ShadowCaster (DOS)

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Written by  :  anton treuenfels (37)
Written on  :  Jun 23, 2002
Platform  :  DOS

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Interesting but unbalanced

The Good

The graphics - fairly advanced for their time. Based on the ID software engine introduced in "Wolfenstein 3D", but with enhancements to permit players to "jump", "fly" and "swim". Levels one (an outdoor garden with views of distant mountains or clouds) and four (shrouded in mist and fog) are particularly appealing. I liked many of the color-cycling animation effects. The beasties are well done.

The music - particularly on level one, where it fits the graphics perfectly to aid the illusion of being outdoors in a garden.

The Bad

The waiting - although the box cover promises "fast action", after many of the battles I literally picked up a book and read while waiting for my character to recover enough to continue. This is by far the most annoying thing about this game.

The puzzles - I did not finish this game the first time I tried it. I killed everything on levels one and four all right, but while I recognized what I had to do next I couldn't figure out how to do it. Several years later I had the bright idea of looking on the Internet for a walkthrough to this game. As of 2002, Raven Software still maintains a page on this game, which has links to a couple of walkthroughs. Aha! There is a level two, and that's where what I needed was. As I continued through the game, I had further need of outside assistance. Perhaps three or four times altogether. None of the puzzles are particularly difficult once you know what to do, but the ones where I got stuck were all of the "you see the solution or you don't" variety. I hate that (partly because I feel so stupid when I find out the answer).

The character development - what there is of it. During the course of the game you acquire six alternative bodies with various capabilities (seven counting the human one you start with). The problem here is that each time you acquire one, the next level is so obviously tailored to require what that body can do, and after that the body is almost never used again. The only exception is levels 24 and 25, which were added to the CD-ROM edition of the game and require at least five of the seven forms to successfully negotiate.

The endgame - only need one form for that. It's over pretty quickly and fairly simply, considering the time spent leading up to it.

The plot - this is a kill-everything-that-moves game apparently built around the idea of showing off what the engine can do (which, admittedly, can be fairly impressive). Tacking on a thin plot in an attempt to "motivate" the action is, if not pointless, definitely a secondary consideration. What's motivating is to see how far you can get.

The bugs - I have a vague memory of this game running fine on a 386DX-40 the first time I tried to play it. I don't know if it's the Pentium-100 system I used this time that upset it, but I got frequent driver errors that indicated the game was trying to write to the CD-ROM. This happened during all the cutscenes, and while the game usually recovered, I have the feeling I never got to see the complete scenes. Once my character died and the game froze, but the music kept playing - longer, richer and with more variety than I ever heard before or since.

The Bottom Line

Although I understand this game was nominated for someone-or-other's RPG Game of the Year at the time of its initial release, I think it's better viewed nowadays as a not-quite-totally successful experiment in extending the capabilities of 3D game engines. It's pretty good at graphics and game environment in general, but purely as a game, its various parts do not meld together into a satisfying whole. It might have been improved if more time had been spent on balancing during its development. If all the levels had been like levels 24 and 25 (again, added after the initial release on disk), this might have been a much better game.