For a developer who can’t seem to get enough of wizards and weird physics puzzles, you might be surprised that Frozenbyte’s first game wasn’t anything of the sort. Indeed, the Finnish studio best known for puzzler series Trine and more recent fantasy co-op shenanigans Nine Parchments cut their teeth on a sci-fi, top-down shooter called Shadowgrounds. They even made a sequel! Shadowgrounds: Survivor, they called it, because one game about blasting aliens in dark military hangars simply wasn’t enough.
I didn’t play Shadowgrounds when it first came out in 2005. I came to it almost ten years later as it was one of the few games I could play on my work laptop over lunch when I was down in the office basement testing bits of PC. I could have also played it at my desk, for the record (being a bunch of tech journalists we spent many a lunch hour playing things like Supreme Commander and Battlefield: Bad Company 2: Vietnam), so it’s not like Shadowgrounds became some sort of secret guilty pleasure I could only play away from prying eyes. That said, it might as well have been, given how badly its rudimentary 3D graphics had aged over the course of eight years. It’s so old that you have no choice but to play it in a 4:3 aspect ratio.
Basic art aside, Shadowgrounds is surprisingly accomplished for a studio’s debut. Despite having made a name for themselves with their brain-scratching puzzles in recent years, Frozenbyte clearly knows what goes into making a compelling action game as well, as Shadowgrounds’ combination of big setpieces and survival-horror atmosphere make it feel, at times, like a faster-paced Dead Space.
It’s one of those ‘shoot everything that moves until it’s stopped twitching’ kind of games, so most of your time is simply spent firing shooty tools across the other side of the screen while trying not to box yourself in a corner. But it’s also one of those ‘shoot everything that moves until it’s stopped twitching where you’ve only got a battery-powered torch to guide you’ kind of games, which ups the tension considerably when you’re padding nervously around dark corridors, your flashlight’s about to go off and you know something’s going to come crawling out of the woodwork (metalwork?) any second.
I liked it so much that I almost jumped straight into Shadowgrounds: Survivor once I’d finished. If you like your spooky action games and don’t mind its slightly dated look, Shadowgrounds is well worth a trip.