The hype surrounding Shadow the Hedgehog has been mediocre at best, after a rather successful attempt with Sonic Heroes, Sonic Team have tried to focus on one of the lesser known characters in the series, Shadow the Hedgehog and scope out the back story of the hedgehog with attitude. Shadow is just like Sonic except he is black with a red strip across his back. So should Sonic be worried about losing the limelight or is Shadow simply a poor imitation?
It starts well, a fairly impressive FMV introduction explains the story, Shadow doesn't remember anything but a strange figure (named Black Doom) appears and tells him to collect the chaos emeralds, and only by doing this will Shadow will find out more about his past. It would probably have been better had Sonic Team just stuck with this basic storyline, but they also throw in an alien invasion from a team called Black Arms who are hellbent on destroying the city.
The game asks players whether they are a hero or a villain and this is carried out fairly basically. Shadow has his own agenda so you're able to switch between being evil or joining forces with Sonic and his companions. The first level is where the problems start to begin though, as soon as the game begins you're thrown into Megalopolis which is a dark level very reminiscent of the very first level of Sonic Adventure. Players can choose which side they are on freely throughout the levels. It's also possible to switch sides at any stage by pausing the game.
The idea could of worked but the implementation is really poor. In any given level there are "good" enemies and "bad" enemies, if you choose the good side then you have to defeat the bad enemies and vice versa. The problem is that both enemies will attack you no matter which side you are on which basically makes the entire process redundant. If you choose the "good" side and help Sonic then you'll sometimes still kill allies simply because your first reaction is actually to defend yourself. This concept isn't introduced properly enough either, so for the first few levels you'll probably just be completing each level by getting to the end.
Shadow himself is a lot darker to Sonic, and the weapons and vehicles play a large role in the game. There are vehicles scattered throughout the levels and Shadow can use these vehicles to navigate through the levels quickly. Sonic Team appear to have taken a leaf out of Ratchet and Clank's book and the game puts a fairly heavy emphasis on weapons. Some of the opponants you come across may have weapons, Shadow can only hold one weapon at a time though which makes the experience a little less entertaining. It isn't compulsory to use the weapons, but the game is a little easier if you do, the weapons don't stop the combat from being extremely repetitive and clunky though.
Overall the gameplay just feels like it hasn't evolved that much in six years, aside from a new storyline, new character and different environments Shadow the Hedgehog feels extremely similar to Sonic Adventure even going so far as to bring over some of the problems from that game. The camera is still a serious problem and sometimes it will lose track of Shadow momentarily which can often result in the death of Shadow; which isn't an experience that leaves you particularly happy.
As if the gameplay isn't disappointing enough the Playstation 2 version has had even more of a downgrade. Even from the beginning of the game there are frame-rate issues whereby you cannot even tell if the game is intentionally stuttering or if the game cannot keep up. Even with downgraded graphics the game still cannot keep up, which is disappointing considering the game doesn't look like a current generation title, the Dreamcast would still probably be able to easily handle this game without too much hassle.
The most impressive part of the game comes in the visuals, the FMV scenes are absolutely brilliant but unfortunately don't set a precedent for the rest of the game. The environments are varied though and Shadow will travel from a metropolis zone through forest and lava. Whilst the levels aren't that detailed there are moments throughout the game that look brilliant, and for a split second it's possible to become momentarily involved in the game.
The entire game features a rock soundtrack which suits the game fairly well. The acting feels a litle amateur though, but the voice acting is fairly professional and very reminiscent of the old Sonic X episodes. Anyone who has become accustomed to the old Sonic music won't find this music very recognisable as it is remarkably different to anything we've heard in a Sonic Team game before.
The entire story mode is fairly lengthy (if not a little bit extended out) and there are over twenty levels to go through. The problem is that the levels are really linear, and it's fairly possible to just fly through them without any real skill. It's unlikely that you'll have the patience to complete the game in its entirity though, just because it becomes extremely repetitive after awhile.
There is no other way to describe Shadow the Hedgehog except for disappointing. The levels are linear, the gameplay is weak and under explained and the game hasn't evolved past Sonic Adventure. Shadow isn't as fun to control as Sonic and we're hoping this spells the end for Sonic spin offs from now on. The Sonic the Hedgehog franchise has been suffering for a few years now and this game is yet another nail in the coffin for the franchise; we wish the game had stayed in the shadows. It's one of the most disappointing titles of the year.