Saturday, February 29, 2020

Shadowcaster: There and Back Again

Ah, Shadowcaster, a game I possess a certain fondness for. I think I've only played it like twice to completion. First time...It, uh, it was a bit longer than what I'd want because the game screwed up with my save near the end. Second time, I already knew what was going to go on. I vaguely remember most of the levels and the core gameplay aspects, so you'll be getting a playthrough that's a bit cheesy. There's not any real exploits, but because of the way the game works a certain playstyle is rewarded.
Its also the first western RPG/FPS hybrid, by some debate of the words FPS and to a certain extent RPG. Its an RPG to the extent that you have an experience meter that goes up and increases your health and mana. Its an FPS to the extent that its first-person, made by Raven Software, uses the Wolfenstein Engine, and has some elements that could be considered shooting.

I'm starting to dread playing real CD games in DOSBox. I never seem to get the actual audio working. Shadowcaster was not any different in this regard. With the added bonus that I seem to be missing MIDI music. Oh, and the intro is missing too. Good luck with either of those things. I'm going to be listening to the music as ripped by some guy on Youtube.
That gargoyle comes to life, but that's after it skipped the cutscene
The story, working off memory, is the player, Kirt, are the last surviving royal member of a race of shapeshifters. Vestor, the servant of The Dark One, killed his family and presumably a good chunk of the rest of his race. He escaped because His grandfather took him from your home plain before The Dark One could kill him. He have been hiding in secret on our world for the next 18 or so years. Vestor has finally found him, his grandfather tells you everything, and then sends gim back home.
What could possibly go wrong?
When you first start playing Shadowcaster, you are greeted with this. It slowly moves toward you. It stops some walks away from you. It does something, but nothing happens. Then you start losing life. Then in your frantic confusion you either manage to figure out how to strike back, nearly dying in the attempt, or do nothing and die. If I were to describe Shadowcaster using a stupid metaphor, it would be a rollercoaster with a lot of slow climbs then sheer drops.
It just so happens that it begins with a sheer drop. Its fairly easy to mitigate this sheer drop though. You can just start again. I want to play this on the hardest difficulty anyway. See how difficult it gets. It starts on normal.
After kicking the thing's stuffing in, I am free to talk about the way the game tricks you starting out. In order to attack you need to get real close, but that's only half the puzzle. The interface is...interesting. It is to be expected that early FPS/RPG games are clunky. Remember Bram Stoker's Dracula? This game is less clunky, but more confusing. In order to attack (at first) you need to select your hands or feet, then right click on your target. You can also use your hands to pick up items or use items. However, there are some items you need to have nothing selected in order to use.
The movement is a bit floaty. Like skating on ice. The two items are of little importance, but the statue here is of vital importance. This is how Kirt gets his shapeshifting abilities. Something about a pact. The first shape is that of a giant four-armed catman called Maorin. They're like those things from Wing Commander. Its more powerful than your base form and has the ability to see hidden objects. The way the game describes it, I'm changing places with him, but in gameplay terms, nothing much changes. Except each form has their own experience meter. Kirt gets a little bit of the experience from the other forms, which is good, because leveling up Kirt is the only thing that levels up mana, which lets you actually use the other forms.
...something, I don't know.
There is a short cutscene I don't get to see because DOSbox is screwing up, but the gist is that I'm in the ancient city long after everyone is dead. Its overgrown, and now there are these things. Man-eating plants of some kind. They move whenever I don't look at them. Until I screw them up enough that they flee from my superior might. Assuming they ever live that long.
Seen here, before death
They drop float seeds. These aren't useful now, but they will be in a moment.
Changing is done in a short animation that stops everything. Changing happens at will, except if Kirt runs out of mana.
Enemies feel spooky in the distance because of the fog
You don't seem to do any more damage as the Maorin, but it feels more satisfying to attack as one. After a short distance, I encounter another thing. This one shoots goo at me out of his head. He nearly gets me, and his flowery friends manage to sneak up on me while I'm killing him. Fortunately, a burst of health as I get a level-up lets me continue this without dying. I'd better let my health regenerate.
The end of my stand-off, just as I get full health back
The big problem with this game is you have to wait around to heal. No real regeneration. Grab a book, you'll be here a while. Later on, there are ways to bring it back to roughly this speed, but you'll still spend a good chunk of this game staring at nothing, hoping you don't get ambushed. You can click on your health and mana bars to see your point totals.
After killing the rest of the flowery companions, I discover this, which I forgot existed. You only have 8 item slots, plus your hands. For each character. This is useful if you happen to forget where you put something important. At this point, there's nothing I can forget.
There's also a map, which I don't yet need. It only shows the areas that you can currently access and have done so. Its slightly annoying because you have to get real close in order to make a tile appear on the map.
In the next room, there's a statue and a floating chest. The chest, if you let it, will start attacking you. Its at this point we come to the shooting mechanics. I have a fireball wand from earlier. Not fireball in the DnD sense, but fireball it that its a ball of fire. There are just enough shots to kill it. I aim, and right click on it. That's all there is to it. The chest contains a float seed for some reason and a crest, which can be used on the nearby statue. This will lead me somewhere I don't want to go to yet.

I go to the room east of the statue and chest. Here there are a couple more two-legged things than I remember. Changing the difficulty does three things, increase XP, increase the monsters health and damage, and change what monsters appear. I don't know how this changing works, but I don't plan on finding out if it can be exploited. The next room, north, is some kind of lake. Here, there's a single red plant monster on the water. I suspect this was added because playtesters didn't know what to do. I can't blame them for adding it, first time I went through the game I jumped across the lake. It damages you, but it does work.
Killing him reveals that the float seed creates a vegetation float on the ground. So all these things you may have been collecting turn out to be useful after all. Neat. There are four ledges here and three paths out. There are more than enough float seeds to reach everything, but you can go as low as 7 to get everything important.
It looks better in gameplay than in screenshot form
The ledge tucked away has a fairly obvious puzzle...if you read the manual. You walk across it, and you'll get hit by fireballs. If you switch to the Maorin you'll get the option to use his special sight. Which reveals there are pressure plates on the floor. So instead, you walk carefully across the area avoiding those. Its not necessary to do this, you can just run across. You'll have to wait more though.
Then, I am introduced to the first real weapon of the game, the shuriken. Its a shuriken that returns like a boomerang. I don't know if it does that much damage, but it feels more powerful than it is because if you spam attack something at close range you get in a shuriken shot and a punch.
Further in, there's a test of your ability to hit a target above a flame. There are three of them. Behind these flames?
This is basically every combat screenshot from now until I get another weapon
Yeah, these things.
And this, a statue head. Looks more like a mask to me, but what do I know?
The big, obvious ledge leading to another place, has a big tunnel, revealing another thing. I would think up a name for them, but ten years from now when I inevitably find the strategy guide for this game, its going to be something weird, like Cthuck. It'll be a blast, that's for sure.
Deeper inside...yeah, I think I know how this is going to go. Only played through this section like four times.
Oh, its just a single one. Its guarding another firewand, if you used the first one in a blind panic. Back to the statue room.
Hmm, somebody wants to die, I guess.
Another one, huh. I never said this game had good AI. At least his final companion is off hiding in the distance. Good for him.
With him, there's nothing left on this level, except two exits. This game is partly derived from Raven's previous game, a Dungeon Master-clone called Black Crypt. So it is somewhat open-ended. You'd have to go through both levels. I don't think there's any required order, but one is more advised than another, I do believe. So I'll be doing the unadvised order next time.

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