Fans of adventure games will remember the classics like King’s Quest, Myst, Monkey Island, and Shadowgate fondly. These titles brought deep story, intense puzzles, and sometimes harrowing gameplay to gaming for the first time all those years ago.
Shadowgate is back again. The original creators have brought the game back to life with a several modern twists and some truly stellar art that matches your mind’s nostalgic eye. Does this return to the title of old rekindle the flames of innovation, or does this fantasy adventure lack that spark it had when it originally released? Let’s find out.
Going Back to The Genre’s Roots
I remember playing Shadowgate constantly when I was kid, and failing constantly. The game has always been unique in that time moves forward each time you move through the castle. This allows you to pause and plan your next move, but it also means that a wrong move could easily be your last.
The reimagining of Shadowgate on the PS4 throws us headlong into its world, placing you in the boots of someone known as “The Seed of Prophecy.” Your destiny is to venture into an ancient castle and defeat the Dark Lord. The cutscenes include excellent art, lofty narration, and the kind of voice acting you would expect from a high fantasy adventure.
I enjoyed the liberal use of terms exclusive to the game’s world, along with the foreboding nature of the narration. For me, it harkens back to the early days of my gaming career, when high fantasy like this was a pretty common theme in the games I played.
Once you begin the game, you can choose from several difficulty settings. These offer a few different levels of intensity and authenticity to the original game’s design. For example, if you play on the hardest difficulty the puzzles will require more items or more steps. You will also have more threats to contend with and less actions to reach a solution.
The flexibility here is really nice for those who haven’t played the original or aren’t used to high stakes in their adventure games. Of course, playing on a lower difficulty has its own challenges, mostly because you may find items that are not used in your current mode. You won’t know this, so you may find yourself carrying around things you don’t need because you’ve opted for simpler puzzles.
Besides this small annoyance, one other gameplay element I took issue with was an early event that sees your character “cursed” by an event you can’t avoid. This curse will kill you if you don’t lift it, and the game notifies you of this, but you aren’t told how long you have or even given a hint on how to stop it.
This is problematic because the majority of the game’s deaths (which are in and of themselves fun to discover) are easy to remedy with an autosave or manual save, but a curse like this will require a certain amount of time, even if you know the answer. In other words, you could find yourself stuck if you don’t deal with it in a timely manner.
Yes, you could just look up the answer, but I would have preferred some sort of lore or hint as to how to lift the curse since it is unavoidable. With those things aside, let’s talk about how Shadowgate plays on the PS4.
Since we’re not using a mouse and keyboard here, the game opts for a manual cursor that you move with the analog stick. Items you can interact with will appear as a symbol beside your cursor. A foot indicates you can move there, while a hand or tool indicates you can interact with it.
A quick press of the X button opens a radial menu where you can navigate to your scrolls you’ve collected, your inventory, your equipment, and your spells. It’s a tiered system that layers additional wheels behind each selection, eventually ending at a point where you can see a selection of actions for specific items.
This means that things like an unopened scroll my be “opened” before you can “look” to read it. If you simply select “look” on an unopened scroll, the game will give you a description of its exterior.
This may sound redundant, but the level of detail does add a certain charm to the game. Hitting the square button also allows you to use an item from your bag as a shortcut when you need to interact with the environment, so this bypasses much of the repeat menu navigation.
Shadowgate is played from a first-person perspective and includes some limited animation on enemies or events in the game world. The puzzles themselves are an appropriate difficulty, with plenty of head-scratchers to challenge genre veterans. You also have a talking skull, Yorick, that you can ask for hints if you get stuck.
It all comes together pretty well, with detailed descriptions of each room and events that occur. The radial menu style is a great compromise for consoles, and the selection of difficulties ensures that everyone can find their perfect level of challenge.
Excellent Art and Smart Controls
The updated art in Shadowgate is a perfect combination of a classic look and feel, with all the trimmings of modern HD graphics. The environments, enemies, and characters all have that classic high fantasy feel you would expect from a classic adventure, but the level of detail and the subtle animations bring things to life in a way the original couldn’t.
Combine this with the smooth controls and the appropriately challenging puzzles, and Shadowgate is an adventure that hits all the right beats. It may not set the genre on fire, but as a reimagining of a classic, Shadowgate feels true to the original. It also makes some concessions for the modern world, resulting in a fair compromise that’s sure to please fans both new and old.
Final Score: 8.0/10
A copy of Shadowgate was provided to PS4 Experts for review purposes
Article by - Bradley Ramsey
Insert date - 5/15/19