This game acts as the sore thumb of the Sonic the Hedgehog series. It sticks out tremendously. For the thirteen years prior to this game’s release you would never expect this series to take this dramatic of a turn. Sure, the Sonic Adventure games had their fair share of serious moments, but nothing on the levels of what this game attempted to pull off. Guns, swearing, dark themes; it was such a dramatic and sudden shift from the lighthearted Sonic Heroes that it almost seems unreal. Sadly, this concept does exist. And even worse, it’s executed terribly.
Story-wise, Shadow the Hedgehog picks up following the events of Sonic Heroes. Shadow is still suffering from his amnesia and none of his allies seem to want to bother telling Shadow the truth about his past. One day aliens decide to reign down on the world while Shadow is contemplating on an old friend of his. The leader of these aliens, Black Doom, informs Shadow of the promise that he was meant to keep. Apparently Shadow is supposed to collect the chaos emeralds for this guy, but is not given an explanation. So Shadow decides to make it his duty to collect the emeralds in order to learn about his past (again, he could very easily ask his friends instead of trusting the demonic-looking alien leader).
The game wants to emphasize that you can determine the fate of Shadow the Hedgehog, that the choices you make will allow you to create the Shadow that you want him to be. Which mission you perform will determine what stage you will progress to next, and ultimately what path you wish to take. You can choose to be a hero, a villain, a loner, etc. While that notion is kept for each playthrough of the game you wish to do, those choices are quickly shot when you unlock a final story segment that ultimately decides the fate of Shadow the Hedgehog, rendering this concept entirely pointless. To make matters worse, the story as a whole is simply unenjoyable. Many of the arcs in the game tend to introduce plot elements that are never to be brought up again (the neutral pathway being a prime example). It fails to follow certain plot points set up by the previous games in the series which leads to a lot of inconsistencies (and yet this game is still considered cannon), not to mention that the in-game cinematics are poorly animated and feature some of the worst voice acting and dialog in the series.
My biggest gripe with this game’s presentation is the overdramatic tone that it was striving to take on. Trying to make a Sonic game much darker and grittier simply doesn’t work for two reasons: 1) The games that came out prior to this have been generally lighthearted, so seeing these characters out of their element is going to make things feel completely out of place, and 2) They were obviously trying too hard. The game wanted to appeal to a larger western audience. Apparently, a good majority of westerners are only interested in explosions and moody characters and settings. If past Sonic games have taught us anything, it’s that a bright and colorful romp can be more than enough to satisfy us. This game would work out much better if the game had actual personality put into it, perhaps similarly to Sonic Adventure 2, and simply not taking something like a cartoony hedgehog this seriously.
Gameplay is the next big offense. The game focuses on mission-based gameplay similar to Team Chaotix from Sonic Heroes in that you will often be performing a specific task for a specific character. In the first stage, you can help Sonic destroy all of the aliens, which can lead you to a more hero-based story path. The more evil path will have you destroying human military troops for the alien leader. You can also follow your own rules and simply reach the end of the level. A majority of these missions will have you destroying a specific number of enemies, but on occasion you will be collecting/activating a certain number of items or simply reaching the end of a stage. Sadly, much of these missions will force you to slow down instead of actual high-speed Sonic platforming. Even then, on the rare occasion that you do get to do actual platforming, it is incredibly dull. The level design is unremarkable, unmemorable, and often repetitive.
The overall structure of the game may be even more tedious than the actual game itself. In order to unlock each ending (which will eventually lead to the final story) you will have to go through at least ten playthroughs of the game with six levels in each one. Your journey will always begin at the first starting level, and you will be replaying many of the same levels over and over again. By the time you reach your fourth playthrough you are going to be absolutely sick of it all. This game structure serves as incredibly tiresome padding that quickly has the game become boring. Don’t be surprised that you will simply stop playing the game long before you even truly finish it.
Control has been significantly worsened from Sonic Heroes. Shadow just feels incredibly slippery, which makes even the simple act of turning a chore to do since it is almost impossible to stay in a straight line for more than five seconds (not counting automated loops) and you could very easily fall off the section of a platform. What makes it worse is the clunky level design. You will have to slow down in order to destroy enemies, which makes the slipperiness all the more apparent and frustrating since you can easily run into enemies. At the very least the camera isn’t too big of an issue, but that’s not saying much.
A few new features have been introduced in this game. First are the firearms. While incredibly out of place, they are actually not too bad. Since enemies once again have health bars like in Sonic Heroes, having a gun on hand will make your job a lot easier and can be satisfying to use. Without the guns you will just have the usual homing attack and useless melee attacks. Vehicles are also plastered throughout certain levels, but only a couple of them are actually useful (and required). The rest are pointless since you naturally move faster and and their control is rather stiff. Then we have the allegiance-exclusive special abilities: Chaos Control and Chaos Blast. Destroying enemies for the good guys fills up the meter for Chaos Control, and Chaos Blast when you destroy for the evil side. Chaos Control will have you speeding through chunks of the level. This power is, unfortunately, only useful if you want to reach the end of the stage since you will most likely be skipping over specific items or enemies that you need to get in order to get through a certain path. The only other time you would really want to use Chaos Control is during boss battles since you can slow time down instead. Chaos Blast will allow you to completely decimate enemies within the blast radius, which can also be useful for a couple of boss battles. Actually, the best part about these abilities is that once either of the meters is filled up, Shadow will become invincible. Any gun that you are carrying will have infinite ammo.
If there is at least one other positive to say about this game, it is that the soundtrack is, overall, pretty good. The game has a greater focus on metal-based compositions. Much of the soundtrack isn’t very memorable, but at least there are a decent amount of stand-out tracks that are a personal favorite of mine. In comparison to other soundtracks in the series, it is certainly weak.
If I really had to choose the worst game in the series, this is dangerously close to being it (aside from the 2006 Sonic the Hedgehog game). It’s one thing to be just plain bad, but it is even worse when the game is boring and unremarkable as a whole. And to have a game about a talking black hedgehog packing heat and fighting off aliens and military troops seem boring is quite an accomplishment.