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This topic was good and got turned into TSS REVIEW: Shadow the Hedgehog at some point.

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When you think of Shadow the Hedgehog these days, you think of Star Wars. The constant mutterings of Hero or Dark side has pretty much become stagnant, but surprisingly fights a plausible case in the black one's very own game.

Playing as the verse's only representative of angst, you zip along levels, bounce off robots, collect rings and try to stop a greater evil. That's where the similarities end pretty much - you have a choice of missions to complete, you bounce off humans and aliens as well, can choose to shoot them down and your greater evil is all dependant on your story path.

SONICTEAM have impressively managed to avoid a dire reason for searching Shadow's past a THIRD time running by wrapping a nice, twisted storyline around it. Takashi Iizuka at his best, Shadow the Hedgehog returns fans to the bleak and dark world we last knew in Sonic Adventure 2. The world is being attacked by a new evil - the Black Arms. It's leader, Black Doom approaches Shadow in the best Dr. Claw impression, stating that our antihero promised to bring them the Chaos Emeralds. Shadow sets forth to uncover these gems, as he snags that whatever promise he made and whatever secrets his past has will be revealed once he 'catches 'em all'. The story is quite impressive, and it's taken a paragraph to write about it because not since SA2 has such a moody outlook been successfully created on such a happy and bouncy video game series.

In fact, there's a lot to be appreciated in Shadow the Hedgehog, because it's not a Sonic game and it doesn't follow the standard gameplay procedure. Yet the game fails to aid the player and inform them that this is a very different game to Sonic Adventure 2. Your first play will no doubt be insanely confusing, and there won't be much help from the game alerting you to goal differences.

The levels range from extremely linear to the confusingly free-roaming, which makes for a bit of inconsistency in the design. Stages such as Westopolis and GUN Fortress are boringly simple "run forward" affairs, while Central City and The Ark result in you running around in circles on your first agitated attempt. Mad Matrix appears to be one of the only stages that has a decent mix of these extremes. However with a little bit of practice and trial and error you start to enjoy these levels much more.

Unfortunately, the practice and trial and error rings true to as far as the game itself. For a Sonic fan who's been following reports of this game, it won't be very confusing for them to understand they have a good or an evil mission to complete should they wish to. On your first play however things can get quite hectic; you don't know whether you're meant to be going through the goal ring, or defeating more goodies/baddies than the other and then going through the goal ring, or ignoring the goal ring altogether. You run into Sonic at the start of the level and start kicking bad guy ass, then all of a sudden Sonic sods off and you're left with Doom's Eye. There are about three instances of this in each level, making for quite a headache on your first play.

There's no mention that you can still continue the Hero mission should you want to (or even that you can change it at the pause screen), and apart from an easily ignored icon on the side of the screen and a few soundbytes, there's nothing really to indicate how to complete your mission. Again, this all becomes clearer the more you play it, but at least on your first play you will treat it as a Sonic game; instead of avoiding the goal ring and defeating 30 aliens you'll probably defeat more aliens than GUN troops and then head for the exit.

As a result of you not knowing whatever it is you're meant to be doing, you'll whizz through the stages on Normal Mission without even realising, reach the end and say it's too short, too shallow or just plain rubbish.

Once you play the game a little, you start to realise just where Shadow the Hedgehog is coming from. The ability to freely choose your path is quite a unique one, and you'll be playing it often to see all of the stages in the Outrun-esque map layout. Again, though, there is a bit of a cloud to that silver lining, as character missions are usually the same thing, boiling down to shooting something to pieces, or shooting your way to the exit, or shooting switches. So you can shoot planes. To pieces. The missions aren't very imaginitive at all, and all require you to be using a gun or five to actually fulfil them at all.

Not only that, but choosing a side doesn't necessarily mean that you won't get friendly fire. In fact, no matter who you have following you, all enemies will fire at you. This doesn't end up being a problem as you usually end up kicking the crap out of anything in your path anyway, but because the controls are too 'airy' (a result of the Sonic Heroes engine) you'll end up running into a GUN troop which will hurt you. It wouldn't have been too hard to have allies not hurt you when you walk into them by accident and not have them shoot at you when you choose a side. In fact, we could guarantee that it would be pretty easy to program in. But unfortunately, the unique aspect of the gameplay is lost a little due to this and you'll just mindlessly shoot everyone anyway.

It's funny how the most controversial aspect of the game hasn't even been mentioned until now, but strangely enough, using guns in this game feels somewhat natural. In a game such as this, in a dark atmosphere, it doesn't look out of place, and picking up and using a gun or weapon is an effortless process. Rather than make the game shallow it's added an extra layer of fast-paced fun to it.

