Published on January 24th, 2019 | by Lee Davies
Review: At Sundown: Shots In The Dark (Switch eShop)
Format reviewed: Switch eShop
Other formats available: Steam, PS4, XBox One
Developer: Mild Beast Games
Publisher: Versus Evil
Website: Official Website
Players: 1-4 (online 2-4)
At Sundown: Shots In The Dark is a stealth driven, top down multiplayer deathmatch twin-stick shooter. After the sublime Enter the Gungeon this looks as if this game may be right up my street. Let’s find out if it’s a stroll in the park or a walk on the wild side.
As the name of the game implies, light or its absence plays an important mechanic throughout this multiplayer driven game. Yes, you can play At Sundown in one player, but you’ll be pitting yourself against AI Bots, that on easy are walkovers, and on Normal seem to know exactly where you are regardless of the shadows your character traverses. There are challenges, but those act as a tutorial for the game’s variety of unique weapons, from the not so unique shotgun to an umbrella. Each weapon offers a different style of attack and an alternative secondary power that may attack or allow movement through walls, etc.
So the training is an essential mode to plow through before even trying anything more standard, each weapon’s intricacies must be learnt, or you’ll lose perspective in game, where the sense of pace is extraordinarily fast, and getting to grips with the weapons and movement is better done by taking your time to learn. Each weapon has 2 levels of difficulty to master, basic and advanced. Skills for shotguns, SMG’s, autorifles, revolvers, sniper rifles, lobshots (an RPG), rivetrifles, umbrellas, swords, shockbows, and the juggernaut, seem easy at first, but when combined with their secondary functions become a challenge to operate quickly and effectively. The rivetrifle, for example, as a primary weapon lets you charge up a shot by holding down the ZR, this is duration based and shoots further the longer depressed. The rivets get lodged in surfaces if they miss an enemy target. The alt function mapped to the R shoulder button, when pressed for the rivetgun, re-fires the lodged rivets back along the trajectory they just flew at, therefore the ability to set up traps becomes tangible, yet tricky to pull off in the heat of battle. Others weapons secondary Alt. functions allow greater stealth, shield protection, movement through walls, increased speed, and all other manner of death inducing fun.
Each training stage has a bronze, silver and gold medal to collect for time runs, and all are based on breaking targets within allotted times.
The bulk of the game, in multiplayer mode, tries to sell the idea of using the game’s lighting to aid you in your quest for victory. Avoiding light sources, so you can’t be detected, allows you to sneak up on the enemy. Unfortunately, you won’t be able to see the enemy either if they are just as wily. This is where At Sundown falls down. The idea of stealth is fantastic in a game of this nature, however, when in the dark, you can’t see yourself either. You have no idea where you are, the rumble does warn you if you are walking into a wall, and the B button can be held (awkward with a twin stick shooter), to highlight your position, which all can see, but having no idea where your character is, robs the game of any precision of movement and aiming that it sorely requires. Shooting your weapon gives your position away, seeing an enemy do this, allows you to hone in on them, if only you knew where you were. And, by not being able to see which way your character is pointing makes the shooting highly inaccurate. The game then always descends into to a blast frenzy, with no nuance of movement and aiming, and loses its appeal for repeated play rather quickly.
Couple the main mechanics failings with the slow and clunky movement, you can speed up by holding down the ZL shoulder button, but the vast majority of the stages are so small that it renders it useless. The L shoulder button acts as a dodge move, but with all the shortcomings of the darkness mechanic, it’s impossible to know when to use it. So, slow character movement and a lack of awareness of your own and others locations make this a frustrating game of hide and seek.
The saving grace is the sheer variety of modes to play through and the options to manipulate, from simple 4-player deathmatches (timed, death count), to Back to Basics (a one hit kill), Arms Race (kill with a weapon to advance to the next one, killing with the last weapon gets a win), Capture the Flag, Swordmaster (plays like man with the golden gun), King of the Hill, and Arena (last man standing). Each can be played with a variety of players, and bots can stand in for missing players, team colours can be assigned as and if required, starting weapons, and many other customizations can be tinkered with before starting a match-up.
There are 18 levels to fight across, 3 levels within each of the game’s 6 areas. Starting from simple and small garden areas, to more elaborate ones later on, like the subway, with moving underground trains to dodge, or the Reactor, with its pools of radioactive material to dodge. Adding an extra dimension of madness to an already effective lack of sanity.
Not everything, in fact very little, is open to play when you first load the game up. At Sundown places an EXP level over all the game that requires you to play, win or lose, to gain experience that will unlock weapons, levels, power-ups, etc. Everything bar the basic weapon and one level is open at the beginning and At Sundown makes you grind for it.
It’s not all doom and gloom though, yes the game doesn’t push the Switch, and doesn’t look particularly appealing, but it all runs incredibly smoothly whilst in game. However, there is a strange and slight lag between selecting something from the menu, and the time it takes the game to register that input before showing it on screen, a 2 second lag in fact. It’s long enough for you to wonder if you actually did press the button and to want to do it again, it feels as if the game freezes, while thinking about what to do next.
With 20 achievements to complete, from completing a single training mode level, through to having to win 500 games there’s plenty to get to grips with if you can stick with the grind.
A few other strange quibbles exist though. Upon initially loading the game, you’ll come across the opening screen which indicates that you should press any button to continue, this unfortunately leads to another 20 second loading wait. Why? And, my biggest peeve is the complete lack of button remapping. The controls would have benefited from a slight adjustment of the allocated layout, but with no option to change them around At Sundown felt unnecessarily clunky because of it.
The music is a strange mix of jazz and funk that has been put into a blender with electronic music staples. Over the 6 stage types a different piece of music sets the tone, but it’s overshadowed, by the loud, if functional effects of guns and explosions.
At Sundown has a great idea in its stealth inflected twin-stick shooting, but suffers from slow movement, lack of control, and confuses the player at every turn due to the lack of information a player needs to do the job at hand.
At Sundown: Shots In The Dark (Switch)
Summary: When you're alone in the dark, which direction are you facing?