SHADOW TACTICS: BLADES OF THE SHOGUN
By Ferry "Sadhonker" Adams on November 29, 2016
The year is 1615, the place is Japan. A new Shogun rises to power and brings peace to the nation, yet not all is as peaceful as it seems... A mysterious villain named Kage-Sama seems to really hate the peaceful life and sets out to overthrow the rule of the Shogun. In order to thwart this evil plot, the Shogun enlists the help of five warriors and sends them forth to vanquish Kage-Sama's allies and restore peace to the land.
This is the short version of the main story of Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun; a stealth based tactical game, developed by Mimimi Productions and published by Daedalic Entertainment, which is set to be released for PC on December 6, 2016 and for Playstation 4 and Xbox One in 2017. The first thing I'm reminded of when starting to play this game, are the Commandos and Desperados game series. The core gameplay is in many ways the same as that of these games, yet even more focused on stealth. Where for example, in Commandos, you might survive being spotted every once in a while, Shadow Tactics makes sure that this doesn't happen. The key ingredient of the game is stealth, so you'd better stick to the shadows and make damn sure no one spots you! You know... silent like ninja and all that?!
In Shadow Tactics, you take control of a group, comprised of five specialists, each one with his or her own unique skill set:
A Ninja who makes good use of his ability to move silently, as well as his Shurikens and Ninjato
A Samurai and veteran swordsman, who can kill multiple enemies with one attack of his twin blades
An old sniper who can cleverly conceal his gun as it doubles as his wooden leg
Being a Geisha, Aiko can distract guards with her looks and her silver tongue. She is a master of disguise, which makes her ideal for infiltration
A female trapper and cunning thief that can lure guards away from their positions and set traps to incapacitate them
As you start the game, you will only control Hayato. The remaining four characters will join him as you progress through the game, expanding your jolly band of assassins as you go along. Because each of them has their own strangths and weaknesses, they must work together to overcome the many dangers that cross their path on their way to ever-lasting peace. Gather information, decimate enemy forces and Infiltrate strongholds in order to eventually meet up with Kage-Sama and give him a piece of your mind (as well as a piece of your blade, right through the heart)
The game is presented in an isometric perspective, that enables you, the player to shift, rotate or zoom your camera, so you'll always have the best possible view of the battlefield. This, I must say, works very well. Instead of just panning the camera around the environment, you can actually rotate it and, so to speak, look at things from your enemy's perspective. This gives you great insight into the various approaches you can take to reach your objective. And, as mentioned earlier, make sure you don't get caught, because it will mean certain death when the enemy finds you. Additional guards will be on you faster than you can say Banzai!
Another handy tool, that some of you might remember from the aforementioned two series in the genre, is the 'enemy view' tool. This basically enables you see enemy sight-lines and determine when it safe for you to sneak past them. Eacht enemy's view is projected onto the environment as a moving green triangular area. The part nearest to the enemy is bright green and signifies that you cannot enter this part of the enemy's view without being spotted. The outer part is a darker green and can be entered, provided that you are crouched and are moving stealthily. Running or jumping in the dark green area will also result in being spotted eventually. Mimimi Productions added a twist to this 'enemy view' tool, so you can now click on any point in the environment and see which enemies might spot you if you cross that point. Enemies' view cones will be visible as soon as their gaze passes over the point you selected, enabling you to choose the opportune moment in which to run towards the next piece of cover without anyone spotting you
When an enemy spots you, his view will focus upon your position and will start to gradually turn yellow, starting at the enemy character and gradually closing in on your position. If you manage to break line of sight before his focus reaches you, he will assume that there is nothing there and resume his normal routine. Breaking line of sight can be achieved in a number of ways; hide behind buildings, carts or barrels, hide in the bushes or, if you're in an elevated position (ie. a raised walkway or a roof) crouching. The only one that can be spotted by enemies without raising the alarm right away, is Aiko. Because she is a master of disguise, she will only be spotted if she tries to kill one of the guards or engage in some other form of suspicious or prohibited actions.
The fact that you are going to need every character if you wish to successfully finish your mission makes playing Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun a lot of fun. Don't worry if you don't get through a level in one try. And if you keep dying at the same spot over and over again, try inspecting the environment a little more thoroughly to see if there may be an other way to approach the problem at hand. Most of the time, changing characters is a good way to get things done and, best of all, this changing from character to character is really, really easy. With a simple push of the button, you can select which character to control and be on your merry way. To emphasize on teamwork, the developers have come up with a very cool feature, called Shadow mode. This enables you to 'pre-record' one action for two different characters and simultaniously execute these actions. This lets you, for instance, take out two guards at the same time, so neither of them can raise the alarm. If used wisely, this feature will save you from a lot of frustration, so make sure you learn how to use it to your advantage.
Visually, Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun looks awesome. The developers have really managed to capture the spirit of Edo-period Japan. The clothing, the houses, the environments and the characters; everything is richly detailed and looks amazing! Not only is this a feast for the eyes, it also serves to immerse even deeper in the story and the hardships the characters will face as they make their way towards their ultimate goal. Same goes for the game's soundtrack; the background noises will almost become a character of its own, without interfering with the dialog of nearby NPC's or your own characters. A cool feature of the NPC voices is that they can even give you a clue as to where a weakpoint in the defenses may be, so you can use this to your avantage.
I think one can safely assume that Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun is really my cup of Lotus-blossom tea. I like the art style, the time period in which the game is set and the core game mechanics. Of course, it also helps that everything works like a charm and controlling your characters is easier than the girl I met at the pub last Saturday night! I had so much fun playing Shadow Tactics that I would definitely encourage everyone who loves a good tactical game to get his or her hands on this game and release their inner Ninja!