The Heart And Soul Behind Reimagining Shadow Of The Beast For PS4

Twice now, I’ve seen Heavy Spectrum’s Matt Birch stand up and talk about Shadow of the Beast – first as the game was announced at Gamescom 2013 and now at a PSN showcase – and both times his struggle to contain his emotions, his excitement and his passion for this game have been endlessly endearing. This is quite literally his dream project, which he has wanted to create ever since he played the original game in 1989.

It’s a passion which is quite clear to see in the game itself, and was surely a major part in Heavy Spectrum being able to inherit the game’s legacy as they work alongside what remains of Psygnosis and Studio Liverpool – who created the original game – at Sony’s XDev team.

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The original’s lauded parallax effects have been reimagined in the vast vistas that seem to carry on into the background forever. The sun hangs low above the horizon, its brilliant light piercing the haze and making the sand gleam beneath Aarbron’s feet, while the huge bones of long dead monsters stick out of the ground of Karamoon’s desert.

As you head underground, the inhospitable expanse gives was to an equally cavernous temple of sorts. It’s something that wouldn’t be out of place in a God of War game, which is something that’s only emphasised as you trigger two huge statues in a cliff face to raise their swords and form a bridge for you to pass across.

Playing out on a 2D plane within this 3D world, there’s a certain commonality between this and other recent remakes of classic games. There’s more than a hint of Oddworld: New ‘n’ Tasty or the Strider remake, but there’s perhaps a greater emphasis on reimagining what went before in Heavy Spectrum’s work.

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There’s a real flow to the combat, as large numbers of enemies step out of the background and foreground to take you on, before a kind of arena is formed with energy fields in front and behind you that more foes rush at you from. The claws that extend from Aarbron’s forearms quickly slice through those that get in your way with just the tap of a button, but there’s a very noticeable rhythm to the game as you do so.

Frantic button mashing will get you nowhere, but tapping attack, block, counter and so on as you spot the glint on an enemy’s sword or judge the gap from one foe to the next and you’ll carve your way through their ranks in a smooth and graceful fashion. The original games were renowned for their difficulty, and though I imagine that has been lessened somewhat in the name of accessibility, it’s still very easy to mistime a button press and see Aarbron get knocked back.

It’s also very, very gory. Blood spurts out of each an every cut, leaving the floor drenched in the red stuff, and this is only emphasised by the rather dynamic camera work, which happily swoops in on the action during the timing-based and very powerful QTE Blood Rage attacks – replete with ‘early’, ‘perfect’ and ‘late’ judgements of your timing popping up on screen.

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But I felt that this fluidity came to an end as I defeated the onrushing waves of enemies and a boss-like character leapt to join me in battle. Armed with a huge sword, all of my attacks were rebuffed easily, meaning that I had to simply sit and wait for him to attack before performing a block or a counter and dealing damage.

Alongside a certain awkwardness to the manner in which you can clamber up the sides of the gravity defying platforms and columns – you have to grab on before launching in the direction of your choice, which sounds intuitive, but doesn’t flow particularly well at this stage – these are forgivable flaws, as the game still feels quite early in development.

Much more important is that they are capturing the right feel. The original game has such bizarre incongruities as having jet engines underground, the corpse of a giant trapped in a cave with entrances too small for it and even eyeballs that pop in and out of existence. These are things that played and evolved into their own backstory in Matt Birch’s mind, he explained during his presentation, and while the team are keen to lace the game with those things once more and provide a better context for their existence, they’re also wary of dispelling the mystery that surrounds them.

Through it all, there’s just such an overwhelming sense of love for the series and a desire to do it justice while evolving it into a more modern form. I don’t really think fans of the original games could ask for a better suited developer to revisit and reimagine Shadow of the Beast.

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6 Comments

  1. I hope the music is influenced by the original, those flutes and panpipe sounds added to the quirky atmosphere.

    • There wasn’t any music in this build, but I’ve read some cagey responses elsewhere that suggest they might be trying to collaborate with the original composer. And if not, they’ll certainly aim to capture the same style.

  2. I’m liking what I’ve seen so far. Then again, I used to like what I’d seen on the Amiga version but stopped playing it as I could never get anywhere. Hopefully, I’ll get a bit further on this one.
    Like I said on the previous thread, the fighting style reminds me a bit of 300 (the movie) which is pretty cool.

  3. Lovely to see such passion for an old franchise. My only concern is that it’ll be like it’s predecessor with how much gameplay was there as well. The answer = not much.

  4. Very excited for this. Want.

  5. The original was fun but too difficult so I didn’t get far. This looks like it has potential. I hope they do a good job.

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