Have You Played? is an endless stream of game retrospectives. One a day, every day, perhaps for all time.
I always feel a bit sad when I think about Deadly Shadows. Ion Storm Austin’s spin on Looking Glass’ landmark stealth series is an embodiment of frustrated ambitions. The developers had basically planned for Deadly Shadows to be an open-world stealth game, a sort of medieval Grand Theft Carriage. But the prioritising of the original Xbox combined with lofty technological ambitions meant that, like a man trying to fit an elephant into a fridge, Ion Storm had to mercilessly cut down the scope of its project. Even then, they could only include the important bits, like the trunk and a couple of the feet.
Although it’s hard to ignore the emaciated figure that Deadly Shadows cuts, Ion Storm’s game can prowl and pilfer just as well as the two Looking Glass titles before it. There are some majestically designed levels, such as the Widow Moira’s island estate, Garrett’s creeping ascent of a clock tower in Killing Time, and of course the notorious Shalebridge Cradle, which remains one of the finest and most fearsome examples of video-game horror.
If you’re unfamiliar with the Cradle, it sees Garrett exploring a condemned orphanage that was turned into an insane asylum while the orphans were still living there. Its level design is as cleverly layered as the premise, forcing Garrett to delve ever deeper into a building filled with vivid, traumatic and violent memories.
I’d also like to pay homage to a little-mentioned feature of Deadly Shadows, the oil flasks. Garrett could shatter these on the ground to create an oil slick, and any passing guard would slip on the fluid. I distinctly recall one guard who patrolled near the top of a staircase in widow Moira’s mansion. If you threw an oil flask at just the right spot, the bumbling watchman would slip down the staircase and knock himself out.
Any game capable of producing both psychological horror and emergent slapstick is worthy of your time, and Deadly Shadows is absolutely that, even if it is a mere shade of what it was originally intended to be.