Title: Shadow Tactics - Blades of the Shogun

Platform: Windows, Steam, PS4 & Xbox One (Planned)

Reviewed on: Windows

Genre: RTS, Stealth

Players: Single player




Written by Whistler 7th January 2017
















Y’know, ninjas and video games go together so well it’s a wonder they’re so rarely seen these days and even when they do they tend to be relegated to the hack n’ slash formula. So much like seeing the sunrise, it was a rare sight to see for me when Mimimi Productions’ real time strategy stealth em’ up, Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun, popped up on Steam’s upcoming releases. Picture it if you will, the autumn coloured leaves litter the stone pebbled steps; life must be easy for a guard of the Lord Yabu, or so it seems. He turns to see his fellow guardsman is suddenly amiss, a blink and another is gone from their post on the 2nd floor across from him. A floorboard creaks behind him, before he can even come to terms of the fate that is to befall him it’s already too late. Before he’s even finished his stroll through the garden, Lord Yabu is left defenceless and doesn’t realize he’s next.


It’s moments like these that take several minutes to plan out but almost hours to perfect. It’s a blend of almost downright frustrating trial and error mixed with strategic action that make these moments really shine.

Where most stealth titles see you command a lone wolf behind enemy lines, Shadow Tactics sees you taking the reigns five uncanny warriors of the Shogun against insurmountable odds. Throughout the thirteen missions you’ll be tasked to take on various objectives with varying combinations of the infamous five’s Hayato, Mugen, Takuma, Yuki, and Aiko.



























It’s in these combinations that Shadow Tactics stays fresh and interesting whilst organically growing with the player as they learn to utilize each warrior’s strengths and counteract their drawbacks. Hayato is your typical shinobi archetype with a hookshot for scaling buildings, able to throw rocks to distract guards and can stealthily take out targets with his shuriken and ninjato sword. The skilled samurai, Mugen can perform his Sword Wind technique to dispatch multiple foes at once around himself, can carry off multiple bodies and can take more damage should the situation turn dire.

Takuma, the sage-like old man acts as a support sniper, trading the ability to hide bodies, sneak and dispatch targets at close range in favour of perching from afar with his sniper rifle and loyal tanuki companion.

Both the street child Yuki and master of disguise Aiko function similarly to Hayato with a few distinguishing differences such as being able to drag bodies on the floor, thus avoiding enemy sight more effectively.

Aiko can momentarily blind guards with a throwable sneezing powder, walk amongst hostiles with acquired disguises and can avert enemy gazes with the art of deception.

Yuki can set up a pressure plate trap for unsuspecting targets without risking putting herself in the enemy’s line of sight and can lure them with a whistle.


While each of these characters are deadly in their own right, it’s their combined efficiency that make them a force to be reckoned with, and a force that will likely have the player pulling out stray hairs.

I’ll fully admit I’ve never really been that great at real time strategy titles, I’m decent at Dawn of War and don’t remember cheating too much in ye’ old Command and Conquers. But chuck me into some Starcraft 2 multiplayer and I’ll likely be the first one to bite the dust; hell it took me years to get any good at the Total War titles that usually I won by letting the auto-resolve decide my fate. Maybe that’s why though that I couldn’t help but feel like, except for a handful of missions, that controlling more than two warriors always felt a bit awkward. It’s a constant third wheel affair and any more is just a crowd but it must be said this usually comes down to the controls.



























While I adjusted to the keybindings eventually it can regularly see you reloading a save, and believe me your quicksave and load keys will hate you after a single play session. On more occasions that I’d like to admit to, I’d be wrestling with the keystrokes, trying to remember where a character is, thinking they were crouching only to watch as they sprinted up to an enemy.

This is a minor complaint however and is more than made up for with one of Shadow Tactics notable features, the Shadow Mode.


Shadow Mode allows you to save one action per character that can then be executed individually or simultaneously with a single keystroke and without having to control that specific character. It’s a nifty mechanic that allows for the rapid execution of carefully (or haphazardly) put together planning. Nothing beats the feeling of marking your targets then waiting for the perfect moment for your ninja team to drop them all in an instant. Thankfully it’s much less a gimmick or overpowered utility like a lot of stealth games have a habit of utilizing and still requires plenty of forethought to perfect and execute successfully.


Even with Shadow Mode available to you at all times you will need to be aware of Shadow Tactics level’s that keep adding or changes elements forcing the player to react accordingly. A village blanketed in snow for example causes the team to leave footprints for a few seconds that can reveal your hidden ninjas or can be cleverly used to lure a lone guard. Eventually levels introduce samurai who can only be taken out by Mugen or if you can stun them with a well placed shot from Takuma’s rifle. My personal favourite was a night mission to figure out the enemies plans. The line of sight mechanics were changed to account for light sources; the enemy view cones were smaller but if any of my characters walked near a source of light they could be seen from further away.



























Each mission can be handled with drastically different tactics as well, with optional objectives and challenges to complete for tackling the level using different methods such as killing the target by poison, or not triggering an alarm. It promotes organic experimentation and allows for vast amounts of replayability though it must be said it’s rather discouraging to see levels that took you hours are intended to be speedrun in as little as ten minutes.


Honestly Shadow Tactics can be utterly frustrating at times and I’d be lying if I said there were times where I just stared, dumbstruck at what to do against the seemingly overwhelming odds. But the game’s challenging gameplay is equally rewarding as you master the multilayered stealth mechanics. I do have a small gripe with just how often it utterly demands the abuse of quick saving, which by default has a timer to remind you how long since your last quick save. But really there’s little I find to complain about Shadow Tactics, I’ve spent several nights playing through this stealth em’ up and look forward to devoting many more.


Actually I have one major complaint.

It came out too close to our Best and Worst of 2016 article so I missed the opportunity to nominate this as my game of the year.



Pros:

Multifaceted and rewarding tactical gameplay,

Challenging yet forgiving difficulty,

Pleasing visual and audio aesthetics,

Great level design with plenty of replayability.


Cons:

Occasionally feels overwhelming,

Controls can take a bit of getting use to,

Loading a level for the first time takes a fair while.


Final verdict,

Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun scores a solid 8/10.

 

Written by,

Whistler


 

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