Shade: Wrath of Angels Review

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Graphics: 8.0
Sound : 6.5
Gameplay : 6.0
Multiplayer : N/A
Overall : 6.1
Review by Scott “TheGoodEvil” Allred & Tim Eller

Scott “TheGoodEvil” Allred's Review

3rd person adventure games are more than just boring, they’re stagnant! Very little evolution has occurred in 3rd person adventure games since the days of Tomb Raider... solve the puzzle, find the item, kill some things, and win the game. No adventure title has come close to raising my interest in years besides Prince of Persia that also had the most annoying part of all adventure games, the camera. Not too many adventure games have great camera angles, Shade: Wrath of Angels is no exception.

Onward to where ever the level designers want me to go!
Quickly, let me run down here! “Damn”. Let me go this way! “Damn”. Can I go here? “It’s a dead end” Where should I go? “Let’s get out of here and check the church”. This is the way Shade plays... literally. You try to do something and the character let’s you know, you can’t do it. There will be fences that you know he should be able to jump and grab onto then climb over but I guess he has bad ankles because he sure will tell you “wrong way”. In fact there is only one path to travel... any other way will greet you with an “it’s a dead end” or “I can’t go that way” or the infamous “damn”. What ever happened to exploration as opposed to “follow the path” level designed, if I wanted to go somewhere I should have to look every where to figure out I can’t pass that direction instead of a spoken (and written) notification about how it’s not possible to go that way. He speaks like Ben Stein from the “Clear Eyes” commercials “for dry... red eyes, Clear Eyes gets the red out” all the while you are saying to yourself “I wish he’d catch laryngitis and end this madness”. Another thing that really makes my head hurt is that everything you need to pick up is displayed by way of a hand icon when you pass by said item. It’s almost impossible to miss something and most adventure games that I played that I liked made you look harder for things while exploring.

Let me holster my gun and pull out my... magical sword?
Woohoo a magical freakin’ sword, yeah let me engage in close combat with zombies and monsters with my sword instead of my high powered .50 handgun! That makes sense! If I was in any situation that I had to choose a handgun or a sword I’d take the freakin’ handgun. Running out of bullets is the only worry but everyone knows that bullets can be found everywhere, you just have to break into people’s houses and steal... err find them for Ye Ole Handcannon.

The story is plays out like a bad soap opera. Angel type beings take your brother the archeologist that dug up their resting place. These angel things are mean and thus you must stop them to get your brother back, to do it you must free 4 angels, Angels that will take out the other angel things. Well you get the picture, really crappy story writing adds to the “fun” of Shade: Wrath of Angels but not as much fun as the poor graphics and sad voiceovers! Better writing, acting and graphics would have made this a good alternative to Doom 3, sadly though it falls short on many of the award winning elements that Doom 3 is comprised of.

The next time I need to take an aspirin from the medicine cabinet I’ll try the Shade: Wrath of Angels way, I’ll simply put my arm through the wall (every time I walked near a wall half of the character’s body would disappear). The camera control is terrible and at times you will find yourself about to scream at how irritating the camera is. When you are in a small space you will see through the character, he will become completely transparent except for any weapon he is carrying... he looks transparent but he certainly will find himself bleeding and dead if you run into a monster while in such a state. Nothing graphics wise seems to be up to standards in Shade: Wrath of Angels. Walls aren’t solid, graphic flickers and clipping problems add major irritation in sticky situations, and detail all fall short of a good title and fall to the feet of a title like Prince of Persia. I see no reason to recommend this game to anyone that has played “Prince of Persia”, I’d simply wait until “Prince of Persia 2” comes out and buy that for visuals.

Worthy of mention is the good placement of scares; sounds, monsters, visions, all add up to make the gameplay more fun than other 3rd person adventure games I’ve played but the rest of the games mechanics dilute the overall potential of the game.

Shade: Wrath of D-list voice actors.
The sounds are the only thing in Shade: Wrath of Angels that are worth anything... well once you get past the god awful voice acting. Ambient sounds when can be heard are pretty defined and sound ok, and some of the tracks are pretty well made, it is a shame the rest of the game’s mechanics are in bad shape.

TheGoodEvil’s verdict,
If the Graphics and sounds lived up to the gameplay the game would be better, but because of so many graphical problems and the awful camera, along with the terrible voice acting the overall enjoyment factor of the game is sub par.

The Goods,
A couple good sound clips and tracks, combat can be fun at times, some scary moments

The Evils,
Every other part of the game falls short of making shade a viable purchase unless you can get past the downsides.

Tim Eller's Review

There’s a great deal to be said for a game that pictures a despondent protagonist on the cover, backed by a towering demon that appears to be singing Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro aria. Much of it should probably not be taken seriously. I think this game is supposed to be scary, adventurous, puzzling, existential, and compelling in an ass-kicking sort of way, but it really soft-shoes through just about every take on these genre similarities. What that creates, in the end, is a hell of a lot less interesting than listening to a demon sing opera music.

To be truthful, there are no singing demons in Shade: Wrath of Angels, but if there were, I would have sat through the cutscenes with a bit more patience. Staying connected with the story is as easy as watching the opening scenes to the game, and then forever after enduring unconnected segues that allow your specter tour guide to outline your next objectives, and let the protagonist (whatever his name is – I’ll call him Meathead) slip in a few glib and infuriatingly uninteresting lines.

