In a not too distant future humanity has decided to expand into space. Ganymede, Jupiterâ€™s largest moon, was chosen, and after a number of years automated machinery had arrived and made it relatively safe for people to stay there. You play a senior mechanic at a space station, an unlikely hero who finds himself trapped on a planet where aliens have started popping out from the woodwork. With some help from your co-workers you do your best at fighting back the nasty buggers, armed with a good arsenal of weapons.
As you progress in the storyline you try getting in touch with earth, or just basically anyone who can save you. Unfortunately it wonâ€™t be that easy. The aliens keep on coming, but as you keep blowing up bosses and their many minions you get closer and closer to the source. I donâ€™t want to give up too much of the story, but in short itâ€™s pretty clichÃ©-ridden, and mainly just provides you with a reason to blow up stuff.
Shadowgrounds is a bit like Doom 3 in presentation, only at a top-down third-person angle. The pacing is somewhat faster, but it tries to set an atmosphere using nice dynamic lighting, occasionally cheesy scare tactics, and a main character thatâ€™s less macho than your average Duke Nukem type of guy â€“ heâ€™s just some random guy. At first youâ€™re only armed with a single pistol, which while never running out of ammunition doesnâ€™t pack a huge punch. Fortunately weapons and ammunition is scattered all over the place, and as the enemies get more powerful youâ€™ll find stuff like shotguns, machine guns, flame throwers, and a bunch even more exotic ones. Also, the weapons are quite balanced, meaning a shotgun doesnâ€™t work too great on long ranges, yet a machinegun wonâ€™t do an equally good job of pushing back the critters that get close.
Some of the enemies will drop so called upgrade parts, which can be spent on, well you guessed it, upgrading your weapons. Each weapon has three slots, which typically improve damage, clip size, and finally a special attack. The first weapons you find are quite cheap to upgrade, but get progressively expensive. Since you never really know how much is left of the game you always have to judge whether you really need all those special attacks, or if you should save the upgrade parts for the later weapons.
In my case I found myself upgrading the damage and clip size of the very first and most common weapons, and saving the rest for the truly devastating weapons, where special attacks truly make a difference.
One of Shadowgroundâ€™s problems is that it does get quite linear and repetitive. You do have a nice little radar that shows you the direction you need to follow, and the number of aliens in your vicinity, accompanied by slightly annoying beeps if youâ€™re close to something dangerous.
Many of the levels, or areas if you will, take place either inside space stations, or somewhere around the dry ground of Ganymede. Itâ€™s pretty much always dark and your paltry flashlight runs out of power amazingly often, forcing you to either continue in darkness, or stop and wait while it recharges. Sure, itâ€™s a mechanism for added atmosphere, but why does it have to be annoying?
Also, the lack of manual saving is pretty frustrating. Dieing close to the completion of a chapter isnâ€™t fun, and makes it really tempting to just close the game and maybe resume playing in a few days. Again I assume this is to heighten the tension, but why does it have to be annoying?
The presentation in general is pretty good though. Nothing stands out as particularly ugly, yet itâ€™s neither particularly memorable. Characters look, move, and behave as youâ€™d expect them to, but looking at other recent games it doesnâ€™t look very 2006.
In terms of audio itâ€™s also fairly decent. The main character sounds a bit bored, but I assume they were aiming for a no nonsense anti-hero, which coincidentally also sounds like a somewhat bored voice over artist. Fortunately the remaining characters sound a bit more like most people that have been trapped on alien infested planets in other games, and thatâ€™s a good thing. And as a game that revolves around its arsenal the sound effects are quite pleasing. Explosions sound about as bassy as you would want, and the laser weapons sound appropriately sci-fi. Ari Pulkkinen composed the soundtrack, and it sounds good.
Finally, a co-op mode is included. Blasting away enemies with a friend or three isnâ€™t twice as fun, but it does help.
Shadowgrounds is a pretty solid game if you treat it as what it is, a game where you collect and upgrade weapons, and use them to blow away aliens. Donâ€™t expect an amazing story or Doom 3 / Unreal Engine 3 graphics, but itâ€™s a decent pastime, and shouldnâ€™t set you back too much money either.