SHADOW TACTICS: BLADES OF THE SHOGUN
Two might be company, but three’s a bloodbath
From Shinobi to Ninja Gaiden to Shadow Warrior, videogame ninja have too often displayed brute-force cool rather than stealthy cunning. But not here. Not only does Shadow Tactics’ sneak-minded experience blend immediate, stab-happy accessibility with delightfully open-ended strategy, but by focusing on squad commands rather than solo slashing, it does so while offering vast creative scope for delightfully malleable murder. Think of it as a more freeform, real-time XCOM, set in feudal Japan, where hiding the corpses is as important as making them. Shadow Tactics’ zoomed-out, isometric view might give it the appearance of a bloody board game, but this flowing, reactive sandbox thrives on stretching and bending the rules. Characters’ skills aren’t just here to complement one another, but to reimagine each other and the space around them.
Hayato, the traditional assassin, can kill and distract at medium range. Samurai Mugen can devastate multiple targets, but must get close to do so. Nimble ninja-in-training Yuki seems weak at first, adept only in traversal, trap-setting, and her ability to lure distant bad guys, but becomes indispensable once her power to manipulate is understood. Throw in a sniper, and a master of disguise capable of hiding in plain sight, and you have the tools of a game that revels in endless reinvention, the seemingly narrow breadth of its moveset yielding giddy depths when abilities are explored in unison.
GUARD KNOCK LIFE
While Shadow Tactics’ levels are sprawling, branching, semilinear affairs, each individual section has been crafted with meticulous care. The path out of a camp might be blocked only by a single guard, but the torch he carries will make his death visible to another, even if drawn away into the shadows. Therefore, the simultaneous removal of that observer must also become part of the plan… Unless a third guard can see that second guy fall, then you’ll need to find a way to limit his view at the key moment, without alerting the patrol walking near him or anyone else with line of sight.
Phew. Three player characters, seven seconds, zero witnesses. All bodies (and ninja) vanished. It can be done. When you work out how, the feeling is godlike.
These situations are the essence of Shadow Tactics. Seemingly simple challenges reveal themselves as spiralling chains of cause-and-effect, while apparently impossible scenarios can be dismantled with craft and precision. And precision is the game’s defining trait. The clarity with which Shadow Tactics relates the fundamentals of enemy awareness, safety of movement, and effectiveness of abilities is a pleasure in itself. Once you recalibrate to the intricacy with which you’ll need to think, you’ll find that a stealth game has rarely been more honest, transparent, or empowering.
A cunning, demanding game, but never overwhelming or confusing. It wants to challenge you, but it also wants you to succeed, feeling like the coolest killer of all. David Houghton
The tactical UI might look complex, but by this stage you’ll read it like English.
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