Shadwen Review – A Game That Shouldn't Have Been Released

The oldest and most attentive among you surely know the studio Frozenbyte. When indie games were just starting to become popular, these guys were at the forefront of the growing movement. Their creativity, along with Braid, World of Goo, and others, drew people’s attention to the independent part of the industry, and journalists adopted the nauseating cliché of a “breath of fresh air”. Thanks to them, the concept of “soul” returned to the world of interactive entertainment, which was actively promoted during forum discussions.

Now, when games with “soul” are being bought for $5 for trading cards, the Finnish company’s projects have a special significance. They have definitely secured their place in history, and criticizing them almost seems sacrilegious. The Trine series, for example, raises countless complaints, but it’s hard to express them directly to those who have provided you with a bright virtual future.

With Shadwen, unfortunately, the conversation will be quite different. To be precise, out of past respect for the pioneers of the indie scene, I didn’t want to discuss it at all, but the game once again reminded me of its existence with its weekly discounts on Steam, where it shamelessly hangs around and practically begs for criticism. Well, so be it.


In a faraway kingdom, there once lived an orphan girl named Lily, who one fine day had a strong desire to eat – as it happens, right? However, it wasn’t just anything she wanted, but apples from the royal garden, which she decides to sneak into with our help. Reluctantly, we become unwilling accomplices, leading the foolish child towards a terrible, inevitable crime, bypassing the night patrols and thinking about what kind of mark this wrongdoing will leave on her still innocent soul, and… Oh, thank goodness! A brave court guard is already here to tell the young thief about the moral values of society that she has violated. So, next time, she will think twice before taking what doesn’t belong to her!

Unfortunately, an act of applied pedagogy is interrupted by Shadven, the main heroine with strange ideas about practical hairstyles, for unknown reasons. Not only does she save Lily from the righteous moral lesson, but she also allows her to follow along. Just so you know, “follow along” means to the castle, where Shadven intends to kill the king because she, um, is a hired assassin.

Honestly, it would have been better if everything ended with a biblical moral lesson that stealing is wrong.

Someone behind the scenes is carefully interested in the well-being of a colleague.

Someone off-camera is kindly inquiring about the well-being of a colleague.

If this beautiful setup had any logical justification, we would gladly share it. But there isn’t one – the game is simply utter nonsense, and it does so confidently that at first you even doubt if you understand the plot correctly. As compensation, we can only give you a couple of questions to ask the Shadwen scriptwriters. For example, why does an assassin get involved in other people’s problems? Why bring a little girl along, putting her and yourself in danger? Why couldn’t you go back for her after the mission? When the king dies, who will eat his apples?

However, no matter what questions arise, the answer is always the same – there was a need for a pretext to turn a primitive story into a game. Not to mention, a similarly primitive one. But if you’ve ever wanted to participate in the “Take Your Child to Work” campaign but haven’t gotten either yet, here’s your far-fetched chance.

Essentially, it’s a traditional stealth game with a terribly contrived goal. Shadwen is skilled in acrobatics and can complete the entire game route in a couple of minutes, but due to the specifics of the plot, you’ll have to constantly and methodically move from cover to cover, distracting or killing enemies so that Lily can reach the end of the level unnoticed. Do you feel the absurdity?

Stealthy shadows in the dark

And to make it even more fun, time here only moves when you move or hold down a single button until you turn blue. We don’t hint at anything., of course, but borrowing is extremely pointless and unjustified. The original mechanics of “Superhot” were vital: the unique pace was maintained through time manipulation, gameplay situations and style were based on it. But what benefit can we understand from such tricks in an initially slow game where you have to hide and wait a lot?

The only thing that this feature really affects is the difficulty of progression, because total control over time deprives the game of challenge as such. You can always stop, rotate the camera and assess the situation from all angles and make any foolish move. Didn’t work out? Oh well, we can rewind here too. Endlessly and without consequences.

On the other hand, with these indulgences, the developers at least partially patched up the gaping gameplay holes. Playing in real-time would simply be impossible.

At first, naturally, you try for true stealth, with deceptive maneuvers, dashes, and non-lethal methods – after all, killing in front of children isn’t very nice. And about that time, during the first attempt to climb somewhere high, you discover that Shadwen has the worst grappling hook in the world. Even such a trendy feature, having undergone a dozen pleasant iterations, constantly malfunctions here. With a ringing “I won’t!”, it bounces off the bar unless you aim precisely at a designated spot on it. This turns potentially exciting acrobatics into annoying pixel-hunting with tactical pauses. If it weren’t for the infamous time stop, we would probably still be going through the tutorial.

A glimpse into the game's emotions

But there’s no need to try too hard and get into trouble, because the enemies are frankly stupid. You can create chaos by dropping boxes the size of a house on their heads, tying them up with ropes, and riding giant bales of hay, and they will still complain about dark spirits and shift from foot to foot, without even thinking of looking behind the rolling barrel on the pavement. At the same time, the appearance of the main heroine puts them into a cyber-sport mode, where they flawlessly execute instant headshots and leave no chance to hide in the shadows or fight back – the only option is to roll back to the last safe moment and start over. It can even be done without any changes, because the reaction of the enemies varies with each “rewind”: a guard who sensed something wrong half a block away will probably calmly whistle tunes in unison with his comrade’s screams next time.

So it turns out that with such an AI, more suitable for puzzles than stealth-adventure, there is really nothing to play. Pulling boxes over and over again, hoping for the proper functioning of electronic brains, becomes tedious by the second level – it’s much easier and relatively more fun to just kill everyone, disregarding any imaginary consequences of our actions. Who cares what little Lily will say about our killings? By the way, her guards are basically unable to see her, which once again calls into question the feasibility of our actions.

An approximate palette of emotions from Shadwen

Approximate emotional palette from Shadwen.

Shadwen reminds me of the most mediocre games of the 90s, and this association is fueled by absolutely everything, down to the appearance. Ugly characters, murky color palette, inappropriate special effects, and a complete lack of creative approach to level design do their job: after the eye-straining but colorful and pleasant Trine, it physically hurts to look at the desolate gray backstreets. However, this perfectly matches the overall experience.

This is probably one of the worst indie games ever. Everything here is so bad that you have to literally scrape together one percent for every minute of enjoyment. Including the time for downloading, launching, and setting up.

Action, Adventure, Indie
Release Date:
Editor's rating:
Is it worth playing? (If the score is more than 70%)



More Reviews