If you like your shooters built on nostalgic value, Meridian4 and Frozenbyte's Shadowgrounds might be up your alley. A top-down shooter in the vein of Smash TV with an atmospheric twist that borrows heavily from the Doom series, Shadowgrounds has simplistic mechanics but uses challenging gameplay to back them up. Unfortunately, challenging doesn't always equate to fun, and in the case of Shadowgrounds, its difficulty doesn't make the action any less monotonous as time goes on. Rather than testing your skill by throwing huge gangs of enemies at you, as many old-school top-down shooters tended to do, Shadowgrounds keeps its enemy attacks regulated to short bursts done to induce some kind of jump or scare in you. The trouble is that it's not effective. Shadowgrounds is too campy to be even remotely moody or scary, and without the scares, the action just comes across as kind of flat after a while.
The top down shooter hasn't gotten much love in recent years, especially on the PC. Kudos to Shadowgrounds for at least trying to kickstart the genre again.
The premise of Shadowgrounds ought to be eerily familiar to fans of the Doom franchise. You're a lowly mechanic on a space base parked on one of Jupiter's moons. One day, all hell breaks loose when a crew of creepy alien creatures shows up on the scene and starts wreaking havoc. Amid many moments of verbally wondering what the hell is going on, you're forced into battle, shooting your way through the scads and scads of nasty aliens. The game tries to inject some story into the whole equation by having you interact with other survivors on the base and even by out-and-out thieving the whole thing from Doom 3 where you'd walk around, reading people's computer screens and PDA's to piece together a picture of how this all came about. Unfortunately, none of it is interesting. The dialogue is generally pretty stilted, and the snippets of story just aren't all that intriguing.
On the plus side, you don't really need to get too heavily into the story to appreciate a game like this. However, you do need to get into the gameplay. Initially, any shooter fan almost certainly will. Shadowgrounds takes the top-down shooter perspective and gives you plenty of labyrinthine environments to explore, as well as plenty of ugly aliens to blast your way through. The aliens themselves are nicely varied and come at you with a wide array of attacks. One moment you'll be flamethrowing acid-spitting slug creatures and the next you'll be firing off rockets at a towering beast with laser rifles for hands. The inspirado for Shadowgrounds' aliens is blatantly borrowed from many, many sci-fi action games of years past, but that doesn't make them any less satisfying to shoot. And it is satisfying...for a time.
As mentioned earlier, the problem with Shadowgrounds' gameplay is not the mechanics or the weapons or the enemies, but rather the core design of how the action is presented. Shadowgrounds really wants to be Doom 3. It only sends you periodic swarms of enemies and more often tries to unsettle you by having small groupings of them pop up through the floor or out of a dark corner, and so forth. It goes even further by keeping things rather dark and forcing you to use a rechargeable flashlight to effectively get around certain areas. But as we said before, it's just not scary. There are no moments of fright to be had in the game, and the atmosphere really isn't all that creepy. So what you end up with are a few specific moments of excitement, experienced during the scant number of times in the game where you feel legitimately frantic and overwhelmed as you stave off heavy enemy attacks. Otherwise, you're just corridor crawling through dark rooms and occasionally shooting off small groupings of enemies. That's not to say that this isn't at all challenging, as even these small groupings can present a fair bit of danger, but it's not very thrilling for very long, and it all becomes predictable once you get a feel for the rhythm of the game.