Shadwen is a third-person stealth-action game that begins with the implied murder of a king at the hands of a skilled female assassin. As the monarch's crown falls to the ground, we see the face of a young girl travelling with the killer, and the game flashes back to an earlier point in the evening. The girl is named Lily, and she's saved from a guard that's interrogating her for stealing apples by the assassin-with-a-heart-of-gold, Shadwen. The assassin can't risk Lily telling the authorities that there's a murderous rebel loose in the city, but she also doesn't want to just bump the kid off to ensure her silence. Finding a happy medium, Shadwen demands that Lily remain with her until she completes her mission, and the unlikely duo set off on their journey to commit regicide.

Unfortunately, the story is barely developed beyond the initially interesting premise, and the majority of the narrative is revealed via a few lines of dialogue over the top of loading screens between each mission. Worse still, Shadwen's entire reason for bringing Lily along for the ride is rendered moot almost immediately when she leaves the girl hiding in a bush to go off and take care of guards patrolling the area. A couple of throwaway lines of dialogue could probably address this inconsistency in the storytelling, but the half-baked nature of the narrative is sadly indicative of Shadwen as a whole.

The game is essentially one long escort mission in which you must get Lily from one end of a level to the other without being seen. Lily will hide in a bush until the way to the next bush on the path to the exit is clear. This means that you must either kill the guards between the two hiding places, or you can tell the girl when to run to the next safe zone with a tap of the triangle button and skip the blood-shed. Lily's broken AI means that she rarely behaves as she's supposed to, but then the guards just ignore her when they see her so none of it really matters anyway.

Lily can run freely in front of guards with no consequence (think Ellie in The Last of Us) but if Shadwen is seen by a single guard then it results in a game over screen. If you're caught then you're instructed to simply hold L1 to rewind time and you can try something else. There's also a mechanic whereby not doing anything with the controller stops time on the screen (think Superhot) giving you the chance to plan your next move. It's helpful because you can rotate the camera to look out for guard locations or potential hiding places and then work out what you're going to do next at your own pace.

The stealth genre can be extremely rewarding when executed effectively. The fear of getting caught can set the heart racing, and the joy that comes from a perfect run through a level is a rare treat. Think about completing a mission in a Hitman game with the silent assassin rating, or getting through a military base in Metal Gear Solid V without raising an alarm. Shadwen simply can't provide those thrills because the ability to rewind time at any point with absolutely no penalty removes all tension from the game, and it seems to be a mechanic that exists for no logical reason other than it was quicker and easier to add in than fix the broken AI of the guards.

The AI managing the guards in the game is so poorly implemented that using the phrase 'artificial intelligence' when describing it is doing the game a service that it doesn't earn. Sometimes guards will spot you with an almost superhuman vision, and in other instances they'll brush up against you without even noticing that you're there. Their hearing is similarly baffling. You can kill a guard and the sound of the falling body will alert another at the opposite end of the courtyard, and other times you can leap from the top of a building to flatten a patrolling guard below and his friend metres away won't even flinch. In fact, often when you're seen you can just hold L1 to rewind time, try the same thing again, and this time the guard won't see you.

The stealth portion of the game is riddled with issues, but the action part of it is similarly disappointing. Shadwen feels weightless to control, like she's floating slightly above the ground rather than running on it. She can jump and climb, and she can use a grappling hook to access higher ground, but the controls for using it are finicky and unpredictable. She has to use her grappling hook to open doors too, because presumably using her hands just isn't the way of the assassin, or maybe rendering an animation for opening doors was too much effort. The grappling hook is most useful for dragging crates off of high ledges to kill unsuspecting guards far below. Crates falling onto guards from just a couple of feet can kill them too for no apparent reason, and the unintentional hilarity that arises from the wonky physics in the game is a definite highlight.

Conclusion

Shadwen is a stealth-action game in which there's no action and the stealth is completely undermined by counter-productive design choices that defy logic or reason. The whole package suffers from a distinct lack of polish and is chock full of half-baked ideas and badly implemented mechanics. It's a Frankenstein's monster of a game stitched together from the dead bits of other, better games, but ultimately it possesses the heart and soul of none of them. There's no reason to recommend Shadwen to anybody other than prospective game developers looking for a lesson in what not to do.