Shadow Of The Beast
Developer Heavy Specturm Publisher SIE Format PS4 Release Out now
The original Shadow Of The Beast was, as with so many Amiga games of the era, a triumph of style over substance. The game may not have lived up to Roger Dean’s evocative box artwork, but it set an aesthetic high-water mark that elevated its obtuse, frustrating gameplay. In its remake, Heavy Spectrum swings the needle a little in the other direction, but fails to serve up enough ideas to offset its – by modern standards, at least – underwhelming visuals.
That’s not to say it doesn’t look good at times. Indeed, some of the character designs are wonderful, the animation is luxurious throughout, and the later stages, when it feels like Heavy Spectrum is getting into the swing of things, offer up some spectacular sights. But it never quite achieves the contemporary polish of its forebear, and often feels a little amateurish.
Things improve when the developer strays farther from the original game’s ancient template. The studio has introduced a deep and enjoyably nuanced combat system, which trades on timed counter-attacks, dodge-rolling, offensive and defensive special moves, and an all-powerful QTE super attack, which prevents enemies from countering or blocking for as long as you match the rudimentary onscreen prompts. Enemy encounters feel fluid and varied, throwing a diverse cast of enemies at you whose weaknesses and strengths force you to use the full range of your moveset. While the controls aren’t always as responsive as you’d like, the dismemberment-filled brawls are moreish highlights once you’ve adjusted to the game’s quirks.
Sadly, these lean, focused moments are surrounded by too much flab. Some simple environmental puzzles later on provide a little respite, but you’ll spend a lot of time running through empty space and enduring rickety, old-fashioned platforming and some drawn-out exploration that highlights protagonist Aarbron’s dull-feeling locomotion. None of this is helped by poor signposting and regularly misjudged checkpointing. The multiplayer components are misjudged, too, crowbarring in leaderboards and the ability to challenge other players’ button-mashing abilities in an unsatisfying minigame in the Shadow Realm.
But despite numerous missteps, it’s clear that this is a labour of love for its creators, whose fondness for the original is well known. The attention to detail, overt reverence and earnest fan service (see ‘Heavy breeding’) ensure that its big-hearted nature isn’t drowned out. The remake’s imperfections, while disappointing, reflect the clunky nature of its source material in a way that’s likely to see them just as easily forgiven by fellow fans of the 1989 Psygnosis release.
During most combat you’ll be hemmed in by two giant forcefields while enemies approach from both directions. Not getting hit will raise your combo multiplier, and you’ll be ranked with a medal after each fight