At Sundown: Shots in the Dark
'At Sundown: Shots in the Dark' is an arena shooter packed with all the things that you'd expect - a smattering of weapons, a handful of characters and a variety of levels to duke it out on. However, the atypical distinction separating this shooter from the norm is the stealth strategy at its core.
This first release from Mild Beast Games leans on a hide-and-seek mechanic as its key differentiator. Each session is played from a top-down perspective, meaning you have your eyes on the battlefield at all times. But, despite having a generous overview of all the action, you can't actually see your character at all times.
Instead, your avatar is hidden from sight — not only for your rivals but for you too. The idea here is that you play in the shadows, using stealth to take out those up against you. But does it work?
Well, with most multiplayer shooters you know what to expect when spawning on a battlefield - but rounds of 'At Sundown' notedly require a bit more thought. This isn't your standard 'mindless shooter'.
You get a fleeting glimpse of your character's location at the very start of each round before they quickly vanish into the darkness. The only other time you'll see your player is when you walk under a light, shoot, or get shot.
Not being able to detect your character for the majority of playtime is a little disconcerting, and can take some time to adjust too. This disorientation probably isn't helped by the aforementioned fixed top-down view — if the screen was centred on your 'invisible' character, even to just some small degree, I imagine it may go some way in helping you get your battlefield bearings.
If you do get lost, the game has a couple of ways to help you out. The rumble will kick in when you're running up against a wall, and this goes some way to help signal your position (although the vibration isn't overly specific in helping you hone in on your location quickly).
The other way in which you can figure out where you are is with a simple tap of the B button. This will temporarily reveal you on screen. However, this action will uncloak you to everyone. It's a risky move and one that can prove frustrating — particularly when new to the game. During early play sessions, you'll find yourself lost more often than not. So, you'll tap B to help yourself out, in turn giving the enemies a huge advantage — which they routinely use against you to finish you off.
Of course, when you do line up a shot and squeeze the trigger, you're instantly revealed. Whether it's you or a competitor firing first, it's at this 'first bullet fired' moment, that the game ramps up. It goes from being an act of sneaky positioning to a mad dash of bullets as everyone tries to take advantage of the uncovered moment before everyone retreats back into the darkness to try again. This is the typical rhythm of a game, going from stealth to chaos in moments.
Damage is dealt via any one of just under a dozen weapons, all of which have alternate firing modes. This means you've plenty of options for how you go about your dark dispatching of the bad guys. Most of the weapons have a unique play style, which the game does a great job of highlighting through a series of training sessions. It's worth digging through these when you start out, as it's a great way to establish which weapon works best for you.
Now, some weapons stood out for me as a little overpowered as they can shoot through walls (the sniper being one). Shooting through walls in a game based on stealth seems like something of a cheap move and not particularly in spirit with using the levels dark corners as a hiding place.
Other than this gripe, the gunplay is for the most part satisfying and varied, with tight responsive controls allowing for fun run and gun action.
Beyond the guns, 'At Sundown' does an admirable job of keeping you playing, with a nice variety in levels, plenty of stats and a levelling up system with achievements to hunt for.
Overall, 'At Sundown' has most of the trappings of a decent shooter, and is fundamentally a good game. It's just that the core gameplay doesn't feel quite right - and that's mainly due to the stealth mechanic at its heart. Now, this may be due to the limitations faced during testing — during my time with the game the online seemed fairly devoid of players to match up with. So most testing was up against the A.I. The A.I may just be really good at figuring out where you are, in the shadows or not. So, consider this a point of caution — if approaching 'At Sundown' as a solo player, the A.I may just make your experience a frustrating one, as they seem very good at figuring out your hidden locale.
Considering the Switch only has a handful of online-friendly shooters (such as Splatoon 2, Morphies Law and Pay Day 2) it's nice to see another join the fray. Multiplayer shooters often feel like a guaranteed way to a good time — whether that's duking it out with a few friends sat on the sofa, or trading insults via a headset online. Sadly, At Sundown doesn't quite hit the mark when playing solo as it feels the central stealth mechanic is working against you.
That said, if you can look beyond that and plan to play this with your mates locally, 'At Sundown' has plenty to offer.