SHADOW TACTICS: BLADES OF THE SHOGUN
By Jef "JeffAlpha" P. on August 1, 2017
The year is 1615 during the Tokugawa period in Japan, an era of Shinobi and Samurai. Conflict is settled with both swords and early firearms. I imagine all sorts of brave warriors in elaborate armor charging to an early grave, for honor and the future of their clan. Anyone who is fascinated by this period in Japanese history pays attention whenever this theme pops up in movies or videogames. I am no exception.
Just the name alone: "Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun" was enough to spark my interest. Immediately I get flashbacks to one of the greatest stealth action series of all times, Tenchu. Shadow Tactics is not a third person stealth game however, more like a tactical game with stealth and RTS elements. It's kinda hard to put a label on it, but for those who are familiar with the Commandos games, it's very similar.
The Edo/Tokugawa era in Japan is often characterized as a period of peace and prosperity. However conflict is brewing and the shogun has tasked a few warriors with combating the new threat. You start of as Hayato, a ninja who is sent to infiltrate a castle under siege. Very early on in the mission you encounter a Samurai named Mugen during his rather unsuccessful assault of the castle. The enemy of my enemy is my friend so the two team up. Throughout the game up to five warriors will join the team, each with their own personalities and unique skills.
How are the sound and graphics, you ask? Great! Just great. Call me biased but the game looks pretty damn sweet. Everything looks detailed, the colors are bright and everything emits that Japanese atmosphere. I mean, I wasn't there but, with the architecture and blossom petals falling into a pond, it looks like how I would imagine it. To top it all off, in the background you can hear drums and those signature string instruments, the Koto or Shamisen.
In all honesty, the controls in Shadow Tactics take some getting used to. This is mostly due to the fact that this genre doesn't come along very often. Don't worry though, the HUD show which buttons to use for any given action, so you'll be switching characters and abilities seamlessly in no time. This is where they put the Tactics in Shadow Tactics. It's not so much about being fast, but rather about planning and timing. The game allows you to explore the map, rotate the camera 360 degrees and analyze enemy patterns.
Each character has its own unique abilities corresponding with a certain style. The ninja is nimble, can run across rooftops and distract enemies by throwing rocks. The Samurai is strong, he can run while carrying two bodies and kill up to three enemies in a single attack. Enemies can move all at once, whereas you can only control one character at a time. This is where the shadow ability comes in. This enables you to plan a set of maneuvers to be carried out simultaneously. Mastering this ability is key to taking out multiple enemies at once or creeping past them unseen.
Oh boy, talk about difficult. One moment everything seems to be just fine. You are making stealth kills left and right and the next moment you get caught red handed carrying a dead body over your shoulder. Obviously you can't outrun guards while dragging a corpse along. By the time you drop the body and make a run for it, the alarm has been raised and backup is en route. Even if you are lucky and manage to escape, the game's difficulty increases substantially. Making a ''not-so-stealth'' kill or leaving bodies lying around gets you more guards in new position, grouped patrols and scouts constantly running across the map. Although level design makes it look like you have a lot of options when it comes to tackling obstacles, you actually don't. Thus overcoming them feels more like finding the answer to a riddle than actually being creative. Remember kids, saving is important. Shadow tactics allows you to quicksave up to three slots. The HUB has a timer that constantly reminds you of the time passed since your last savepoint. Back in the days we didn't have the luxury of saving progress. You had a ''continue'' if you were lucky. Needless to say I forgot to save on a few occasions. So, yeah Shadow Tactics is challenging.
Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun first came out on December 6th 2016 on PC. Now, it's also available on PS4 and XBOX One. I really enjoyed the game. The mechanics work well and the game lives up to its reputation as being a hardcore stealth game. So if you're looking for a game that is about luring, trapping and ambushing unsuspecting enemies, this might very well be for you. Fan of the Commandos series? This might be for you. Looking for a challenge? This is definitely for you!