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For: iPad   Also on: Android, iPhone

Adventures in sci-fi

Product: Shardlands | Developer: Breach Entertainment | Publisher: Breach Entertainment | Format: iPad | Genre: Puzzle | Players: 1 | Version: Europe
Shardlands iPad, thumbnail 1
An adolescent fixation with violence is one of the biggest sticks with which the general press likes to beat the video game industry.

We can't really argue with that. How many new games in a month do you play in which shooting, slashing, or pummelling foes into submission isn't a pretty major component?

Games like Shardlands, which show that a lush adventure game can be engrossing without relying on violence, put up a rather lonely resistance to such an argument.

New Dawn

First admission: Shardlands isn't actually an adventure game in the strictest sense. While you do play the part of an explorer named Dawn, who finds herself lost in a network of alien caves, the game is really an elaborate puzzler.

To navigate around the alien world, you simply touch where you want Dawn to go. Pathfinding isn't an issue here, as it is in many touch-driven third-person games, for the pathways you find yourself negotiating are usually narrow corridors with no scope for deviation either side.

The goal in each level is to collect enough knick-knacks to unlock the door to a precious object which, when you exit to the hub world, helps you gain access to yet more puzzle-filled worlds.

Another important gameplay mechanic is the ability to manipulate floating platforms with your finger. These puzzle pieces often need to be manipulated in intricate ways, like in one of those pure sliding block puzzlers.

Passive aggressive

Second admission: Shardlands isn't entirely devoid of violence. In between puzzles, you see, you'll find alien guards patrolling certain sections. You can sneak past them if you really want to go down the whole pacifist route, but it's far safer to lure them into a trap.

Along the way, you'll pass beacons that not only act as temporary save points, but also cast a protective field that fries any dumb alien that touches it. You'll soon grow accustomed to thumbing your nose at the bad guys, and then legging it to the safety of a save beacon.

It's not just the save beacons that do damage. Destructive level elements like lasers (which form some nifty deflection-based puzzles) and flaming platforms can also prove hazardous to alien flesh.

It's violence, then, but more of the sneaky, indirect kind.

Get your rocks off

Shardlands's restrained approach really is central to its appeal. It's lovely to look at, with delightfully subtle lighting effects and some finely detailed rock textures.

Yes, rock textures. We're praising how the rocks look. But, that's just the kind of meticulous, understated game Shardlands is. If you're after something to smack you in the chops and set your pulse racing, well, you might want to move on.

Shardlands's sci-fi backdrops are complemented perfectly by a spacey ambient soundtrack that calms and focuses in equal measure. You won't be humming it any time soon, but it's just right for the kind of game Shardlands is.

Beautifully atmospheric, gently taxing, and thoroughly absorbing: Shardlands is the kind of mature gaming experience you'll whip out to validate your pastime to non-gaming friends.

Just don't show them the bits where you lure rampaging purple aliens to their sticky death, okay?

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Reviewer photo
Jon Mundy | 31 October 2012
A beautiful adventure-puzzler that doesn't need combat or flashy gimmicks to enhance its slow-burn appeal
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