I remember the good old days: Seeing Sonic run through Green Hill Zone for the first time on a friend's Megadrive, humming along to the cool soundtrack in Sonic CD, and playing Sonic Adventure on the Dreamcast and wondering how a launch title for a new piece of hardware could look any better. New console jubilation aside, Sonic was great, and back when it meant something to have a mascot he did a great job for Sega. While more recent Sonic games haven't been brilliant, the blue hedgehog is now well and truly dead - shot in the face at point blank range by an edgy black impostor.
Who knows how Sega and Sonic Team sunk this low, but Shadow the Hedgehog is the result, and it's insultingly bad. Playing as Shadow, a black hedgehog with red stripes and white chest hair, you don't know who you are or what your past is. Tie this in with a rather overacting bad guy and cameos by the usual Sonic gang, and you've got the perfect story for anyone under the age of ten.
If you've played previous 3D Sonic titles (Adventure 1 and 2 and Heroes) you'll know roughly what to expect: Linear levels that guide you straight forwards at all times, clumsy lock-on spin attacks, awkward jumping sections, a bad camera system, frame rate problems, ugly visuals and poor voice acting. Throw in some poor melee combat, shocking vehicle sections and a load of guns, and you have one of the messiest games Sega has ever released.
Everything just seems so lazy. Take the mid-air spin attack; it works great while there are enemies beneath you, but should you not notice that they've all been taken care of, another press of the attack button and you'll fly helplessly over an edge and plummet to your death. There's some great speed at times too, but the game makes it hard to move for more than a few metres before coming to a halt, with numerous ledges, obstacles and other unseen things doing their best to get in your way.
'...you simply can't control your attacks or lock-on with enough accuracy to target only certain enemies ...'
To tie in with Shadow's edgy character (although he's edgy in a naughty school boy way, rather than having real adult issues) you can choose to finish each level in a number of ways. It's easiest to simply run through and pick up the Chaos Emerald (for reasons that I can't actually remember), but you can also be 'evil' and do what the bad guy says, or be 'good' and do what the good guy says. Who the good and bad guy is will vary from level to level, but when the good guy is as annoying as most of them are in this game, you tend to want to ignore him.
Another problem is a direct result of the good/bad system. You see, in each level there are good enemies and bad enemies (does that make sense?) and you'll want to take out one or the other depending on what way you have decided to finish a level. Even though you can choose this in the game's pause menu, none of the 'enemies' in the game seem to know which side you're fighting for, so they all try and attack you. It's incredibly frustrating. You'll end up attacking them all anyway, as you simply can't control your attacks or lock-on with enough accuracy to target only certain enemies, and it's another in a long line of reasons why the game is an utter disaster.
If you do somehow like what you're playing you'll get to the end very quickly - almost as if the developers knew few people would want to play the game any longer. There's some replay value to be found by completing levels in alternative ways and seeing alternative endings, but seeing as the actual levels are the same, with what you do in them being the only real difference, it's unlikely you'll want to do it all again. A two-player Battle mode offers a few moments of mild amusement, but it suffers from the same problems as the single-player game.
The Sonic series has been on a downward spiral for a few years now, and while this isn't officially a Sonic title, it shows where the series' creators are going with the franchise, and it's almost heart breaking. Shadow the Hedgehog is an abomination and a game that even the most die-hard Sonic fan would struggle to enjoy. Hopefully they'll learn their lesson after the critical maulings and up their game for Sonic's next-gen debut.