Initial Release(PS4): 1st August 2017
Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun balances an astounding number of systems with ninja-like finesse. The combination of these systems results in a challenging, rewarding and versatile experience with immense tactical depth which begs the player to try, try, try again and succeed.
Since its release on PC last year, Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun has gained a reputation of being one of the most mechanically sound stealth games ever-made. The game finally makes its way to consoles after a (rather fitting) stealth release onto digital storefronts. Does the game’s intricate dance of stealth-action systems translate from mouse to controller? I’m glad to say that yes, absolutely it does.
Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun follows a group of assassins in 1616 feudal Japan as they attempt to put a stop to a long-rumoured plot to overthrow the current Shogun. This setting is one which is ripe for the picking in terms of storytelling. The game deals with honour and family in a surprisingly deep manner. For something described so often as a stealth game, it’s a nice surprise to find such a touching and intricate story on offer. Throughout the game you meet new members of the team. There’s Mugen, a hardy samurai who has been tasked with uncovering a conspiracy. Other characters feature a wide-eyed young thief and an expert sniper. Each is voice-acted brilliantly, lending real chemistry to the group and upping the stakes massively.
Of course, the real pull of the game is its deep and versatile stealth systems. I have never played a stealth game where I felt so completely in control as I did here, Phantom Pain came close but Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun blows its peers completely out of the water. Each character has a different move set which all complement each other perfectly and open each wonderfully designed map up into a tactical playground. You can take enemies out lethally or non-lethally. You can complete missions without hiding or using weapons. The sheer level of player agency and choice on offer is dizzying yet welcome. The game features a Shadow Mode system in which you can coordinate attacks and actions from multiple party members at a time, click execute and watch the move play out. These moments are the real highlight of the game and succeed in making you feel like an absolute pro. In terms of stealth, the game is pretty old-school and pure. If you are seen it’s generally game over unless you are in the position to react quickly. Thankfully the game features an on-screen timer which shows the time since you last saved even colour-coding it as a subtle warning as to when you might want to take a moment to save. And a moment is all it takes as it is triggered with a single button-press.
The game is fairly stripped back visually but makes certain stylistic choices which make it pop. The Feudal Japan setting makes for some beautiful diorama-like maps with a variety of terrains and verticality each time. Each character has a distinct style and feel which makes you want to make full use of each one in order to progress. There are beautiful watercolour cutscenes too which tell the story in an almost fairy-tail manner and while the story is definitely secondary to the gameplay it does add context and bolsters the experience as a result.
The game will take you around 25 hours on the first playthrough but offers plenty in the way of additional content. There are bonuses for completing each level in a certain way and multiple ways in which to do them. What I found to be most refreshing was that no two missions felt the same, always challenging me to use a new skill or combination of characters. This is a difficult game mind you, it expects you to be paying full attention of the map and plan out your attach a few steps ahead of time. There were a few frustrating segments where I had seemingly painted myself into a corner with no way-out. This is of course my fault but it would be nice to have the option to fight your way out if necessary.
Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun plays out from a altered top-down perspective. This is often equal parts a blessing and a curse because while it does offer a tactical advantage in that you can see over walls and into buildings, it does often block out your character making it difficult to manoeuvre. I died a fair few times due to the fact that I lost sight of where my character was positioned which is frustrating in a game which takes so much planning with each step. You do learn to work around the camera system after a while though and it rarely becomes too much of a problem.
Trial and error is the name of the game here so your enjoyment will come from how much you like experimentation and learning from mistakes. Each death is met with the feeling that you know exactly why you died and instils a motivation to do better. Sometimes the way forward will materialise out of thin-air due to enemy patrolling patterns or an environmental change. One instance had me pinned down in some bushes surrounded by patrolling guards with seemingly no means of escape. Luckily a merchant’s cart pulled up giving me the escape I needed so I leapt into the back of it and played stowaway until I reached a new tactical opportunity.
Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun balances an astounding number of systems with ninja-like finesse. The combination of these systems results in a challenging, rewarding and versatile experience with immense tactical depth which begs the player to try, try, try again and succeed. Throw in the great story and inspired setting and, camera issues aside, Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun is quite possibly the best stealth experience you can have on a console. In short, the game is stylish stealth perfection.
Rating 9 out of 10
We were provided a copy of the game by Daedalic Entertainment for review purposes on PlayStation 4.