Shadow Of The Beast



Hard to be­lieve as it may be, it’s been 26 years since the orig­i­nal Shadow Of The Beast launched on Com­modore’s Amiga. In videogame terms, that’s an­cient his­tory, Re­flec­tions’ bizarre and pun­ish­ing plat­former lost in time. For many, it’s now lit­tle but a vague mem­ory, if they know of it at all. For Heavy Spec­trum CEO Matt Birch, how­ever, it has re­mained fresh in his mind since he dis­cov­ered the game as a 16-year-old in St He­lens. So when he had the chance to pitch an idea to Sony’s XDev, the di­vi­sion built for the ex­press pur­pose of col­lab­o­rat­ing with ex­ter­nal de­vel­op­ers, it was an op­por­tu­nity he couldn’t pass up.

It says much that out of all the con­cepts he could have gone for, out of all the in­spi­ra­tions he’s had in the years since, it’s Shadow Of The Beast that Birch thought war­ranted retelling. But how to do that on a new sys­tem, in a new era, and for a new gen­er­a­tion of play­ers? “There were sev­eral things from the orig­i­nal game that re­ally I felt were im­por­tant and that we wanted to recre­ate: the world it­self and the eclec­tic na­ture of it, the fact you had eye­balls float­ing around, and you had th­ese gi­ant out­side vis­tas and then th­ese con­tained caves,” Birch says. “That’s some­thing I want to make sure we get into the game, and give play­ers that sense of va­ri­ety – that there’s a lot go­ing on be­yond the edges of the screen.”

The orig­i­nal is enig­matic. Who’s pi­lot­ing that blimp you see in the back­ground? How did this gi­ant die, and what ex­actly is it do­ing un­der­ground? So lit­tle by way of ex­pla­na­tion in­vites play­ers to do the in­ter­pret­ing, and when Birch was younger, part of the game un­folded in the realms of imag­i­na­tion. “A lot of the stuff as a kid I imag­ined. For ex­am­ple, the jet thrusters un­der­ground, they were

sup­port­ing the whole king­dom in that orig­i­nal game. I was think­ing, ‘Why have they got them un­der­ground? This makes no sense.’ But then I got in my head this sys­tem where they were fir­ing them in­ter­mit­tently to keep the whole thing level and all the plat­forms above it. So we wanted to come up with our own ver­sion of what that would be.”

You’ll en­counter th­ese mys­ter­ies as Aabron, the warped, bestial pro­tag­o­nist from the first game. At an early age, he’s taken by the evil Male­toth and twisted into a gnarled, vi­o­lent crea­ture with glow­ing yel­low eyes and a thirst for blood. With his child­hood de­stroyed, and hav­ing seen his fa­ther killed in front of him, play­ers will guide Aabron to vengeance. He’s a fighter, and fight­ing re­veals his fe­ro­cious skills. It’s all about man­ag­ing on­rush­ing groups with blocks and par­ries, then strik­ing with Wolver­ine-like bone claws be­fore they’re weak enough to rip apart or pick up and launch into the screen.

The more enemies bleed, the stronger he grows. Press­ing L1 and R1 si­mul­ta­ne­ously trig­gers rage mode, in which you can tar­get enemies to the left and right and dis­patch them in­stantly with a fist through the gut or a swipe to the throat as crim­son rains onto the floor and cakes into the ochre mud at your feet. With de­cap­i­ta­tions, am­pu­ta­tions and evis­cer­a­tions, this up­dated Shadow Of

The Beast is more bru­tal than the com­par­a­tively se­date orig­i­nal. The timed abil­ity to sin­gle-hit kill enemies in quick suc­ces­sion gives en­coun­ters a fran­tic bent, com­bat seem­ing to con­stantly build and ac­cel­er­ate like a Shep­ard tone.

