It is a dark night… the moon is full, but seems to reflect no light. We pan down slowly, across the roofs of sleeping houses, into a graveyard… Somehow it’s even darker here – and in the depths of the shadows a figure is forming. Literally. As in, rising from the shadows…
Damn this game is beautiful. It’s so very, very dark – and so very, very atmospheric. This is the Path of Shadows (prototype) made by 5 students at IDEC – Universitat Pompeu Fabra. Yes, you read that right – this beauteous thing, this piece of interactive art, is a university project… and I can tell you something for nothing – none of my university projects were this good!
I’m slim shady…
The Path of Shadows (prototype) tells the tale of a fallen warrior, risen from the dead by a mysterious sorceress who immediately siphons off some of her power for her dark assassin. Glowing glyphs adorn your robes and you’re on your way.
It is set in what seems to be medieval Japan, but you’re not really told this, you just kind of assume based on the architecture and the fact that everyone has a katana. To be honest though, the storyline here is a little irrelevant because all you’re interested in are the new abilities you’ve just acquired. The game walks you through these by displaying glowing prompts, which can be easy to miss.
First, you learn to teleport from shadow to shadow – then you learn to make your own shadows. Stealth kills are next, followed quickly by the ability to cloak the corpse in shadow. Then you’re onto avoiding and outsmarting the enemy. You can use shadow-vision, which allows you to see glowing figures through walls – and ring a little bell as a decoy to get their attention. Apparently there is also a flying attack, though despite a lot of trying I didn’t manage to pull it off.
Using these abilities, you traverse across the gloriously cell-shaded levels, avoiding or stealthily killing those in your path. You really don’t want to be seen though, because despite looking like a bad-ass ninja made entirely from shadow with glowing eyes and a sword, you cannot actually directly attack the bad guys! Oh, and you die with one hit. Yep, if they see you you’re pretty much toast, unless you can run around a corner and hide somewhere, which is a surprisingly easy thing to do.
Once you have mastered (or at least used) your abilities on the first level, it’s on to a full village to navigate. Initially it seems impossible to get through, but eventually you start to get a feel for the game and how to play it properly, sticking to the walls, hiding in the shadows, executing your foe with extreme skill and more than a little luck.
And this brings me to one of my gripes with the game. It’s actually quite difficult to play. Not because of the level design or your skill level in playing it, but because some of the moves just fail to trigger. I cannot describe the immense frustration you feel when you have just pulled off the most amazing use of stealth and teleportation to sneak up behind a guard, clicking madly to stealth-kill him, just to have him slowly turn around and slice you into bits. I have no idea why this happens.
In fact it’s very hard to tell when and where you can use any of your abilities… The UI doesn’t help this – for example you can only teleport from shadow to shadow, but you can create shadows when standing in the semi-darkness. The crosshair for both of these abilities is exactly the same.
Also, there are no objectives displayed anywhere. I completed the second level but couldn’t get through the doors, and there was no indication as to why or what I had forgotten. After a while I back-tracked through the level and discovered that there were two guards still looking for me, but had got stuck in the walls. Once I killed them both the doors were unlocked and I could continue onto the third and final level. Yep, just three levels…
But I can’t be too harsh on the Path of Shadows… It’s important to remember that this is just a prototype. It’s not finished. And I’m not sure that it ever will be… This makes me sad.
I think that it would have made a superb game if the issues above were addressed (and I’m sure that they would have been). The developers advertise another title on their website – Aragami – which seems to be a similar sort of game from the screenshots and videos, but looks much more bright and colourful, which I don’t think is a good thing… I would have to play it to deliver a full opinion, but on face value? Personally I prefer the dark art style of Path of Shadows… but maybe that’s just me…