Jamie Pauls

I honestly can't recall when or how I became aware of the game Shades of Doom by GMA Games. It was probably on ACB Radio's Main Menu program because, in 2001, that was where all the cool breaking news about assistive technology came from. In fact, I had to consult AudioGames.net to even know what year the game was released. As fuzzy as my recollections are on how I first learned of the existence of Shades of Doom, I vividly recall being enthralled with the game as soon as I started playing it. The first word that comes to my mind when describing the game is "immersive," and Shades of Doom was the first game I recall giving me that feeling.

Though this is a vintage games series, Shades of Doom has been updated fairly recently. This means that it works well on today's modern computing systems. Even though the game has been updated, it has lost none of its original feel. In order for you to begin to understand the appeal of this game, let's begin with the story.

The Premise of Shades of Doom

You begin playing Shades of Doom by shuttling through the air toward a top-secret research base working on something very... well, secret! What, exactly, you aren't sure. Apparently something has gone wrong there, and your assignment is to clean up the mess. Are they working on genetic enhancements to humans? Completely new forms of life? As you enter the empty administrative area, you see that everyone has left in a hurry. You sit down at a computer console and begin reading a half-finished report. Apparently there was some disagreement among the researchers as to whether the experiment the base was working on should begin promptly at noon on the day the report was written, or should be held off a while. As usual, politics rules the day, and it is decided that the show must go on. Problem is, the report ends abruptly with a time stamp of 11:58 am and all indications from the nearby computer screens are that the experiment had begun. You keep reading and learn that a shut down device exists that will bring everything to a halt. The sequence involves inserting color-coded data wafers into the device in a set order. Various members of the team have data wafers, so no one person can shut the experiment down on their own. You need to find these data wafers, figure out the sequence, and shut down the experiment that appears to have gone drastically wrong. Thus the game begins.

Playing Shades of Doom

In order to complete game play for Shades of Doom, you must explore the halls and rooms found in the nine levels of the base. You can literally walk step-by-step through every area of the game by pressing your Up and Down Arrow keys. Up moves you forward, Down moves you backward. With each step, you hear the sound of your boots on the floor. From the sound of the emergency alert system you hear when you first begin playing the game proper to the echo of your boots bouncing off the walls near you, you know you are playing a well thought out game. Unique sounds let you know whether openings exist to your north, south, east, or west. Rooms sound different than corridors, and you can even tell when you are approaching passageways ahead. Sounds alert you to upcoming doors, and your EVA (envirometric vector analyzer) verbally alerts you to upcoming items such as doors, ammunition, and Did I mention monsters? O, yeah! That experiment apparently went really south.

Monsters aren't the only things the game has a lot of. There are, virtually speaking, miles and miles of corridors, rooms, and dead ends to explore. Fortunately, the game provides a number of ways for the explorer to keep track of their surroundings. Unique to this game is the ability to not only travel north, south, east, and west, but to move diagonally as well. You can turn slowly with a press of the Right and Left Arrow keys. Ad the Control key and you'll be snapped 90 degrees in any direction. Press the letter F to learn which direction you are currently facing. Interestingly, if you are facing slightly northeast, when you hear the word "north" spoken with a press of F, the sound will be slightly left of center in your headphones. If you happen to be facing slightly off from north, south, etc. just press the letter R to align yourself with the direction you are heading in. For example, if you walk through a door and need to fight monsters, pressing F will indicate that you are headed somewhat northeast. Pressing R will snap you north again.

You can walk forward step- by step with the Up Arrow. Adding the Shift key allows you to walk until you either hit a wall or press an Arrow key to stop your progress. A second press of Shift + Up Arrow allows you to run. Down Arrow moves you backward.

The game is self-voicing. I was able to keep NVDA running as I played the game, but JAWS tends to cause the keyboard to be less responsive than I would like at times. There is a menu where you can learn game sounds, and extensive help is available from within the game.

As with most all GMA games, there are five difficulty levels. They include the following, uniquely titled options:

  • It's my turn daddy
  • Don't hurt me
  • Bring 'em on
  • So you think you've had it bad so far?
  • It's a good day to die

You can save the game in up to nine slots. It's a good idea to save frequently as you play, because this is one of those games where you can hit a dead end. If you run out of ammo on level two, you might not find enough to make it through all the levels. Like all good games, there is a boss level where you must defeat the meanest enemy of the entire story.

How does the game end? First, I wouldn't tell you if I knew because that would just be wrong, wouldn't it? Second, although I completed the game several years ago, I haven't managed it yet in my more recent attempts. I'll get there, but not before you read this article.

The Bottom Line

Any title you play from GMA Games has a lot of detail in every area including sounds, music, plot, and game play commands. Shades of Doom is no exception. It's possible to mark locations in the game, and pressing the letter V will tell you if you are in an area of the game that you have previously visited. This is quite handy in this particular game. It can be most aggravating to complete a level of the game only to discover that you are missing the security chip that allows you to unlock the door to the next level so you must make your way back through all the corridors and rooms to find it. Such moments can make the game a bit tedious at times. This is where saving a spot at your current end location can be helpful. You can explore the level and, if you get completely turned around, return to that location easily in order to start exploring again from a known spot. I have played text adventure games that allowed you to issue a command to walk back along a route to a previously marked location. I would like to be able to issue a command in Shades of Doom to walk back to marker 3 found on my current level, for example. If a monster was encountered, walking would stop until the monster was dealt with. The command to traverse back to the marked location could be issued again at that point.

I wish some of the rooms in the lab were given names and perhaps more characteristics. There is some of this in the game, but more would be nice. Finally, it might be nice to encounter characters in the game who could actually give clues as to what might be coming up later. All of this would probably require extensive updating of the game, and that might not be in the cards for Shades of Doom at this point.

You can play the first level of Shades of Doom for free. If you like it, purchase the game for $24.95, or upgrade from version 1 for $9.95. Prepare to spend many hours wandering the dark and forbidding halls of a sinister, to-secret research lab from which you may never escape.

On that note, sweet dreams, and happy gaming.

This article is made possible in part by generous funding from the James H. and Alice Teubert Charitable Trust, Huntington, West Virginia.

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Jamie Pauls
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