Shadow Legacy is a decent stealthy debut – Review – WGB

The debut title from Baby Robot Games, Ereban: Shadow Legacy is a stealth game following Ayana, the last of the Ereban, a race capable of merging into the darkness. She’s come to Helios, a megacompany that has seemingly saved the world by finding a way to provide unlimited energy, but Ayana suspects something is amiss and that Helios might know something about what happened to the Ereban. There’s no shortage of stealth ’em ups in the indie and double-A scene though, so what does Ereban: Shadow Legacy offer?

To the surprise of absolutely nobody, Ayana’s suspicions are proven correct and she has to make a hasty exit before Helios can grab her and use her for their nefarious plan, whatever that may be. Aid comes from an unlikely source, though, as one of the goons working at Helios turns out to be a member of a resistance called the Second Suns. And so we have the premise of our adventure: Ayana needs to discover the evil secret of Helios, learn about her people and discover what it means to be Ereban.

What ultimately takes the punch out of the big reveals is that Shadow Legacy can’t nail foreshadowing without giving the game away. Every time the story attempted to deliver a twist I had already seen it coming from the very first time it was hinted at, and the ones that I didn’t weren’t exciting anyway. Despite some very high-quality voice acting especially for a debut title from a small studio, neither Ayana nor the small cast of characters she meets are engaging enough to make the story meaningful. Maybe a big part of that issue is how little time Ayana spends with anyone else, which is to say almost no time whatsoever. The leader of the resistance has minimal screentime, and the only person Ayana actually builds a rapport with is done almost entirely over a radio – and even then, it’s so little and so unconvincing that the writing at the end of the game, which attempts to make it seem like they’ve built a deep friendship, comes across as false.

Review code provided by the publisher.

It’s a shame because I actually believe the game’s backstory and premise to be pretty cool. As the game gradually built up its lore I couldn’t help but feel that a game set during all of the lead-up to Ereban: Shadow Legacy would be even more intriguing than what we got where it seems like all the good stuff already happened.

I want to be clear, though: I don’t think it’s a bad story. It’s just a very bland one that I’m honestly struggling to remember anything about. A few tweaks could have really improved it, like letting Ayana’s relationship with the first resistance member she encounters get built up naturally instead of trying to imply through snippets of dialogue that they’ve somehow become friends, even though we, the players, were there for the entire journey and know they didn’t.

The main enemy you face are Syms, big chunky robots that patrol locations using simple movement patterns. Aside from uttering some genuinely quite funny lines of dialogue, these robots are there for you to evade or destroy as you see fit. A few varieties pop up across the fairly short 5-8 hour campaign, including long-range snipers and a special model that can revive fallen comrades. While you are armed with a retractable blade capable of taking out a Sym in a single stroke, combat is not something you engage in. To Ereban: Shadow Legacy’s credit, it goes down the purer stealth route by letting the Syms one-shot you as well. It’s possible to run away and hide, but generally speaking, being spotted will mean game over instead of an excuse to bust out the rocket launcher.

Being spotted is a rarity, however. The game’s enemies aren’t going to be taking home any trophies for brains. Their cones of vision are narrow and short, so you can get away with some blatant bollox. Even if they find one of their pals in a crumpled head their method of “searching” is laughable and then they’ll quickly go back to their usual routine. They aren’t hard to sneak past, either. Enemy layouts and the level designs are basic by the standards of the genre, offering very little challenge. Patrols are basic and easy to navigate around, making it feel like stealth game 101, although that’s great for newcomers to the genre. But the game never builds on those layouts, never increases the level of challenge, and so even later on you’ll still sneak past one or two enemies and have ample time to stop, check out the next bit, sneak past those enemies and repeat. There are never, for example, tricky sections where you have to pre-plan every move or where you have to rely on snap decisions and barely manage to squeeze through narrow gaps in patrols.

