Two might be com­pany, but three’s a blood­bath

PlayStation Official Magazine (UK) - - CONTENTS - @David_H_ESQ

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.


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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