Having said that, even though you have the option to not use weapons, the game makes it quite a chore for you to be doing anything else. The spindash button has been relegated to being an awkward move with little use whatsoever. Your homing attack ends up being useless after a third hit on a boss or mission objective, and there are atrocious homing attack bugs where you will just fly towards a bottomless pit somewhere, in a direction opposite to where you wanted to go, just because there was a spring nearby. On top of that, aliens and the larger GUN units will need you to hit it at least five times and using the homing attack too often will usually result in you getting hurt more than your victim. You can't really avoid using guns in this game at all.

Going back to the Sonic Heroes engine to discuss the graphics in this game, they're not that bad entirely. The CG cutscenes are absolutely superb, and a credit to the game. The in-game graphics are what we might expect from Sonic Heroes, albeit a dark Sonic Heroes. Even though the in-game graphics are superbly animated (Dr. Eggman at his characteristic finest), they seem a little strange when used in cutscenes outside boss chit-chats. Overall, they could have done worse.

The music is a step ahead of some other Sonic 3D outings, with Jun Senoue presenting some of his best electronic and rock tracks yet. Mad Matrix and Lethal Highway are extremely rocking tracks that perfectly capture the insane events going on and keep you bouncing at the same time. There's a wonderful set of remixes by Remix Factory, and there are five or six different theme tunes by various artists, the best among them being by Julien-K, who seem to have a flair for making music that captures Shadow's character easily. It's good to see the two 'Orgy'ists can whack out a decent track, even if they can't be bothered to whack out an album yet.

There are a few things that help spice this game up from being a normal jump-a-thon. Aside from the level structure and the weaponry, another aspect is the Hero/Dark gauges at the top of the screen. Every time Shadow defeats a Hero-oriented enemy his Dark gauge gets filled and vice versa. There are also two seperate scores for Hero and Dark, that are tallied up at the end unless you complete a Normal Mission. Whenever you completely fill a bar, you will have a burst of rage, turning blue if you fill your Hero gauge and red for Dark.

You'll not only be invincible during this time, but pressing Y or Triangle will unleash a special move depending on your alliance. If you're full of Dark energy, you'll unleash a Chaos Blast and destroy everything in the area, and Hero energy will let you Chaos Control - meaning you zoom across the level towards the nearest mission objective (usually the goal ring). It becomes quite handy in a fix.

There are also special keys in a level - five in each - which will open a secret door to goodies, although these goodies will usually be a load of tripe. Even though one of the features being cheered during the production of this game was that you could ride vehicles, these are extremely cumbersome, slow and add no real excitement to the gameplay at all. You're better of running fast - you'll hit about ten allies, but at least you'll finish the level quicker.

And one thing that can't be trounced is the longevity of this game. Shadow the Hedgehog is a game that is wonderfully replayable, once you get used to the controls and gameplay. There are ten different regular endings, although many of these are similar and many paths end up telling you nothing at all. Getting 'A' Ranks is somewhat easier, yet more fun this time around, and there are about 326 different paths to complete in the whole Story Mode. Granted, not many people will bother to go the whole hog (if you pardon the pun) on that one, but the offer's there if you need it.

Shadow the Hedgehog has a 2 Player function to it, which is purely a last minute job as it holds little to no playability value at all. You can play as Shadow, a yellow-highlighted Shadow or various Shadow robots in a split-screen deathmatch, on a set of limited levels and options. It's hardly extensive, and rightly so seeings as not many people will be playing it for the splitscreen mode, if at all.

Shadow the Hedgehog is a new and exciting spinoff for the Sonic series, but it's downfall is that the game itself just doesn't seem to care about it. The main problem with it is that it overcomplicates itself - it's not a game where you can pick up and play like a pro for the first time. It's not like Sonic the Hedgehog, where having never played the game you know exactly what you're doing. And it shouldn't be to this game's credit because a game with features such as this should be explained clearly from the get-go. Once you get into this game it becomes enjoyable on an average level, but the fact that you have to be playing this game for a while to actually 'get' it will turn off a lot of gamers. Watch out with this game - it has a Good side and a Dark side, just like its main character.

NB: Score given is for the Nintendo Gamecube version, and can be applied to the XBOX version. The PlayStation2 version has not been played and cannot be accurately rated because of this, due to the fact that there are framerate issues that do not appear to exist in the GCN/XB versions.

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