Shadow of the Beast

Shadow of the Beast

A classic returns with a mix of new and old elements.

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The original Shadow of the Beast was released back in 1989. The game was a strange mixture of navigating platforms in labyrinth-like levels and demanding combat with enemies born out of someone's nightmares. All brought to life with impressive visuals and an unusual soundtrack.

Since then, questions regarding the influence and importance of the game have been argued on, over and over. Perhaps the game sounds familiar to you, perhaps it was an important part of your childhood, perhaps you have never even heard of it. Whether it or its sequels (that came out soon after the first) are classics or not, a modern retelling of Aarbron the beast's quest for vengeance against the evil Maletoth has arrived. But how do you best draw out the beast from the shadows and into the 21st century?

For starters, you build the game in a modern Unreal engine, so that the game is not only stunning to look at, but running at a stable 60 frames per second. Then, you create gameplay that is only superficially reminiscent to that of the original's and to a large degree draws inspiration from some of the most influential action games in the past decade. Finally, and most importantly, you assemble a team of dedicated developers with an understanding of the series' roots and voilá - you have an honourable reinterpretation that combines the old with the new.

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Shadow of the Beast

Like its predecessor, Shadow of the Beast is a combination of platforming and combat. Fortunately, things have changed since 1989 and the more modern inspirations are hard to miss. Where the game's fondness for camera panning and magnificent vistas is clearly derived from God of War, the brutal, combo-focused combat lends itself more to a comparison with the Arkham games, albeit in two-dimensional form. All the while, Souls-inspired online features are interspersed throughout the levels.

So yes, the game is a bit of a Frankenbeast. But even considering the obvious modern inspirations, the game pays homage to its source material in a slightly more subtle way. The original Shadow of the Beast became loved and acclaimed for, among other things, its intricate and dynamic Parallax backgrounds. And so of course the successor is brimming with rich panoramic scenes that serve to make the two-dimensional world feel bigger than it really is. Combat in the original game demanded precision, patience and an intimate familiarity with your surroundings, and in a similar vein the remake rewards players who commit enemy numbers, strategy and placement to memory.

Strictly speaking, the gameplay can be divided in two. On the one hand you jump between platforms, climb on walls, pull levers and solve simple puzzles. The other half sees you draw on a sufficiently hefty arsenal of deadly moves to hack, bite, slice and dice your way through rows of enemies. Aarbron is no featherlight Mario or buoyant Kirby - his moves are exaggerated and have a lot of weight to them. Controlling the beast will take some getting used to, but it compliments the character. Every jump, doge and swipe illustrates the aggression that drives the character forward.

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You see, Aarbron is kind of a bloodthirsty monster, even if he does look kind of cute. Blood, gore, and limbs fly through the air as he viciously tears at the enemy. While the combat does lend itself to comparisons with other games, there is a bit of a twist. Enemies die in just one hit. There is a lot of them, however, so performing well in combat is less about learning difficult button combinations and more about memorising enemy' placement and weakness. Of course, not getting hit helps as well. It's a visceral, swift and rather challenging affair, especially for those hoping to claim top spot on the leaderboards.

Shadow of the BeastShadow of the Beast

Between the platforming and the combat, the latter definitely stands out as the game's strongest asset. It's satisfying and slimmed down - and we wish we could have had more of it. Generally speaking, the two aspects of the game never really converge or mix in a meaningful or interesting way. At least not in way where they transcend to become a greater whole. They each serve their purpose, but it is only the prospect of more tearing and slashing that entices us to keep playing Shadow of the Beast.

And replayability is absolutely important to the game. It is terribly short, featuring no more than seven or eight levels which can collectively be beat in three, maybe four hours. Another similarity with the original, we suppose. The developers have done a decent amount of work to extend the life of the game, however. Of course it offers different difficulty levels, high scores and leaderboards. In addition to that you will find skill trees, collectibles and small biographies detailing the source material. Among the more interesting ideas, however, is the ability to unlock extra bosses, alternate endings, subtitles for the enemies' gibberish, and even an emulation of the original game.

All in all we have been well entertained in the company of Shadow of the Beast. It's an interesting combination of old and new (or newish) game design. From a technical standpoint it's a bit of a feat and the quality of production is disproportionate to the size of the development team. Regrettably long loading times and a limited number of levels stand as the two real weaknesses of this game. The PlayStation 4 is not exactly starving for attention in these times, but if you're on a budget or looking for a good mix of old school and current-gen, then Shadow of the Beast is worth consideration - it's not just a shadow of its former self.

07 Gamereactor UK
7 / 10
Gorgeous graphics and solid framerate, Good fighting system and level design, Lots of replayability.
Rather short, Long loading times.
overall score
is our network score. What's yours? The network score is the average of every country's score

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