Shadow of the Beast (Second Review)

Title           Shadow of the Beast (Second Review)
Publisher       Psygnosis/Reflections, 1989
Game Type       General Action
Compatibility   Not A1200, but WHDload patch available
HD Installable  Yes (With Patch)
Submission      William Payne

Considered by many people to be the game that finally thrust the Amiga
ahead of the ST as the must-have games machine of the era, Shadow of the
Beast is a graphically awesome game unlike anything that had been seen
before it. However when the initial wow-factor waned people began to
notice that perhaps the gameplay of this sideways scrolling
action-adventure game was a little lacking. But in retrospect its easy to
see that gameplay was never the point of Shadow of the beast, or indeed
either of its sequels. This game was designed to stop passers-by in the
streets as they saw it in Dixon's window, drag their jaws to the pavement
then their cash into Commodore's pockets, and it certainly worked.

The rolling demo used in shop windows to sell the game (and of course the
Amiga itself) interspersed sequences of gameplay with bold proclamations
of the colours on screen, megabytes of graphics and multiple segments of
in-game music. Tellingly there was no mention of gameplay, plot, puzzles
or addictiveness. No-one questioned this (retrospectively glaring)
omission. They just gawped some more and handed over their money.

In terms of atmosphere, though, the game is flawless. The music is eerie
and haunting, and changes tempo to match the change of pace between the
different sections of the game. Its also presented in a very non-linear
fashion, as it is basically a large world that can be explored in several
different ways. There is however only one correct path to take to finish
the game, so whether its truly non-linear or merely appears to be is
debatable. The design style of the game's graphics is typical of Psygnosis
of the time, with artwork strangely reminiscent of 70's rock album covers,
and bizarre (and often grotesque) creature designs. After a few plays
though, the repetitive nature of the gameplay becomes apparent, and the
player finds himself questioning whether or not the lure of getting a
little bit further, and seeing more of the pretty graphics, is worth the
effort. When you consider the lengthy loading periods required between
games, the answer seems to swing towards no.

Perhaps I'm being a little harsh, as its by no means the least playable
game in the world, its just disappointing when you consider what this
game could have been like if as much attention had been paid to the
gameplay as to the presentation. Basically it marks the beginning of the
style-over-substance era of gameplay that prevailed through the early to
mid nineties. There are no significant advances in terms of playability
over what was seen on the eight-bit consoles and computers over the
previous five or so years.

But anyway. The thing that made every school kid at the time want an Amiga
was the graphics, and as the prime example of what the Amiga, and its
talented and imaginative designers and programmers, could do, Shadow of
the Beast deserves to be remembered as one of the most important games
released for the system.

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