Th­ese sec­tions are self-con­tained, with wispy por­tal-like walls hem­ming you in as foes spawn. Only af­ter they’re dis­patched are you free to ex­plore the 2.5D world. The 2015 re­al­i­sa­tion of Karamoon’s fan­tasy set­ting may lack the dreamy, prog-rock spirit laid out by Roger Dean’s enig­matic cover art, but that’s be­cause this is Heavy Spec­trum’s rein­ven­tion and the team is en­deav­our­ing to stamp its own mark on it. “We wanted to make sure that you had some­thing which you hadn’t re­ally played be­fore,” Birch ex­plains. “And that’s been very im­por­tant: to make sure that the game of­fers some­thing new to play­ers and games in gen­eral. Be­cause what’s the point in tread­ing ground some­one else has al­ready walked over? We want to make sure play­ers get newer, fresher ex­pe­ri­ences.”

The heavy fo­cus on blood is cer­tainly a new com­po­nent: af­ter one battle Aabron must drag a corpse onto a pres­sure plate so that blood fills the re­cesses and weighs it down. This opens a route into a cav­ernous stone cham­ber with a great chained beast kick­ing up a fuss in the back­ground. A suc­ces­sion of spiked traps and mov­ing plat­forms pro­vide the peril, prov­ing dif­fi­cult to ne­go­ti­ate thanks to Aabron’s some­what stilted jump­ing and clumsy wall-climb­ing in this pre-al­pha code.

In­deed, Heavy Spec­trum is still work­ing on strik­ing a bal­ance be­tween homage and forg­ing its own path, be­tween fill­ing in the blanks and build­ing on top. And when it’s re­leased later this year, per­haps this game will strike a chord with some­one like it did Birch, and the cy­cle will con­tinue. “I se­ri­ously would love it if in 25 years’ time some­body played our game and thought, ‘Hey, I had all th­ese ideas when I played it, and this is what I would like to see from Shadow Of The Beast’. I want to play that game. I may be a lit­tle old by then, but I will still be play­ing it.”

Life’s a pitch

Af­ter fin­ish­ing two PlaySta­tion Mo­bile games, Heavy Spec­trum’s tiny team started work­ing with XDev on Shadow Of

The Beast’s trailer for Gamescom 2013. “XDev is ac­tu­ally in the old Psyg­no­sis of­fices,” Birch says, “so I had this mo­ment when I came into talk about the com­pany I just formed and at the end they said, ‘If you could de­scribe any game you want, what would you do?’ I threw out the idea and said this is what I had as a kid; I’d love to give it to play­ers to­day. They gave me the chance to de­velop it and sup­ported me do­ing that… It’s very much a case of get­ting a dream to come true.”

It’s still work­ing on strik­ing a bal­ance be­tween homage and forg­ing its own path

ABOVE CEN­TRE The only en­vi­ron­ment re­vealed so far is this burning desert, fea­tur­ing a bright or­ange sun and a sea of im­mense bones. Your view extends far into the dis­tance, re­call­ing the orig­i­nal game’s many lay­ers of par­al­lax scrolling.

ABOVE Blood plays a piv­otal role in the game. Cur­rently, it pow­ers your rage me­ter, and we’ve also put it to use in ac­ti­vat­ing door switches.

LEFT Karamoon is filled with oth­er­worldly sights. With nar­ra­tive baked into the scenery, not de­liv­ered through ex­po­si­tion, it’s up to you to pro­vide your own in­ter­pre­ta­tion for what your eyes are see­ing

When the fog walls pitch up, you’re con­tained un­til you get the job done. Use bone claws, blocks, par­ries and throws to dis­patch enemies, drench­ing the screen with vi­tal flu­ids in the process

The rank and file are easy enough to tear through, but hulk­ing mon­strosi­ties like this pro­vide a wholly dif­fer­ent chal­lenge. What else re­sides on Karamoon?

Matt Birch, CEO of Heavy Spec­trum and long­time fan of the Re­flec­tions orig­i­nal

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