Shadow Of The Beast Review (PS4)
- Updated: 18th Feb, 2017
I never thought I’d be playing new Shadow of the Beast game 27 years after the original release, never mind finishing it without cheating. The graphics and sound may look tons better thanks to the massively more powerful hardware but one thing has stayed resolutely the same; it’s a game all about timing.
The 1989 Commodore Amiga original looked and sounded incredible, far better than anything else at the time but at the expense of any decent gameplay. You needed the reflexes of a ninja to get further than the first couple of levels. Each and every punch had to be timed perfectly to preserve your minuscule amount of health and every enemy attack committed to memory. With so many enemies crammed into each level, death was fast and frequent and final as the only option was to start from the very beginning. It was brutal and unforgiving but you did get a t-shirt with the game.
In the 2016 reboot you are tasked with much more than just punching enemies and it’s much easier to play. Spanning 7 beautiful levels, starting with the classic grass plains of Karamoon, you seek to uncover the story of your true past by fighting your way through packs of enemies all handily packaged up in a series of encounters dotted throughout every level. Within each encounter two portals appear either side of your character and proceed to spew out a set number of enemies. The crux of Beast’s gameplay lies within these encounters as you punch, shoot and claw each and every enemy in the most gruesome and bloody way possible while trying to remain unharmed.
A tactical mix of block and attack moves is essential to survival and racking up the points as you do get overwhelmed just by attacking. Special attack moves generate huge scores but deplete your special blood store, which can be replenished by killing more enemies or uncovering semi-hidden blood pools in each level.
Your performance during every encounter is rated from platinum to lead so the onus is on fighting with style without taking damage. During the later levels this gets to be very tough as like the original you have to time your attacks almost perfectly against lots of enemies, but with more complex button combinations, it takes significant practice to kill with style. High ratings generate lots of points (mana) to unlock combat upgrades, hidden items and encounters.
If you die during an encounter you can resurrect yourself at the exact point of death by consuming one of an infinite supply of innocent souls or an elixir potion. You receive these potions either from other players (friends) or every time you platinum an encounter. This simple resurrection feature means you can actually finish a Beast game!
Each of the side-scrolling levels look spectacular with wonderful use of depth and bring a new lease of life to many of the original’s monsters. Although I wish they’d not brought back the evil floating eyeballs and they are still a bloody a pain to fight even being almost entirely stationary. With some impressive lighting effects you get to explore some very atmospheric and grand locations which is huge amounts of fun. There’s even some old school platforming within the later levels with one mistake sending you right back to the beginning of the puzzle to try again, which oddly now feels out of place in the game.
There are social elements too in which you compete against your friends for the highest score or completion time. The sharing of your death location is the most interesting and useful feature as it gives your friends the option of devouring your dead body for points in a brutal button-bashing mini game or gifting a bottle of elixir to use in a future game. It’s a nice touch which tests which of your friends are nice and helpful.
Unless you’ve played any of the original Beast games, the story behind your character will make no sense at all each enemy speaks in their own indecipherable dialect. Only through the purchase of language tomes for millions of mana points can you finally understand what they and your own Beast character is saying. The replaying of levels to unlock hidden items and tomes is the main incentive to keep playing once you’ve finished the main story.
You can also find a perfectly emulated original Amiga Shadow of the Beast game amongst a lovely dedicated history section. This emulation allows you to change the screen size, smooth out jaggy pixels and even change the refresh rate. There’s also a video of an expert completing the game, the original soundtrack composed by David Whittaker, box art, an article about the Beast trilogy of games and invincibility mode so you can see those previously unreachable end levels. This entire section transported me instantly back to 1989 and playing Beast on my Amiga A500. It is wonderful to see the amount of effort the developers have put into recreating the game’s history.
Overall this is the best Shadow of the Beast game ever made, if purely on the basis that you can finish it. It is still a game that is all about its visuals and with core gameplay hugely improved from the originals but is ultimately one dimensional centered around fixed encounters. It’s only outside these encounters do you get enjoy and explore what is a beautiful looking game and one that is worth experiencing for yourself.
Shadow of the Beast is out now on PS4