Platform PlayStation 4 Genre Platformer, Action-Adventure
Publisher Sony Interactive Entertainment Developer Heavy Spectrum Entertainment Labs
The original Shadow of the Beast was released in 1989 on the Amiga, eventually spawning an entire trilogy. Over 25 years later, developer Heavy Spectrum has revitalised the forgotten cult classic to bring the vicious platformer to the PlayStation 4. Shadow of the Beast on PlayStation 4 is a love letter to the original trilogy, containing an abundance of bonus features (alongside the original game itself) to create a perfect package for any fan of the beloved series.
Those who may not have ever heard of Shadow of the Beast (me included) are still in for an exhilarating experience. Shadow of the Beast balances old school flare with current gaming technology to create an addictive reincarnation of a lost classic.
Shadow of the Beast follows the story of Aarbron, aka the Beast. Aarbron was stolen as a child and twisted into a grotesque killing machine to cause death and destruction by the evil mage Maletoth. The cruel situation Aarbron finds himself in is perfectly summarised during the initial level, as Aarbron is introduced on a leash and forced to slaughter countless combatants in his path. Completing the 5 hour story will provide players with a general grasp of the endearing narrative, but those players who dig deeper will find themselves experiencing a far superior tale.
Players can unlock small video sequences that provide strong context to the action that took place during each level, providing an interesting backstory into Aarbron, the villains involved, and the Shadow of the Beast universe. Without watching these extra scenes players will experience a basic tale of revenge, but if you decide to view these bonus scenarios (which I greatly recommend) Shadow of the Beast produces a deeper narrative – one I did not expect.
When encountering new alien races during Shadow of the Beast, their language will simply appear as weird patterns and shapes on the bottom of the screen. Players can then unlock these languages in order to decipher the language and receive even more narrative context to the story. I found myself wanting to unlock these languages to discover what other narrative pieces I had originally missed regarding the Shadow of the Beast world. It is a unique method of storytelling that rewards those players that want to seek out the extra narrative context; which I found to be an empowering experience.
Shadow of the Beast truly shines in the combat department. At its core, enemies come from two directions and players must manage attacks from both sides to clear out all enemies before going forward. Completing combat encounters can be achieved easily (for the most part), but the real challenge comes when players are forced to manage multiple enemy variants while trying to produce their highest score possible. Doing this turns Shadow of the Beast into a rhythmic display of brutality as Aarbron rips through his enemies in order to keep your multiplier combo going to reach insanely high scores. Players must also manage the blood Aarbron gains from slaughtering enemies, with special moves that sacrifice blood in order to either revitalise health or produce bonus scores. Completing these manoeuvres is no easy task and they can leave you completely open if mistimed, but sometimes the risk is certainly worth it. Shadow of the Beast’s combat is at its absolute best when avoiding damage to keep a huge combo going, creating a genuinely addictive old school fighting system.
Players have access to a number of basic moves to avoid being damaged, such as block and roll. Mastering the art of blocking and rolling is vital to high score chasers, while memorising enemy patterns will allow you to strategically plan your battle techniques to optimise your best score. Knowing when to block, when to roll out of harm’s way and when to viciously perform a high-score producing special move will help create a jaw dropping score – and the feeling is incredible.
Shadow of the Beast ranks your performance in each battle and reaching a Gold standard in certain fights will unlock a bonus encounter to help aid your overall score. Chasing high-scores on the online leaderboards is satisfying for a number of reasons. Firstly, Aarbron’s slick fighting movements are an absolute pleasure to behold as he instantly rips one enemy in half, only to transition to slicing another enemy in a slick ballet of blood and gore. Secondly, the high-scores you achieve upon the conclusion of each stage actually factor into your ability to unlock items. Perform well during a stage and you will earn more points to unlock bonus features. These include the options to unlock upgrades to Aarbron, alongside the original Amiiga release, and the 1989 soundtrack; which of course can be played throughout your 2016 adventure.
Shadow of the Beast wants to encourage replayability in order to chase high-scores, but there is one fatal flaw that makes chasing these high-scores an absolute chore: the platforming. Unfortunately Shadow of the Beast does not have the option to simply replay different encounters, instead forcing players to replay each stage in its entirety. The main issue here is that a majority of the levels suffer from incessant platforming, which ultimately made me question revisiting certain stages. Shadow of the Beast’s platforming sections are fairly standard, but the issue is with the controls themselves. Aaarbron’s jump feel floaty and unresponsive, making platforming feel more like a poor man’s LittleBigPlanet. There were countless times where I believed my jump simply didn’t register due to the latency between input and action.
The same unresponsiveness exists with Aaarbron’s ability to slide down or climb pieces of the environment. These abilities simply do not work for the majority of the time, sending Aarbron to a crushing death. Shadow of the Beast relies on replayability, but the awful platforming made the idea of replaying certain stages an enormous inconvenience rather than an appetising proposal.
Shadow of the Beast’s variety of environments help make Aarbron’s adventure feel grand, as if it takes place across the entire planet. The journey takes Aarbron through arid wastelands, treacherous underground caverns and beautiful countryside’s. Developer Heavy Spectrum adds to this sense of grandeur with God of War-like camera angles that help give perspective on how large the environments are in comparison to Aarbron. Shadow of the Beast uses a unique mix of colour to add personality to the alien world, though there is still a focus on darker colours, the mixtures of blues and reds help make Shadow of the Beast stand on its own. Shadow of the Beast also relies on blood – a lot of blood. Blood will spill from enemy carcasses, coating the world and the camera itself; blood will also stain areas if you decide to backtrack to previous battle locations, which is a nice touch.
Shadow of the Beast has online multiplayer leaderboards for each stage, but there is also an inclusion of a poorly explained multiplayer feature. During your adventure you will come across locations where players have previously died (think Dark Souls) and at this point you can either give them a Gift or Devour them. Shadow of the Beast never once explains what these systems actually do and only in time did I figure out one of them. Gifting grants the player you found with an elixir (which revives Aarbron in battle) while Devour starts a weird button mash mini game as Aarbron cuts another Aarbron into pieces. After a dozen hours with Shadow of the Beast I still have no idea what was to be gained by utilising the Devour option and Gifting may provide you with a clear conscience, but both options add very little else to the overall experience.
Shadow of the Beast impressed me with an appealing narrative. Aarbron may be a silent hero but I found myself attached to the character and his journey to deliver vengeance to those who had used him for evil deeds. Shadow of the Beast also benefits from addictive combat, which combines strategic battles and old school appeal with online leaderboards.
In spite of the addictive nature of high-score chasing, Shadow of the Beast’s replay value is greatly diminished due to the unresponsive and bland platforming sections. It’s a shame that despite such high quality elements, I continue to second guess revisiting stages simply to avoid having to experience those platforming sections once more.
Shadow of the Beast has some towering highs that will please any Shadow of the Beast fan, but unfortunately the cavernous lows leave a defining memory on what could have been a grand resurgence of an old series.
- Interesting story that provides deeper context for players that seek it.
- Addictive combat system.
- Unresponsive and floaty platforming controls.
- Poorly explained social features.