Ayana’s party trick comes directly from her Ereban heritage, letting her “merge” into the shadows by becoming a strange dark ball that can swim through unlit areas. Not only does it let her pass underneath an enemy, it also lets her go straight up and along walls. However, touching any source of light will almost immediately burn Ayana out of her merged state and force her back into the regular world. It’s an interesting concept because mechanically it’s really no different to the standard stealth fare of being undetectable provided you walk in the shadowy areas or to clambering around. And yet, becoming a little shadow ball is such a cool way of dressing it up that it ultimately feels different, even though barrelling around as a shadow and creeping around in the darkness are essentially the same thing from a gameplay perspective.

I can’t help but feel that Baby Robot don’t take the idea very far, though. Mostly, you merge into the shadows and move through a few enemies, check out the next section, wait for a gap in the patrols and move again. It’s the most basic stealth-game loop, and no different to crouch-walking past enemies and then hiding behind a wall. There are a few creative uses of the ability like making your way across a large wall by using the moving shadow of a giant fan, but even those aren’t terribly exciting. I always wanted more from it. Perhaps being able to destroy lights to create new darkened routes, or trickier sections involving a lot more moving shadows. A few platforming sequences try to blend the shadow merging and regular jumping together, but again aren’t very interesting and worse are hampered by a slightly awkward mix of camera and controls that send you veering off course when transitioning from floor to wall.

Far less common than the robots are humans working for Helios, ambling around and getting on with their day-to-day lives. This is where Shadow Legacy’s simple morality system comes into play: leave the squishy humans alone and you’ll unlock pure stealth skills designed to let you sneak by without anyone being any the wiser. Opt eliminate the humans and the skills will lean toward the lethal approach.

As a basic concept, the morality system is fine, but in execution, it’s lacking. Again, the problem is that you’re never put into a position where killing people makes sense because there’s no challenge. Sneaking through without alerting anyone is easy, and so you have to actively go out of your way to kill the humans. Ideally with a system like this, the human foes should be placed in challenging areas so that the decision is a hard one: do I kill the humans to make things easier, or do I go the hard route by staying in the shadows? Since it’s so easy to sneak past, though, there’s never a decision to be made. The only reason to murder everyone is to unlock the lethal skills, and those aren’t interesting enough to make it worthwhile.

Ayana has a few unlockable gadgets that can be crafted and then used to aid in her stealthy shenanigans, although you do need to locate hidden tech cards before they can unlocked. There are things like a mine that will temporarily stun passing enemies or a set of binoculars for scouting large areas. She also has her growing Ereban powers to mess around with, and unlocking those means scouting reasonably large areas for special collectables. She can blind enemies, for example, or send out a special decoy to draw attention.

Unfortunately, I rarely felt the need to explore and use Ayana’s skills and gadgets to advance. Once again, it comes back to the difficulty. The game’s simple stealth systems combined with how easy it is to get through areas meant I never felt challenged, and that lack of challenge meant I had no reason to employ extra tricks. The obvious answer would be to use them for the fun of it, but they aren’t interesting enough to warrant doing that. Only one skill felt like it was “fun” to use, and that’s being able to briefly possess robotic foes, but even then, it’s limited to moving them a short distance and nothing else. The only other thing I used was the mines to take out multiple enemies at once, but even then I was forcing myself to use them for variety because it was just as easy to amble past the guards without employing any extra abilities.

This review will likely read like I’m very negative toward Ereban: Shadow Legacy, so let me clarify: I think it’s fine. The trouble is that games that are just “fine” can be hard to talk about without coming across as being very negative. As a debut title from a new studio, Shadow Legacy is very competent in its design, and seems to derive a lot of inspiration from Aragami, even including a nice easter egg. But I also struggle to find anything exciting to talk about with it, and that may simply be because I’m not the best audience for it. Someone who hasn’t played many stealth games will probably enjoy it far more, as might an experienced sneaky bastard find its simplicity and easiness a nice change of pace.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

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