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XBLIG Review: The Shadows in the Underworld

The Shadows in the Underworld cover art

Available Platforms

Xbox 360

Reviewed Platforms

Xbox 360

Pros

Excellent atmospheric presentation
Good balance between exploration and shooting
Smooth controls

Cons

Repetitive gameplay
Frustrating deaths

Features

Local Multiplayer

Price

MSP 80

Purchase Recommendation

Buy

Gameplay

Take the original SNES Metroid games, strip it down to its core, and replace Samus with a submarine, and you pretty much have the gameplay of Shadows in the Underworld: room-to-room exploration, with plenty of backtracking and sparse item collection. This game is relatively simple in terms of game flow: you float around in dark rooms, aided only by your flashlight and a very simple mini-map, until enemies appear randomly and attack you or you happen to stumble onto the next area. The game features something called dynamic level generation, which means your levels will be different every time you play, adding a nice touch of replay value. Unfortunately, you may not find yourself wanting to replay much of it, since you’ll inevitably die – either from loss of air or too many sea creatures destroying you -- and have to repeat the level anyway.

Shadows in the Underworld uses a dual-joystick shooter control scheme: left stick controls movement and right stick controls your flashlight, which is used for aiming torpedos and revealing hidden items and terrain. Overall, the controls are very solid, and unlike most other Indie games, Shadows in the Underworld actually utilizes most of the buttons on the Xbox controller. Your submarine is equipped with a variety of gadgets: a speed booster, a torpedo launcher, a flashlight, and even a chainsaw – although the chainsaw is misleadingly useless. The battles with the hostile sea creatures are fun little shootouts that break up the exploration nicely, but are sometimes frustrating when you are constantly being ambushed in pitch darkness. As a whole, the gameplay in Shadows isn’t particularly immersive, but is strangely addicting in its simplicity and exploration. The controls are very smooth and the concept is well-thought out; it’s just the repetitive gameplay and somewhat frustrating deaths that may turn some away.

Visuals and Sound

The graphics in this game are not mind-blowing and can be likened to the visuals of a subpar browser Flash game. Despite the lackluster visuals, however, the game does an excellent job with atmosphere and the feeling of being trapped in an underwater maze. It may just be the fitting music or the way the flashlight illuminates just the smallest parts of the level, but somehow the presentation of Shadows in the Underworld is incredibly captivating, especially when played in a dark room. There are varying backgrounds and enemies as well, which is admirable in an indie game, especially one that uses automatic random level generation. It would be easy to create one boring set of visuals and have the programming “mix it up” in the level design, but the fact that the creators did draw up different environments and enemies should be appreciated.

Final Verdict

The Shadows in the Underworld offers a nice blend of exploration and shooter-action for a dollar, and proves that indie games don’t all have to be Geometry Wars knock-offs. With solid controls and a nice feel of underwater exploration and survival, this game is well worth the asking price of 80 Microsoft points.

 

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