Theres a very special time when a new console system comes out, the time when developers dont have a clear idea of what they can or can't do with the hardware—a time that frees them to try new things. To me, this is the best time of the console's life because this is when the frontier of game design grows the most. The results may not be as pretty or as perfect as the games they pave the way for, but there is something about their imperfection and willingness to experiment that makes them far more exciting. This is the era before the mundane fade into technical superiority and genre stagnation when games can, for better or worse, still surprise you.
Shadow Of Destiny is just one of those games. It isn't perfect; it isn't pretty; and it will no doubt seem dated in years to come, but, goddamnit, I loved every minute of it.
I often asked myself while playing this game how long has it been since I played a game in which I honestly had no idea what the outcome would be; how the gameplay or plot would take shape; or how Id feel when the journey was over. Hell, when I was half way through this game I had no idea what it was about. In some games that would be a bad thing—in this game it isnt. As Brad correctly surmised, Shadow Of Destiny is a unique, intelligent and fun gaming experience that shouldnt be missed. I agree on most of his points, and since he outlined it pretty thoroughly, Ill just add some of my own observations.
First of all, I liked Brads comments about the nature of the story being mundane. Its nice for once to play a story that does not involve wanton violence and which, in fact, the whole purpose of the story is the creative aversion of violence. The way the gameplay evolves into puzzle-solving situations is unusually natural, and I like the emphasis on normal people in an everyday world. Games have so long focused on the miraculous that I tend to find it more miraculous when they focus on the familiar. And Shadow Of Destiny is excellent at using its one miraculous element—time travel—and making it resonate effectively in a mundane world.
As for Brads comments about characterization, I can say that I agree and disagree. I agree that the voices were kind of goofy and that the characters didnt seem to react to the world in a perfectly realistic fashion. But I didnt find myself caring all that much. The admittedly imperfect yet disarmingly earnest voice work as well as the "gee-whiz!" quality of Eikes character adds a goofy and delicate charm to the experience—unintentional perhaps, but with an effective result. I cant say what this game would have been like with different voices, but I found myself completely absorbed in this game and caring about the people in it, so they couldnt have been that bad (right?). In other words, I wouldnt defend it as good acting, but I would defend it for working in its own, somewhat clumsy way.
On the technical side, I found the game to be well-presented with some aesthetic gems, like the differing color schemes for each era that Brad mentioned, but overall nothing particularly special. One special consideration Id like to make is on the lip-syncing. I still think PlayStation 2 has a long way to go in this department. Sure the mouths move with the words, but at this level of detail even the slightest awkward movement can look silly (which they often do), and Id just hate to think people are sitting back and ogling over this style simply because it is better than what weve been able to do previously. Better doesnt necessarily equal good enough, and I imagine someday when games have perfect lip-syncing games like Shadow Of Destiny will look bloomin ridiculous. On a more positive note, though, I would defend the games simple textures since they give the game a more simplified anime-look that gives the characters a wider palette of emotive expressions. What this game was able to convey with a small curl of the lip or tilt of the head were FAR more involving than the highly detailed but relatively emotionless facial expressions in graphic powerhouses like Onimusha.
Lastly Id like to bring up one thing. Ive been told that Shadow Of Destiny was made by the same team that brought us Silent Hill, the one survival-horror game for the PlayStation that dared to be different from its brethren, and, in my opinion, succeeded with a quiet brilliance. Shadows of Destiny, although not appearing to be at all the same kind of game, is actually quite similar to it in uniqueness, ambition and personal eccentricity. They are both experiments with a firm determination to inject some real substance into shop-worn gameplay conventions. Neither are perfect (in fact, they both share a lot of the same problems), but the spirit I feel they represent is one that you dont see enough of from developers. Its nice to know that there are people out there willing to make mistakes to give birth to something new. Maybe not drastically revolutionary, but at least relatively unique in our clone-saturated market. If nothing else, Shadow Of Destiny gives us great hopes for Silent Hill 2, and the PlayStation 2 in general.
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