"Pushing a silly concept and forsaking gameplay, this is a low point for the franchise."

When I first heard that Sonic Team was making a new game that revolved around the premise of the series newest character, Shadow, packing heat, my first thought was "lame franchise whoring". Sadly, I was right.

For the most part, this game is essentially a watered down version of the already overused and outdated formula that all of the 3-D Sonic games have used: semi-speedy gameplay through cleverly designed landscapes broken up by bits of a mediocre story. There are only two real differences here. First is the fact that you only play as Shadow, who can now use guns and a few melee weapons. The gunplay would be fun if it weren't so cumbersome. There is a lock-on function for most weapons, but considering that it is directed automatically and you can't switch targets, this becomes a huge bother when you have a screen full of both things you want to shoot and things you don't want to shoot. On the bright side, the variety of weapons you can use or unlock is fairly large. The other difference is the story progression. The story starts on a perfectly sunny day with Shadow casually pondering his cloudy past. Suddenly, the sky turns stormy and blood red, and the nearby city of Westopolis (creative, no?) is invaded by a massive horde of alien creatures, complete with giant death lasers from the sky. Outside of the city, Shadow looks on with almost comical indifference, and starts to turn away before he is interrupted by the leader of this invasion force, Black Doom (more creativity points). He informs Shadow of a certain "promise" he had made to help exterminate the humans, and Shadow, without any other leads about his origins, makes haste for the embattled city. The interesting thing here is that the story changes depending on what actions you take in a given stage. For example, if you complete the level objective the villains have set for you, your path will turn more towards the "dark side", and likewise will go towards the "hero side" if you help out Sonic and his friends. But again, this innovation is compromised by a poorly executed and downright boring plot. Complimenting this are the 10 different endings to see, all of which are incredibly short and unrewarding. While this is certainly a good way of increasing replay value, there are two problems. First, a full playthrough of the game is only six stages and takes about 1-2 hours to do, so you could reasonably see all of them in about 15 hours. Secondly is the fact that, after seeing all of the endings, a final stage that leads to the "true ending" is unlocked, which takes away a good bit from the novelty of being able to control Shadow's destiny.

The control and overall feel of the gameplay is a mixed bag. Positively, the camera, which was simply inoperable in past Sonic titles, has been vastly improved, allowing for fairly unrestricted movement in most cases. There are some hiccups, but in general it works. The biggest failure of it all is the character movement control. While controlling Shadow from a standstill isn't too complicated, once you gain any kind of speed trying to change directions accurately is almost an impossible task. Also, Shadow's "homing attack" move has an absurdly longer range than before, which often leads to it looking incredibly unrealistic and mechanical. It also has consistency problems with staying locked on to enemies.....you may strike one enemy repeatedly 4 or 5 times and then suddenly go flying off a cliff on the next attack. As a side note it should be noted that, while I've never had any particular issues with profanity in video games, a black hedgehog swearing nearly every time he is so much as knocked down is so ridiculously unnecessary and out of place that it's distracting sometimes. Another big annoyance is the sheer number and length of scripted sequences which, while certainly not uncommon to the series, are just way too extreme in some levels. There are times when you can put the controller down, go to the bathroom, come back, and the game will still be in the middle of an automatic event. More than anything, this fleshes out the fact that many of the level designs are not thought out very well or are just plain stupid. There are some fun levels, though....there are a couple where Shadow is transformed into data so he can hack the Internet.

With the notable exception of the CG cutscenes, the game's graphics are uninspiring and stale. From Sonic Adventure 2 to Sonic Heroes to this game, there is almost NO improvement in the visuals. You could have easily produced these graphics on the Dreamcast. Soundwise, the game rips a fair number of tunes directly off from SA2, while the rest are composed primarily of themes that fit in fairly well with their respective levels. Voice acting uses a different cast and is pretty much on the same level as other Sonic games, though I can't count the number of times I wanted to vaporize Charmy Bee and his grating high-pitched voice.

This game falters mainly in its lack of effort and gameplay mechanics, which really dull its more pleasant qualities. One can only hope that this downward spiral for the series doesn't continue.

STORY – 5/10
VISUALS – 6/10
SOUND – 7/10
SWING – 7/10

OVERALL – 6/10

Reviewer's Rating:   3.0 - Fair

Originally Posted: 03/26/07

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