Shade: Wrath of Angels
If you’ve ever Deen to Prague then you'll know it is without question one of the most beautiful cities in Europe, and at time of writing also one of the wettest. Rated on the quality of the beer alone you'd be hard pushed to find a higher quality conurbation.
Equally, Prague has a fine tradition of producing quality PC games: Hidden & Dangerous. Operation Flashpoint and Mafia were all conceived and created in and around the Czech capital, and it is hoped Shade will join this shortlist of classic Czech brews.
In development at Black Element Software, literally down the corridor from Flashpoint creator Bohemia Interactive (and downstairs from publisher Cenega), Shade is a far cry from being an unknown game from an unknown developer. Relative unknowns they may be, but Black Element and its work so impressed Marek Spanel, head of Bohemia, that he bought the company. "We liked what they were doing and we wanted to help out," says Spanel on the acquisition. "But we have no control over the game. This is their game. The story, characters, the whole design and development are being done by Black Element. All we're doing is helping out with the technology."
Under construction for a little under a year, Shade might be remembered by diligent readers under its previous guise, Nefandus: Wrath Of Angels. While the name change had something to do with tedious copynght wranglings. the new branding is only appropriate given the renaissance the game has undergone in other areas. From a gloomy and unremarkable little horror game six months ago, Shade has emerged looking technically impressive and assured. The graphics - already share much of the variety, mood and detail, not to mention the visual perspective, of Max Payne, which is about as high a commendation as a game can get at this early stage.
Of course Shade is no simple bad guy-killing spree. Whereas Maxwell Payne had a thirst for vengeance (and, judging by the look on his face trapped wind) festering inside of him, the hero of Shade has a demon inside, eager to break free.
Rather than fight to suppress the evil, players are free to unleash the demon whenever they wish. However, there is a price; the more often you let your dark side take shape, the less human you become. Solve more of the game's puzzles with your puny human brains or brawn and you might just finish the game without horns.
Despite the fact that we were flown in to Prague especially to see the game, there isn't much else to tell. Though the 3D engine looks impressive, only one level was playable and of the characters that populated it, none had any intelligence beyond that of a Space Invader. It's early days, clearly. On top of that, the story is shrouded in secrecy, special powers and weapons aren't being discussed and the look of the demon exists only in sketchbooks. But at least the weather was nice, the beer more than adequate and the promise of a great game is still intact. Watch this space.
Download Shade: Wrath of Angels
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It is only when perched on the porcelain that most of us dare to let the evil within go free, but in Shade it's an essential part of the game. The story is this: the hero of the game, drawn into a shadowy world inhabited by abominable beasts, also plays host to a demon so foul the developers still haven't worked up the courage to put it in the game. As such, the entire game is a moral puzzle (over and above being a time-travelling survival-horror third-person actionadventure'), in that you are free to unleash your dark side whenever you wish. The more you rely on evil, the more twisted and less human you become (much like your average politician). It's distinctive and good-looking enough to stand out from the current glut of horror-action games, and besides this, we can't wait to unleash the beast.
Back In The veiled mists of time, we hitched a ride to Prague for a first look at Shade: Wrath Of Angels. A third-person hack n' slasher, it involves a main character who could usefully transform at will into an angry, vengeful spell-casting demon - a bit like our editor Dave Woods. Eighteen months on and Czech developer Black Element has been busy using its dark powers to summon a game that, if certain gameplay elements can be banished to hell, could turn out to be devilish fun.
Shade follows the blueprint of such action-adventure franchises as Legacy Of Kain Soul Reaver and Tomb Raider, featuring a mixture of platform jumping, combat and stealth-type sneakery. Set across 31 levels and four different themed time zones - the present, medieval, Egyptian and the disturbing Shadowlands - Shade has the self-titled human/demon hybrid vanquishing mummies, skeletal warriors, undead knights and all kinds of salivadripping nasties.
At your disposal is a range of over 26 weapons including guns, crossbows and various swords that can be upgraded, as well as enemy weapons such as huge axes that Shade can pick up and stab towards the nearest servant of Satan.
Combat is simply a matter of tapping the left mouse-button to produce different attack moves, although by pressing the right mouse-button, the shotgun and crossbow both have rather nifty over-the-shoulder views available for uncomfortably close-up kills.
With a few months left of development, the swordplay in Wrath Of Angels is still a little unsatisfying. You don't get the impression that your supposedly hefty chunk of sharp metal is actually hitting a solid body, even though the sprays of blood and flailing animation of enemies look decent enough - but hopefully this will be sorted before release. The platform elements are coming along nicely however, with Shade automatically grabbing hold of a ledge with both hands if you fall off one, saving your blushes and your (after) life.
Yet it's Shade's clever trick of transmogrifying into a scaly monster of Hades that could prove to be the game's major selling point. Rather than collecting a certain number of souls to transform into a demon - as with recent FPS Painkiller - all you need to do is ensure you have enough magical power (the blue bar in the top-left corner) and hit a key. Instantly, beams of blinding light break your human frame apart and you're reborn as a horny killer, able to cast lethal spells and shoot fireballs at anything in your way.
Graphically, Shade: Wrath Of Angels is no Far Cry, but there's cool lighting, good spell effects and destructible objects that should all display perfectly fine on the meanest of graphics cards, right up to the beefiest of pixel-pushers. Al is straightforward, shall we say, with enemies that lurch blindly forwards and fail to see you if you jump on top of a handy nearby box or staircase.
However, we're keeping our fingers and eyeballs crossed that Black Element is also about to inject an IQ-boosting serum into every monster's digital brain before the game's scheduled October release. We'll have more on Shade: Wrath Of Angels before hell freezes over.