It’s been a while since a proper stealth game has been in the spotlight of the gaming world. Sure there has been plenty of great games to have come out recently that incorporate stealth into them like the Arkham franchise, the Dishonored games, Hitman and many more, but those games use stealth as an optional component of the game play. Most “stealth” based games you can pick up these days allow you to sneak around and take out enemies without getting noticed but if you do get noticed, you can go all out without much consequence. In Shadow Tactics however, things are much different.
When you think of the name “Shadow Tactics: Blades of The Shogun” you see an image painted in your mind. You imagine a time when Ninja and Samurai still roamed Japan, carrying out deadly missions in the name of their Shogun. But Shadow Tactics is more than just a name, its the best possible description of the game. Shadow Tactics is exactly what you hope it to be when you imagine it painted in your minds eye, but way better than you probably will.
Set during the Edo period in Japan, Shadow Tactics is a tale of war, mutiny, love and betrayal. While following the orders of his Shogun, Samurai Warrior Mugen forms a deadly team of lethal assassins, keeping to the shadows you control the five unique warriors as you do your best to stay out of sight and watch the enemies, planning your next assault and uncovering the secrets of the mysterious figure that threatens all of Japan. Planning out your tactics is important and at times can be quite challenging. The enemies are predictable and follow a pattern that you can learn and plan around and have a sight cone you can monitor to avoid detection.If it hasn’t been made obvious, stealth is a key component to the your success in the game. Though you start at one point in a level with a clear goal to complete at the other end of the level, how you go about doing so is entirely up to you.
The only thing you have to keep in mind is that getting caught will likely be the end of you, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Right from the first level developer Mimimi Productions does an amazing job of drilling the concept of constant saving into your brain. When you go to long without saving, a timer appears at the top of the screen as a friendly reminder that you might want to save your progress. If you ignore the timer, it will change color, warning you of the danger of having to replay a difficult encounter if you die. This concept becomes a twitch for you, saving before every action and then again immediately after. It only take a simple press of a button to save and with a blink, you’re back in the action. The pay off to saving is huge because this feature allows you to experiment with all kind of ridiculous tactics and when they go poorly, you press a button and its as if it never happened and you’ve gained invaluable knowledge about how to best execute your next maneuver.
On top of the freedom to plan your own attacks, one of the best features of Shadow Tactics is the incredible character design and their individual ability kits. Mugen – a strong samurai warrior, Hayato – a silent agile shinobi, Yuki – a cleaver young thief, Aiko – a lethal woman in disguise and Takuma – an old man with a rifle for a leg are the five dynamic characters you get to control. Each one offering unique and exciting ways to take down your enemies. The wide array of tactics at your disposal make for some truly interesting strategies. At times you’ll feel like master tactician, at other times you’ll create such complex strategies you’ll wonder if the devs would think your insane if they saw it. Using the game’s Shadow Mode, you can plan attacks in advanced for each of your Ninja a to carry out simultaneously at the stroke of a button, adding another level of complexity to the already demanding strategy of the game. Experimenting with the toy box of abilities at your disposal makes the occasionally difficult game incredibly rewarding to succeed in and just plain fun to experience.
The thirteen beautifully crafted levels show an obvious attention to detail and build an authentic feeling world set in feudal Japan that fully incorporates Japans diverse landscape but also act as part of the strategy or challenge of your missions. Using bushes and environmental objects you can stay out of sight or find places to hide downed enemies. Rocks and lose objects can be used to take out enemies making it look like an accident, keeping the focus off you and even creating an opening when other enemies go to investigate. In the snow you will leave footprints that can lead to your demise or lure an enemy to theirs. Water will splash underfoot alerting nearby enemies of your presence and torches can be used to create cover or draw an enemy into the shadows of death.
Unfortunately this did cause a bug for me during my play through. I stepped into a puddle which made splashy foot step sounds and when I left the water, the foot step sounds continued with each step I took. It made stealth difficult and persisted for quite a while on dry land until the next time I entered the water and reset the audio cue.
The music of Shadow Tactics isn’t going to be your center of attention but in a game that requires focus, you probably wouldn’t want it to be. That of course isn’t to say its bad, in fact its almost perfect for the type of game its in. It fits the theme of the game and does a good job of setting the tone in cut-scenes and missions without distracting you from whats happening in game. The audio in general was a good fit with authentic sounding weapons, full and dynamic background action and audio cues that would alert you in times of danger.
The dialogue was believable, well written and crafted such a rich, thrilling tale that I was surprised by my intrigue into the story and adventures of the ninja quintet. The game gave the option for the audio to be in Japanese or English which is one of the developers strongest decisions and also a mild downfall. I found the Japanese voice acting to be much stronger, more authentic and fit better with the theme of the game. However, it also meant that I had to read everything which was fine in cut-scenes, but was a bit of a let down during during missions. Many times I was busy executing a painstakingly planned out encounter right as the characters decided to have a conversation. Luckily the voice lines can be looked up in a menu later.
The game allows for free control of the camera with a button and mouse, or a few preset angles you can hit with a hotkey. In hectic scenarios freely controlling the camera became chaotic with the addition of more buttons, making the presets more appealing. The problem with that is in some instances the angle wasn’t quite right and would cause you to fail your attack or escape. In a situation like that a controller seems like an obvious solution but it wasn’t. With each missions I got better and better at managing the layout and by the end of the game, the controls scheme had grown on me and I was pulling of crazy combos without much issue aside from the odd camera placement problems I would face.
Shadow Tactics: Blades of The Shogun is an incredibly well crafted stealth-strategy game that will leave you feeling accomplished after each level. There are thirteen missions that grow in difficulty as you progress and take between one and two hours to complete. By the final mission my time had grown to 3 hours and I had to manufacture chaos and improvise to get past the challenge of making my way to the final boss, but that didn’t stop it from being a total blast. The characters are likable, fun to play and you will quickly become interested in where their story takes them. Playing with the different combinations you can create with their unique ability kits will leave you wanting to try more and more complex ideas. The world Mimimi has built feels rich and genuine and each level is a joy to experience and overcome. Despite an unfortunate glitch and some challenging camera controls, Shadow Tactics is the ultimate example of how to make an occasionally frustrating and difficult challenge fun and exciting.
Shadow Tactics is finally available to play on PS4 and Xbox One and while it is the same great and incredible game, I can not say I would recommend it over the PC version. Having to control the characters with a controller creates restrictions that you otherwise wouldn’t have with a mouse/keyboard. Playing with a mouse, you can tell Hayato to run to a wall and climb it and while is he doing so, you can get Yuki to place a trap. In the console version you have to walk Hayato there yourself and wait until he is fully up the wall before you can work with Yuki. Of course you could use shadow mode to tell Hayato what to do, but you still have to take the time to walk his shadow where you want him to go. This becomes a burden and hinders your plans for how to engage or escape the enemies. You also have to make use of the ability wheel, which can lead to having the wrong one selected and blowing an action, only to realize you have to replay a difficult section.
It is however possible that if you’ve never played the PC version, you might not be accustomed to the luxuries of playing with a mouse and keyboard so you may not even be bothered by these issues. Plus you can remap the buttons on your controller any way you’d like which could potentially mitigate any control issues you run into.
In short, if you have the option, playing a game designed for PC will always be better on PC. However, playing Shadow Tactic on console is way better than not playing it at all. It’s still the same game and every bit as amazing and despite some minor and unsurprising porting setbacks you are still sure to enjoy every minute of it.
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