Tutorials are tricky to implement into a story, but I was pleased to see that the best effort Shade made in anything it did was to weave your gameplay lesson into a dream that our protagonist buddy is having, after receiving a fairly urgent letter from his intrepid, scholarly brother. After some bouts with strange happenings and unearthing some dangerous truths, brainy brother sends for Meathead with non-descript reasons, simply seeking his undefined help. Naturally, Meathead responds.

Turns out there’s some ugliness involved with what brainy brother discovered, and it’s now up to Meathead, who by the way strongly resembles an aging Christian Slater in a mud mask, to continue through time and space to complete the pieces of the Angel’s freedom that his brother could not. The power to unleash these Angels, existing in their own time in order to keep the power of shades and shadows in balance, apparently has to do with the blithe dismissal of the unimaginable, which our Meathead possesses in spades. That lack of incredulity is partly what makes Shade so hard to relate to or enjoy.

Before I rant on the banality of the gameplay, it should be said that the control was actually quite well realized with respect to the portions of the game that resemble Tomb Raider or Super Mario World. Most of the environments are of the crumbling, medieval variety, and Meathead must use his expert jumping, climbing and shimmying skills to their greatest extent. These controls could have been a lot less forgiving, but even my thick fingers couldn’t screw up several acrobatic traversals of empty space that should have ended in certain death.

Oddly enough, battle control wasn’t nearly as fulfilling as the platforming. When you fight creatures, you want to feel like you’re competent, and this is what Shade competently takes away from you. Your ranged weapon is a .50 caliber gun, which unfortunately pins you to one spot in order to fire – a grave disadvantage – and your Magic Sword (bestowed upon you by your angel guide) has an attack (left-click) and a guard (right-click). That sword should have been the prize of the combat system, but instead is more of a clunky detriment when fighting the small variety of monsters you meet along the way. Hammering away on the left-click every time you see an opening usually initiates a two-second wind-up swing, leaving Meathead wide open for the quick attackers and made me wish I had more narrow bridges and gaping chasms to cross instead.

The other half of your fighting persona is a demon you’re gifted with by that same angel guide, truly inspired by The Suffering if anything was, which you can turn into, given the right amount of demon energy in a bar below your health bar. For a creature you’d expect would be a bitch-slapping trump card, this thing has all the commanding presence of any super-hero sidekick. Seriously, the demon is almost smaller than Meathead himself, and is largely relegated to pushing around boxes too heavy for his human counterpart. Talk about disappointing. You do find odd, gleaming passages to an item store of sorts, which allows you to spend spirit orbs on new abilities like immortality or a wave of advancing flame. But beefing up this demon felt as empowering as adding gold Daytons to your 1984 Ford Escort.

Visually, I cannot complain too much. While the level designs themselves were so clearly linear that they seemed more like a funhouse than some dark forbidding zone of doom, the atmosphere around it all is really solid. Colors and lighting and structure remain consistent enough that the sense of artificiality is dispelled quite well, blending the characters with their surroundings. For whatever attempts Meathead makes to destroy the mood by opening his mouth and saying something, the artful levels populate the different areas with a sufficient amount of dread and spookiness. Everything from soaring castle wall heights to enclosed stone-brick hallways ground a backdrop for some truly creepy, and in some cases gory, props. There are lots of carrion cages, hanging corpses, and impaled skeletons, which could probably have been placed in greater number; they did their job well.

Also – a HUGE applause for the camera, one of the better functional viewpoints I’ve ever seen in a PC action game. At no point in my playtime was this thing hung up on some adhesive polygon or peering out from inside the main characters head, things I’ve come across in too many other games. Aside from the regular versatility you’d expect, like using the mouse to fly all over the place and see all angles, the camera will follow Meathead with ease and capability. Backed into a corner, the camera doesn’t freak out and get stuck near the ceiling or spin madly. Meathead simply goes almost completely transparent, allowing the camera to sit inside him and show everything in front of him without obstruction until it can pull back, restoring his solidity. Smooth and brilliantly executed.

Dialogue and music are a bit stilted. Meathead has the same gravelly voice that all over-confident protagonists have, from Sam Fisher to Solid Snake. The exception here is that I actually hate listening to Meathead talk. The score does a pretty good job of creating mood, specifically in the portions conveying action or surprise, but it seemed to get carried away with itself at times, like the string section bursting to the forefront of an incidental moment and ruining the bassy, dooming undertones. A minor quibble – overall, the score is reasonably impressive.

Conclusion:
Shade tries to be so many things. There’s the leaping/key-finding/chain-pulling for the platformers, the spastic clicking for the action junkies, and the occasional jump-out-of-your-seat surprises for the Resident Evil fans. What holds it back from being anything more than – I hate to say it – boring after an hour or two is the fact that many of the key pieces of the game (believable characters, strong/cohesive story, deep and involved/effective action) aren’t fully fleshed out. In many places, its blatant silliness outright ruined my emotional investment in the experience. What Shade: Wrath of Angels really wants is to be taken as seriously as the genre juggernauts it’s obviously influenced by, but without editing the macho wit or making you feel like you ARE a badass savior like Meathead should be, the reasons to play Shade dwindle.