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