Review: Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun01 Aug 2017 0
Review: Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun
Released 06 Dec 2016
Given that we didn’t exist as a website when Mimimi Productions’ stealth-strategy title Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun first released onto PC in December 2016, you can forgive us for not having reviewed it already. Luckily for us though, it’s just released onto Playstation 4, so we’ve taken the opportunity to not only make up for lost ground, but also to experience this masterclass strategy experience for the first time.
If you haven’t heard of Shadow Tactics before now, allow us to enlighten you: Harking back to a long-lost era of real-time strategy titles, this is a stealth-based tactical experience set during Japan’s Edo period. You control a group of mercenaries through a series of story-driven missions – assassination, espionage, rescue… each mission is different, and expertly tailored to the narrative of the central plot. Mechanically, the game shares DNA with the old Commando strategy series, but more contemporary comparisons can be found in the likes of Assassin’s Creed or Deus Ex Human Revolution. The key difference being there’s less emphasis on action and “fighting your way out” if something goes wrong.
There are five characters that are put at your disposal in different combinations. They are all genuinely likeable and well fleshed out – through various snippets in cut-scenes and in-game conversations, you learn enough about them to relate but not so much you have to worry about back-story. Mugen, the stoic Samurai, is less stealthy but good at taking out lots of enemies and cleaning up afterwards. Hayato is the classic Ninja, able to throw shuriken and stab people in the back with his Katana. Takuma is a wizened old man whose manoeuvrability is limited, but specialises in long-range attacks. Yuki is a young girl who’s traps and lure techniques make her excellent at chipping away at guard patrols. Finally, Aiko is a half-way house between Yuki and Hayato, but her party trick is that she can don a disguise if she can get a hold of one which allows her to walk about the map freely. Together, you must utilise all of these unique abilities to get your team through the map undetected. Different mission will give you different combinations of people in your team, forcing you to sometimes tackle similar challenges in vastly different ways.
The concept of ‘Ironman Mode’ was originally invented to prevent save-scumming – the act of reloading a prior save to achieve the best result. In Shadow Tactics, the idea of a gamer re-loading is almost built into the DNA of the game – quick-save and quick-load functions are mapped to easy-to-reach buttons, and the loading times of quick-saves are speedy enough for it to not be a chore. That perfectly-timed combo not so perfectly timed after all? RELOAD! Did you accidently get caught doing something as pedestrian as crossing the street? RELOAD! Did you accidentally load up the wrong save? RE-RE-REEEELLLOADD! The most surprising element is how OKit all feels – sure, there were times when frustration set after the 10th time trying to crack a particularly hard set-piece, but I relished each reload, like a craftsman dedicated to mastering his art.
Since this is a review specifically of the PS4 version, some words must be spared for how that handles. By and large, the game is the same but there’s been some adaptations to account for a controller as opposed to a mouse & keyboard. Camera controls in Shadow Tactics are a bit counter-intuitive anyway, and it does take some getting used, and using one stick to move the camera and one stick to move a person doesn’t make it any easier to adjust to. You do get used to it eventually. Controlling multiple characters at once is a bit different – you must hold down R1 to select the characters you want to move at the same time, and then the characters will follow whoever the ‘lead’ is. Other than that, mapping feels quite consistent and easy to use – even queuing up actions using the game’s ‘Shadow Mode’ is relatively simply to do, even at speed.
Speaking of Shadow Mode, Shadow Tactics’ greatest trick is making an art of stealth-gameplay. It’s not just about sneaking around a level, taking out a guard here-or-there as required… some choke-points require you to be able to pull of multiple attacks/actions at once, often with different characters. ‘Shadow Mode’ is a tool that requires some serious forward-thinking, allowing you to queue one action per character up in advance. When the time is right, you simply tap triangle and everything executes at the same time (or largely, timings can vary depending on action and distance between character and target action/location).
My crowning achievement so far was being able to take out 5/6 enemies at once with only Hayato and Yuki, not having the alarm raised AND cleaning up before the routine patrol that stalked the area came by. Executing a satisfying and well thought out Shadow combo is immensely satisfying – taking full advantage of the system and using it to then perform additional actions makes you feel like the God of Death himself.
This isn’t the perfect game, of course, but it certainly does a lot of things right. It’s important to understand what you’re really getting yourself in for. We’ve spent 10 – 20 minutes trying to move a few yards, through patient observation and reloads. Missions can take over an hour to complete the first time around and one of the few genuine criticisms we have about Shadow Tactics is that the initial load can take a while (although reloads are pretty quick). Despite being heavily reliant on a central story, there is replayability – each mission has a number of unique achievements or “badges” you can earn. You’re not told what they are on your first play through, but any time you want to replay the mission you can then consult the list and tailor your game to your specific goal.
Shadow Tactics: Blade of the Shogun is a wonderful homage to a forgotten genre of strategy games, but one that stands proud as it creates its own legacy. The attention to detail on the maps & characters makes this a story you genuinely want to experience right through the end, with characters you can 100% get behind. The tactical puzzles you are presented with map-to-map will challenge your creativity and handling of the characters to the very end – and at no point does it feel like a chore.
Whatever platform you get this game one, you’re not likely to regret your purchase.
The Playstation 4 version was released on August 1st, 2017. You can purchase it here.