Shade: Wrath of Angels is a third-person supernatural action-adventure that leads players from the present, back to Middle Ages, and through a realm of shadows, on a quest to solve a million-year-old mystery. While enemies are vicious and combat may be a necessity at times, the game's focus is on its disturbing, epic storyline and its spooky puzzle-solving challenges. Shade: Wrath of Angels runs on an original DirectX 9-based 3D engine, which supports features such as automatic level-of-detail generation, skeletal characters, rigid body physics, bezier patching, directional ambient lighting with anti-aliased light maps, and other contemporarily cutting-edge graphical goodies.
In Shade, you play as a generic tough guy whose brother just happens to be an archaeologist. It seems your little brother has stumbled onto an ancient mystery and gotten himself magically imprisoned by angry gods. You soon learn that you need to free him by first liberating four fallen angels trapped in parallel worlds. As described in one of the game's innumerable and unfailingly tedious cutscenes, this story makes little sense and is about as engaging as a page from the phone book. You'll just have to roll with it.
As you traverse the different game worlds, you'll run, fight, and jump from either a first- or third-person view. Neither view is satisfactory. The first-person view gives you the targeting crosshair that the third-person view lacks, but makes it harder to perform various Lara Croft-style stunts, like leaping chasms or shimmying along narrow precipices. The controls and camera are clunky, either way, making it hard to move fluidly or see clearly at times. It's also unclear how far you can fall without dying, which leads to frustrating trail and error during the game's many platformer segments. In addition to climbing and jumping, you'll also have to solve a smattering of relatively simple puzzles, which are often just tedious, no-brainer key hunts.
Despite these sorts of pseudo-adventure escapades, the real heart of Shade is combat, but it's a heart in need of life support -- stat. You pick up various weapons throughout the game, like a .50 Desert Eagle pistol and a magic sword that an angel grants you. The mix of ranged and melee combat adds a pinch of spice to a very bland game. With melee weapons, you can perform various attacks and blocks, though none are impressive. The enemies aren't bright, so once you learn the formula for timing your blocks and attacks, it's usually not too hard to dispatch solitary bad guys.
That said, there's almost no margin for error in Shade; one little slip-up and you can die. Worse still, monsters often rush at you en masse and send you to an early grave. Shade can get maddeningly difficult early on, even on the "normal" difficulty setting. It doesn't much help that you can very briefly turn into a demon, ¿ la The Suffering. This demon moves at a crawl and gets stuck in doorways; his attacks can be charitably described as underwhelming. Furthermore, you can't quick-save your game, but have to rely on scarce save points. Nothing says "fun" like having to work through a whole series of jumping puzzles, falling or getting smacked by a cheap gotcha attack, and having to do it all again. Chances to heal your character with his magic sword are rare, too. Shade is one horribly balanced game.
The monsters, who appear with pathetic predictability every time you grab an important item, are mostly lame variations on zombies, skeletons, spiders, and the like. None of them are even remotely interesting or frightening. The levels they inhabit are equally uninspired; do we really need another lame version of Egyptian pyramids? They're repetitive, too. You'll often be asking yourself, "Haven't I seen this hallway with the cobwebs and torches ten times before?" There's just nothing in Shade to awe or surprise you or make you want to press on to see what's around the corner.
At least some of the level graphics look decent. Shade doesn't boast a cutting-edge graphics engine, but some of the textures and foliage can be reasonably attractive. Your character is woefully nondescript, though, and the monsters look utterly forgettable. If you've seen one skeleton with a sword, you've seen 'em all. Nasty clipping problems further mar the game. While some of the graphics are at least decent, the sound effects fail to make any good impressions, outside a few memorable soundtrack cuts.
Lack of inspiration and sloppiness are the hallmarks of Shade: Wrath of Angels. Clunky controls, tedious combat, frustrating difficulty, a forgettable hero, a lame story, silly dialogue, monotonous levels, typos, and bugs all add up to a big mess.
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