What do they say about patience? Good things comes to those who wait? That it’s bitter, but it’s fruit is sweet? That it’s a virtue? Well, all those things and more are true for Mimimi Production’s and Daedalic Entertainment’s resurrection of the hardcore tactical stealth genre, with Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun.
To be fair, there are modern games that have taken elements of Commandos almost forgotten genre and incorporated them into their own gameplay. Titles like Deus Ex, Splinter Cell, Skyrim, Fallout, and Assassin’s Creed are akin to 3rd person, single character versions of the style, while RPGs like Pillars of Eternity and Tyranny make use of the enemy line of sight in the same isometric view with a specialized squad.
However, it’s been a long time since I’ve played a single-player game that has you managing an elite team of uniquely qualified party members, all spread out across a labyrinthian map, full of immaculately interconnected enemy patrols, with criss-crossing lines-of-sight. Finding that one perfect target you can use to break the cycle, and begin systematically removing all the foes from your path was both time consuming, but incredibly satisfying when you manage to clear the map before reaching your goal.
Even more difficult was sneaking in and out unseen, let alone killing someone and not having their body discovered before you can dispose of it in the bushes, or one of the other numerous hiding spots. The quick save, and quick load hotkeys got a hell of a workout during my 30 hours with the campaign. Doing all this without raising any alarms, or killing anyone would almost seem like an impossible feat, had it not been for the fact that as you complete each of the 13 missions, you’re shown all the possible badges you can receive for finishing the task in certain ways, making replayability not only encouraged, but challenging, and fun.
The thing I was least expecting when I first dived in was how long each of the missions would take. On the surface, many appeared simple, but then you take a look at the map, and begin examining the various patrol routes and obstacles that get in your way, and suddenly a mission I thought would only take 20 minutes would clock in at the 45 minute to 3 hour mark. It was simultaneously frustrating, surprisingly fun, and upon completion very satisfying.
So what’s the game all about then? The story is a fairly by-the-numbers tale told using Japan’s Edo era as a setting - although it does have some nice moments scattered throughout. I was surprised by the subtle mention of a few touchy subjects, and some of the events near the end left me a little shell-shocked.
The year is 1615, and a new Shogun has taken over all of Japan and is forcing peace upon the entire nation - but not all Samurai believe this is a good thing, as they are bred for war, and without it they feel wortheless. Shadow Tactics starts off with the player controlling Hayato, a lone-wolf ninja hired by the armies of the Shogun to open the gates of a rebel stronghold. Soon enough you have a merry little band of unique characters that have been thrown into an unexpected journey together. Despite your ability to eventually play as them all, only certain ones are available for each mission.
The whole game is also fully voice acted – and quite well I might add – in both English and Japanese. Although the cutscenes aren’t anything to brag about, they did get the story across while also showing a suitable amount of emotion. The cinematics on the other hand, while also basic, were very stylish.
As with any game of this nature, you’re bound to fall into routines after playing around with the various ways in which you can dispatch your foes. Something I never expected as I started out, was that I would prefer to use the youngest of the characters – Yuki – as my go-to killer. Here’s this teenage girl, who only wants a master to guide and train her, and I’m using her to murder swaths of enemy soldiers using her handy set of trapping skills.
Lay a trap behind a wall, well out of sight and ear shot of the patrols, then make a little bird noise that results in the fools coming over to check it out - then *POP*. The number of times this worked was astounding, and I loved it each time. It was even more enjoyable when, after laying the trap and calling a squad of foes over, you use a few commands that you’ve setup for your squad to execute in a single moment. When three guards come around the corner, the first gets an arrow through the jaw, while the other two are silently taken out with a ninja star to the throat from Hayato, and a blade to the gut from Yuki.
The game looks good too; the graphics are more than serviceable, and have a great art style. But what makes it really stand-out is the fantastic level and mission design, and very fun, rewarding, (and at times achingly slow) gameplay. It’s awesome when you get it right, but it can go to hell in seconds – so save often!
I really enjoyed my time with Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun. If you're looking for a title to melt your evenings away, then this is a glorious return of a once-thought-dead stealth strategy genre that will have you confused one moment, frustrated the next, then smiling ear-to-ear as your plans finally fall into place.
Luke received a digital copy of Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun from Daedalic Entertainment for review.