Mad, Beautiful Ideas

When Linux Game Publishing first announced Shadowgrounds Survivor, I didn't think much of it. I love LGP, but my initial reaction was simply that it was another game I'd never heard of, and that it didn't really sound too compelling, especially since most LGP games tend to be close to the $50 price point. I'd try the demo, but I made no plans to buy.

Then, Michael Simms announced that they were getting the prequel, Shadowgrounds, basically for free out of the port, so they'd arranged to distribute the prequel as well. Even better, since it was an unexpected windfall, they'd be selling Shadowgrounds for about $10.

That is within my impulse range when it comes to supporting Linux game developers, so I bit, springing for the physical copy with the download now option. I love that the industry has gone the instant gratification option with download now.

The plot line of the game is pretty basic for a overhead shooter: Humanity has learned to terraform, and expanded to Mars and Ganymede. Your character was working for the security forces on Ganymede, but an accident at the power plant in the colony got him fired and now he's a mechanic. The game opens with a power failure that you're ordered to investigate, and in pretty short order you find out that the colony is under attack from aliens, and you have to help what military presence is still around survive.

Unfortunately, my initial experience with the game was not positive. Load times were high, audio would cut out completely, and the game would periodically crash. Now, I can't really blame all this on Shadowgrounds, as my computer never quite ran right with Ubuntu 9.04. I was having frequent performance issues, and I suspect they were related to my video card and it's drivers.

I'd been thinking about upgrading to the 9.10 Alphas, so I decided to do that, since the recent unbootable problem had been solved. Much to my surprise, and pleasure, almost all of my performance issues have been resolved, and I'm hopeful that an impending RAM upgrade (up from 2 GiB) will help alleviate the rest.

Anyway, the game was now playable without any noticeable issues, a fact I quickly found myself grateful for. Shadowground's gameplay is vaguely Gauntlet-like, in that it's controlled from an overhead angle, and control of your character is as simple as choosing an angle to face, and firing. There are some events where you have to use items in the environment, or fix broken items in between waves of enemies.

It's simple, it's not terribly original, but it works, and it works well. The game designers do a good job of adding twists to the mechanic from time to time, which generally make sense, and they never really overuse any of the little puzzle elements.

The weapons are pretty well balanced, with even the trusty infinite ammo pistol being useful late into the game, and upgrade units, which act as currency to buy upgrades to your weapons, are plentiful enough to keep things interesting, even if you can't build a surplus.

The writing and story are good. Not great, but it at least makes sense, and the characters are all interesting enough you want them to survive.

Unfortunately this game was built to be co-op, but the only multiplayer it supports is with two keyboards and mice, on the same host. What, no network play?

This would be acceptable, if SDL had support for multiple input devices. Apparently, this will be fixed in a forthcoming version of the library, and LGP has promised a patch to the games.

For me, Shadowgrounds was an easy purchase at the price that LGP is asking. And yes, I purchased it sight unseen because I really do want to support native gaming on Linux. Luckily for Michael Simms and crew, Shadowgrounds has been good enough (if a bit short, given with how close to the end I believe I am), that I'm definitely planning to buy the sequel, Shadowgrounds Survivor, a game I thought I had little interest in.

Can't wait for the co-op mode to be enabled...