Disappoints as a Sequel
As far as I can tell, Shadowgrounds: Survivor tells the much less interesting story of three characters trying to survive the exact same alien attack that occurs in the original Shadowgrounds. I was hoping to at least see more of Jane, the one character with you through almost the entire first game, but instead Shadowgrounds: Survivor includes none of the same characters. It also occurs during roughly the same time (though for a considerably shorter period) as Shadowgrounds, so it’s not so much a sequel or even a prequel in terms of timing.
There are some good parts where it improved on the original. In addition to picking up dropped upgrade parts that can be used on your weapons, your character also gets experience points which then grants an amount of skill points. This expanded the RPG element of the game in a way I found satisfying. Also instead of needing to complete an hour-long level before being able to save your progress you have a number of episodes broken into much more reasonable segments with a save after each segment. This was really a deficiency in Shadowgrounds since if you only had 15 minutes you couldn’t make any progress, and it was nice to see that fixed here. The only problem is that the segments would end abruptly and unexpectedly, and the screen would fade out while you still had control of your character. Weren’t done exploring yet? Too bad, you’ve reached the completely unmarked ending spot — congratulations!
That’s not to say there weren’t other differences, it’s just that they didn’t really work for me. Instead of playing as one character throughout the game you get to alternate among three. I thought this could be a good thing but it actually ended up as abrupt, unexpected breaks in the action as the second and third characters are “introduced.” Each character ends up with three unique weapons and a unique grenade type. This sort of helped with the difficulty of finding the weapon I wanted since there were at most 4 choices (for some reason despite there being a dedicated grenade key you can still select grenades as your weapon), but if the character for the current episode isn’t the one with the weapon you want you simply can’t use that weapon. I mostly found this frustrating when playing as the character who doesn’t get a pistol. It also seems that since there are three playable characters none of them have much of a backstory at all. I was also hoping since the Shadowgrounds series is made by the same developers as Trine and there are three playable characters that maybe there would be a way to switch between the three whenever I felt like it . . . but no.
Besides the three playable characters, I can only remember 2 other characters that have any lines: the guy who tells everyone what to do and then later the leader of a small group of soldiers that help you hold a room. I can’t remember either of their names despite playing through the entirety of Shadowgrounds: Survivor yesterday and the day before, which gives you an idea of the depth of story and characters you get here. It’s clearly a more action-focused game though and I get that, but with the original Shadowgrounds having so many more characters it’s disappointing to get less here.
Earlier I mentioned that you get grenades. I wasn’t really expecting to like or use them much, which turned out to be exactly what happened. I tried using them a few times, but mostly they wouldn’t end up where I wanted them (this may be due to my own lack of skill or just that grenades don’t work all that well in a top-down view). This made them only mildly useful in situations where I was being swarmed by a lot of aliens at once (which actually happens frequently). Other than that the weapons are the same as in the original game but with slightly different upgrades.
Toward the end of the game you get to pilot a mech which looks like a larger version of the security bots from the first game. While this seems like it would be cool, you can’t get out of the mech, it has infinite ammunition, and there are no pickups and possibly no experience for the character piloting the mech. So instead of being cool the mech stages were actually just boring and felt pointless. They would have been better served as a cutscene, but that would have made me think I should have been able to actually control the mech.
Besides the mech you also get to sit down at a couple stationary turrets. This is better since you can get in and out, and creatures still drop upgrade parts. The problem is that when you get out, instead of facing the direction the turret is facing you’re facing the direction you were when you got in (I think), which is disorienting. Also in the second turret the turret + me combo died (odd, why didn’t the turret just get destroyed and leave me to my weapons?) and then I respawned still in the turret, but showing about 4000 ammo count for my pistol. This was the only bug I encountered in this otherwise very solidly-programmed game. Its main flaws are design-related instead of technical.
What probably bothered me most is when doorways would get forcefielded off to trap you in an area where waves of aliens would come in through those forcefields. This felt like an lazy way to keep you in an area and force you to defend yourself for an unknown amount of time. I liked fending off waves of aliens much better when the reason I had to stick around was because I was fixing or using nearby equipment.
Two last points that were done better the first time around were the enemies and the overall length of the game. For the most part, you get the same enemies, but some from the original didn’t make it. The security mechs aren’t present unless you count the mech you get to control. There’s a spider that shoots a temporarily-paralyzing electrical ball in addition to the spiders that shoot laser pulses from the first game, which is a new attack but the aliens look the same. You also get a smaller version of the melee alien boss from the mines of the first game as what works out to the only boss battle in Survivor. I completed Shadowgrounds: Survivor in under 4 hours, while the original took me around 15. If you adjust for the fact that the long time between saves made me have to re-play the first half of most level there, that’s still double the playtime in the original, which is currently listed for 2/3 the price of this game on Steam.
I recommend not paying actual money for this game. If you’re interested in the Shadowgrounds series, pick up the first one. If you like that game enough to want to play a more expensive, stripped-down version of it, or if you happen to get a good deal like I did with the Humble Frozenbyte Bundle where Shadowgrounds: Survivor is basically included for free, only then would I recommend picking this up.