If you have played the Trine Trilogy, then you are familiar with the developer Frozenbyte. The reception of the first two Trine games was good, yet fans complained that the third was too short. Frozenbyte then responded saying that addressing this problem would cost an amount of money that they could not afford at the time. Unfortunately, the future of that series is questionable. I now wonder if the studio’s latest release, Shadwen is the cause of their financial misfortune, because this game is not exactly something Frozenbyte will be able to bounce back with.
In Shadwen you play as a skilled assassin. In the first training area you are forced to kill one guard, but after that the game encourages you to try and play through the game without killing at all. Guards can be heard using a variety of swear words when they are alerted or in conversation. Shadwen is rated M for Violence, Blood, and Language.
The story of Shadwen is simple. You play as…Shadwen…who is apparently a skilled assassin. Her mission is to assassinate the king of a kingdom in whch name hardly matters. Along the way you encounter a little girl named Lily. She is being bullied by a guard after sneaking into the cathedral courtyard to steal an apple because she is hungry. Shadwen rescues her and feels there is no choice but to bring her along. As the player you must make it to your destination while making sure Lily can progress as well, whether that means killing or not.
The game encourages you to not kill the guards, or else Lily may have a different outlook on some of the events that play out in the game. The most important tool you will have in Shadwen is your grappling hook. With this you can swing from rooftops and also pull objects like boxes and barrels. One of my favorite things to do is pull down a stack of boxes and let them drop on a guard to subdue him. Unfortunately, I encountered a few bugs while using this item. The first being that sometimes when pulling boxes Shadwen will get stuck in the swinging animation; the other occurred after I had finished swinging. As I tried to advance to the next room, I could still see the rope from my hook flashing a bit and acting like it was still connected to me.
The biggest feature in Shadwen is the manipulation of time. It works like SUPERHOT: time only movies if you are or if you are holding the button that lets time advance. This can set you up for some awesome traps and help you move along the stages really well. There is also a rewind button you can hold if you make a mistake. This makes up for the cutthroat AI. When an enemy spots you, there is no chance to defend yourself or escape and will count as a fail, but you can hit that rewind button right away and get back to a whatever point you like.
Even though game makes the AI a little unforgiving, their actions are still pretty basic. They patrol like typical stealth game enemies and are easy to distract. However, the AI that is funny to watch is Lily’s. The fun part happens when you finally give her an opportunity to head to the next hiding spot. When the enemies turn away from her, she begins to make her way and sometimes walks right behind them, and other times it seems like she walks just out of their line of sight. If the guards do decide to turn back around, she jogs right back to her previous hiding spot. She will repeat this until she has a clear path.
The game also contains some light crafting elements. Shadwen has a variety of tools she can use to subdue or get past the guards. The resources themselves are found inside small chests that are cleverly placed around the level. Making these tools seems like it hinges on you being able to open every single chest. This may be the reason why I could not craft some of these items more than once. There were a few situations where I decided it was better to progress rather than to get a chest that was a pain to reach. I do believe that some of these tools can be helpful, but the game can easily be finished without using any.
As far as presentation goes, the graphics are a mixed bag. The environment looks really good, but certain objects and things that are found inside the stages are just sloppy, though the overall tone and mood of the game is done very well. The best comparison I could think of is the Thief series. There are a few levels where we even get some rain, and that’s cool to look at when you’re standing still in time. I truly feel like some love was put into the development of the game, but at some point that changed, whether it be because of a deadline they had to meet or some other reason like a lack of proper funding.
Trine surely started off as a great series, and I really hoped Frozenbyte was going to catch lightning in a bottle a second time. Sadly, that is not the case here. Shadwen does have some great ideas and can be really cool when the funky physics work right. I’d like to think that this game would be even greater if they put some more time into the development. Honestly, with all the other great indie titles out there, I do not see myself recommending this game to a friend or someone who may be interested.
The Bottom Line