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Indie Nation #7: Black Shades

3:35 PM on 02.29.2008 // Anthony Burch

On this week's Podtoid, we discussed how much escort missions suck. You know what I'm talking about; when a game suddenly puts a blind, half-retarded friendly NPC in your care and forces you to protect them at all costs while they do seemingly everything in their power to get themselves killed. More often than not, these sorts of missions are unnecessary, lazy, and totally frustrating.

That's why this week's Indie Nation game is made up of nothing but escort missions.

It sounds impossible, but Black Shades actually manages to turn the generally plodding, infuriating task of the escort mission into something challenging, fun, and strangely replayable. And before you say anything, yes: the graphics do suck, and no, it isn't a big deal.

Hit the jump to find out why this little game is worth your time. 

In Black Shades, you play a secret service agent/freelance bodyguard who has been put in charge of protecting the single dumbest human being on the planet. Not only has your client managed to get roughly a fifth of the world's population murderously angry at him, but he steadfastly refuses to (A) defend himself against his gun and knife-wielding assailants, or (B) make any attempts to acknowledge or avoid them.

Your client, dressed completely in white, will walk at a constant speed around a city block without. If someone starts shooting at him, he won't react. If someone runs directly at him wielding a knife, he won't so much as twitch.
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This is where you come in. Your character, the titular Black Shades, is psychic. In a crowd of similarly-rendered baddies and civilians, only you can tell which characters are pointing guns at the VIP -- once the would-be assassins take aim, a beam of white light appears from their eyes and hits the VIP. As the assassin continues to aim his weapon and get closer to pulling the trigger, the beam of psychic hate originating from his face slowly gets smaller and smaller and turns redder and redder; when the light turns into a tiny beam of red-hot rage, the assassin fires.

It is up to you, then, to either kill these assassins before they can fire, or disarm them, or tackle the VIP to the ground so the assassins miss. Your psychic powers can further aid you in your cause, as Black Shades can temporarily activate bullet time, or exit his own body and fly around the map to pre-emptively find wouldbe assassins (they glow red). That said, I don't really use the latter two psychic powers when I play.

Each level of the game is timed: if you protect the VIP for the allotted time, you move onto the next level. Each level is a self-contained scenario, where the player is given a different starting weapon and different enemy circumstances. In one stage, the player might have an assault rifle to defend against pistol-wielding enemies; in the next, he might have a sniper rifle while the assassins have knives; in another, the player might have to defend the VIP against zombies armed with nothing but a shotgun.

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Yeah, there are zombies in this game. It's pretty badass.

Essentially, that's all there really is to the game: bad guys show up and take aim, you kill them before they kill the VIP. It's a very, very simple formula, and that's why it works. Escort missions in mainstream games usually require players to fight off armies of bad guys or solve puzzles whilst protecting their powerless hanger-on; in Black Shades, you've just gotta kill the assassins. Heck, while I went through great pains to point out the stupidity of the VIP, his stupidity is actually helpful to the overall flow of the game; since he refuses to react to enemies and always walks a determined path, you never have to worry about him running away from one enemy and getting immediately killed by another just behind him. Since the VIP depends entirely on you, the game becomes much more reliant on the player's personal skill rather than random, irritating factors.

The game is not perfect, of course. The sniper rifle and grenade controls are laughably abysmal, the pistol whip is far too useful while some of the psychic abilities are damn near useless. Many might cite the game's ugly graphics as a negative, but I'd say they help the experience: the short draw distance, at least, keeps the player constantly alert and searching for threats from all directions. Beyond that, Black Shades still has some cool ragdoll effects and, ugly or not, you can always tell what's going on.

Head here to download the game for free from Wolfire Software, for either Windows or Mac. It's not gonna change your life, and I feel a little bad for following up Cave Story with this, but Black Shades is a reliably entertaining game no matter which way you cut it -- and who'd have thought you could say that about an escort mission game?




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