you're in a sticky situation then you could always use your trusty grappling hook to reach higher ground out of harm's way. Overall, the gameplay is quite satisfying as it contains many intricacies that keep it captivating throughout.
Although Shadwen's gameplay is pretty solid, the visuals aren't all too impressive. The character models and stages look like a PlayStation 2 era game which is acceptable albeit slightly disappointing in this day and age. To make matters worse, I witnessed many graphical glitches during my playthrough. Guards would twitch around, walls became invisible, and I even noticed some text had code in it as if the programmers forgot to replace a variable with actual readable words. On top of all this, the environments are far too dark and bland to be interesting. Besides the introductory area that features a beautiful sunset over the ocean, all you're left with is a dimly lit medieval town. It's not only boring; it's also hard to make out your surroundings because everything's so dark. I turned the brightness all the way up and still had difficulty discerning what I was looking at. On the bright side, the British cast does a great job of providing the voice work which, along with the atmospherically moody music, helps paint the desperate times in which Shadwen takes place.
Besides the core gameplay mechanics that I've already discussed, many additional elements are incorporated that bring the gameplay to a much higher level. Wherever you go, the orphan follows you around. She even leads the way at times which will help you in the more complicated areas. Anyway, if she sees a dead body or watches you kill a guard then she'll become scarred and you'll receive a different ending. Balancing how to work through each unique scenario while keeping the girl unaware of your murderous ways is quite a satisfying challenge that I thoroughly enjoyed. The other major feature that I love is the fact that time stops whenever you're not pushing anything on the controller. This can be confusing at first but you'll understand its genius once you master it. You can also gather materials to build traps. Honestly, I didn't use very many but I can see experimenting with them being a fun endeavor.
Shadwen has a very steep learning curve so I can imagine that gamers who are more impatient than me will get frustrated well before they can appreciate the intricacies of the gameplay. For example, when I started playing, I just couldn't grasp how to use the grappling hook at all. After falling to my death dozens of times, I came to realise that if I let go of the controls in the middle of a swing, time would stop and I could easily aim at the next plank to continue. That being said, I'm glad that I persisted and learned how to master the complex gameplay because I was quite satisfied by the end of it all. It's clear that Shadwen is a very polarising game.
After all is said and done, I enjoyed my time with Shadwen. If you put in the effort to let it grow on you then the payoff is definitely worthwhile but it's understandable that many gamers just wouldn't have the patience to do so.
- + Satisfying stealth gameplay has many layers of detail to keep you immersed
- + Truly unique and innovative mechanics
- + Great voice work and sense of desperation
- - Visuals are way too dark with bland and unvaried environments
- - Poor quality and glitchy graphics
- - Steep learning curve is daunting