Entry 25: Humble Bundle pt. 2: Shadowgrounds: Survivor

The second game I played from the Humble Bundle was Shadowgrounds: Survivor, a top-down sci-fi shooter. The narrative concept lies somewhere between Aliens and Starship Troopers and is for the most part generic sci-fi; a human colony has been overrun by hostile, insect-like aliens and a few survivors are attempting to somehow make it out of the situation alive.

Visually, I found Shadowgrounds more generic than Trine; so far almost all I’ve seen is rocky terrain and a devastated gray generic futuristic human colony. All the assets look good, and there are a lot of “things” around that can be broken or moved around using the physics engine. The mood is fantastic; the players’ flashlights send shadows dancing all around the map. Many areas feel claustrophobic, which ties in neatly to the theme and some of the combat mechanics.

I played Shadowgrounds with another player along for the ride and had a great experience. Ammo is scarce and the enemies take many hits to kill; controls are “Geometry Wars” style where one analog stick moves the character and the other determines shooting direction; the claustrophobic levels and damage resistant enemies frequently saw us trying to fall back to a more defensible position while shooting at the approaching hordes. Character speed and effectiveness seem to me to be very well balanced so that they feel capable and powerful but still very vulnerable. Changing firing direction, for example, is fairly fast, but not instantaneous. Monsters are usually a bit faster than the player. I found this a fair compromise between some survival horror mechanics that make the player feel purposefully clumsy, and straight-up shooter controls where the player character is often the fastest thing in the game. My companion and I were never quite eliminated though we came close to it many times; again, good balance between making us feel powerful but vulnerable.

It’s interesting to note that near the end of our session, we switched to a different character’s point of view with a different weapon set; a flame thrower replaced the rifle and pistol of the first protagonist. The change was welcome as the new weapon did behave very differently from the others.

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