Tokyo 42

EDGE - - GAMES -

PC, PS4, Xbox One

Ever won­dered how Where’s Wally might ben­e­fit from the ad­di­tion of katanas and mini­guns? Well, won­der no more. Tokyo 42 tips its bob­ble hat to the chil­dren’s pic­ture-book even be­fore an overt homage dur­ing a mis­sion that de­mands you gun down cit­i­zens sport­ing red-and-white-striped jumpers. It’s a game about blend­ing into – and oc­ca­sion­ally stand­ing out from – milling crowds in a min­i­mal­ist dystopia that, with its spindly fig­ures and pris­tine sur­faces, re­minds us by turns of LS Lowry, Mir­ror’s Edge and Akira.

The city’s the star here. It’s pre­sented from a semi-dis­tant iso­met­ric per­spec­tive, all the bet­ter to show off its clean lines and tidy ge­om­e­try, its blend of clas­si­cal and near-fu­ture ar­chi­tec­ture. It’s an ur­ban sprawl that feels dis­arm­ingly com­pact: at any one time it’s like you’re peer­ing down upon an ar­ti­sanal dio­rama – and, in truth, the diminu­tive size of its in­hab­i­tants does rather com­pel you to lean in for a closer look.

Be­fore you have time to re­ally take in the sights, you’re quickly thrust into a con­spir­acy: the game’s pro­tag­o­nist has been framed for mur­der, and is grad­u­ally in­vei­gled into pulling off a se­ries of hits on key tar­gets as the mys­tery deep­ens. But once you’re given a lit­tle room to ex­plore, you’ll find a qui­etly ab­sorb­ing sim­u­la­tion of a fu­ture city, where some of the most plea­sur­able mo­ments are those in which you can sim­ply stop and watch, or mooch around among the gang­sters and punks, the hard­core minigolfers and mil­i­tant nud­ists. So much so, in fact, that it’s al­most a shame when, af­ter all that idling, a game breaks out.

Al­most, be­cause the game it­self isn’t bad at all, if a lit­tle un­even. In its sin­gle­player cam­paign, which stretches to 25 story mis­sions and al­most three times as many sid­e­quests, it’s redo­lent of both Bull­frog’s orig­i­nal

Syn­di­cate and the car­toon­ish vi­o­lence of the early top­down GTAs, while bor­row­ing the clearly de­fined stealth sys­tems of Metal Gear Solid. My­opic guards have vis­i­ble vi­sion cones that ta­per in­ward the longer you re­main in sight, as if they’re nar­row­ing their eyes to de­ter­mine that, yes, an in­ter­loper is in their midst. But duck be­hind a wall and they’ll for­get you were ever there, and as long as you stay out of range, you can blud­geon one of their own and they won’t bat an eye­lid. Like­wise if their pa­trol route should take them past a fresh corpse.

If they’re fairly re­laxed as long as you kill their col­leagues out of sight with a melee weapon, a sin­gle gun­shot is enough to send them into a frenzy, mean­ing it’s time to take eva­sive ac­tion or to break out the heavy ord­nance. In the first in­stance, you’ll note that en­e­mies re­main alert for some time; break­ing line of sight is one thing, though you can also tem­po­rar­ily don a dis­guise to blend in. But this is lim­ited by an en­ergy me­ter, which de­pletes with alarming speed and can only be recharged by stand­ing on en­ergy pads – and in re­stricted ar­eas th­ese are few and far be­tween. As such, you can only de­ploy it spar­ingly, when there’s lit­tle cover to crouch be­hind and you’re at risk of be­ing ex­posed.

The guns-blaz­ing ap­proach, how­ever, is of­ten un­work­able. It’s fine in side mis­sions where your ob­jec­tive is to take out a small gang of trou­ble­mak­ers, say, but when it’s time to as­sas­si­nate a heav­ily pro­tected tar­get, you’ll find up­wards of a dozen guards con­verg­ing on your po­si­tion. When a sin­gle bul­let is enough to kill you and their po­si­tion can be hard to gauge (an in­ten­tional, though of­ten un­sat­is­fy­ing, side-ef­fect of the choice of per­spec­tive) you can only re­al­is­ti­cally go loud when you’ve taken out most en­e­mies and just a hand­ful of strag­glers re­main. Set off an early alert and you’re as good as dead; hap­pily, check­points are gen­er­ous and restarts swift enough to al­le­vi­ate the frus­tra­tion of a botched hit.

Still, for a game that prom­ises a de­gree of free­dom in how you ap­proach a job, you’ll of­ten find there’s a clearly pre­ferred way of do­ing things. In one mis­sion, you’re en­cour­aged to ride sky cars all the way up to your des­ti­na­tion, to by­pass sev­eral floors’ worth of se­cu­rity de­tail; the al­ter­na­tive is doable, but painfully slow. Later, we spot­ted two ob­vi­ous routes to our tar­get, only to find that one meant mak­ing our way past a static guard whose vi­sion was fixed on a nar­row stair­case. Since a frontal melee at­tack au­to­mat­i­cally raises the alarm, and a sin­gle shot would be enough to send his com­pan­ions rush­ing to his aid, we sighed and made our way back round to the ev­i­dently op­ti­mal path.

Yet when all goes to plan, Tokyo 42 can be deliri­ously sat­is­fy­ing. Hav­ing been asked to snipe three couri­ers, we head to the van­tage point, only to strug­gle to get a bead on them from above. Yet in an im­pro­vi­sa­tional flour­ish, we leap over the para­pet and gun down one courier mid-jump. Upon land­ing, we send an­other rag­dolling up a stair­case. It takes two more bul­lets to off the third, a near-miss fol­lowed by a head­shot that downs him a split-sec­ond be­fore he reaches his con­tact.

This kind of rush comes more fre­quently in the mul­ti­player game, which draws in­spi­ra­tion from the likes of As­sas­sin’s Creed and for­got­ten XBLIG trea­sure Hid­den In Plain Sight in the way it in­vites you to be­have like an AI cit­i­zen to out­fox your op­po­nents. Fea­tures un­der­utilised in the sin­gle­player – like the abil­ity to round a cor­ner and press a but­ton to emerge in an­other body, or de­ploy a tracker cat to scam­per around the feet of a ri­val – sud­denly come into their own on th­ese dense, pe­tite maps. Again, car­nage is not only pos­si­ble, but em­i­nently likely as a match wears on. But make a gen­tle­man’s agree­ment to play it ‘prop­erly’ and it’s a mi­nor clas­sic, its matches bristling with an ir­re­sistibly twitchy ten­sion be­fore each vi­o­lent re­lease. Where’s Wally? He’s out there, some­where, and he’s got a con­cealed katana with your name on it.

Once you’re given a lit­tle room to ex­plore, you’ll find a qui­etly ab­sorb­ing sim­u­la­tion of a fu­ture city

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