by Ingvi Snædal
previewed on PC
Real Time Ninjas
Commandos has a special place in the hearts of many PC gamers. In my case, it was my first introduction to the real-time tactics genre and I absolutely loved picking off unsuspecting Nazis at a far with the sniper before sending the rest of the team in to finish the job. Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun draws a lot of its inspiration from Commandos. While Desperados: Wanted Dead or Alive brought RTT Stealth to the Wild West, Shadow Tactics takes it all the way to feudal Japan. We got a sneak peak at the game at Gamescom this year and saw the gameplay in action.
In The Shadows
Japan, 1615. A new Shogun has seized power over Japan and brought about peace. He is not without enemies, so he hires five experts in infiltration, espionage, and assassination to help him deal with his enemies, wherever they may hide. Your missions include everything from file recovery to assassinations and you’ll use any means at your disposal to see that a threat to the shogun is dealt with. Your tasks won’t be easy, but luckily you have five exceptionally skilled associates with whom to trust the task at hand. These include Mugen, a Samurai and a veteran swordsman who can kill multiple foes with a single attack; Aiko, a geisha who is a master of disguise and can distract guards with sweet talk; Hayato, a ninja and an infiltration expert who uses shuriken and ninjato; Yuki, a trapper and a clever thief who uses traps and lures enemies away from their post; and Takuma, a sniper who can convert his wooden leg into a rifle and has a tanukias (a Japanese raccoon dog) as a companion. Each of the characters has a distinct backstory which explains not only their skillset, but the path that lead them to your organisation. Despite this, the way you play the game will be completely up to you.
Each of the game’s thirteen mission takes place on an enormous map and should take about 1-2 hours to complete. There is no autosave or checkpoint system as such systems would require there to be certain states at which to save the game. The openness and freedom of play this game offers require a manual save system and the game helpfully reminds you how long it’s been since you last saved. You’re free to save at any point, so jumping in and out or jumping back to a previous save to see what happens if you do things differently will undoubtedly add considerably to the game’s replayability. The game is deliberately difficult, as its sources of inspiration were, and those two hours can quickly become five if you don’t read the environment and get to know your characters and their abilities.
Attention to Details
Every sound, every enemy, every step must be carefully calculated so as to minimize the risk of detection. The enemy’s field of vision is displayed as a green cone emanating from their eyes, with which any fan of Commandos should be familiar. Close to the enemy, the cone is solid green, indicating that they’ll see you even though you’re crouched down. Further away, the cone is transparent, indicating that they’ll only see you if you’re running around like an imbecile. As soon as they see you, a yellow color starts filling the cone, progressing from your enemy’s face. Moving toward them will therefore hasten the process of them alerting their allies. An alert guard will shoot on sight, so avoid alerting them at all cost. Throwing a shuriken from a bush will also alert any guard staring intently at that particular bush to your presence within, as bushes tend not to throw sharp objects out of themselves.
Speaking of throwing-stars; try only to use them on patrolling enemies whose friends are neither close by or looking straight at them. The sound of them gurgling as their trachea is punctured and blood starts filling their lungs is as likely to raise the attention of others as the sight of them suddenly and inexplicably keeling over will. The environment will also play its role as footprints left in the snow will attract the attention of nearby guards. This can, however, work as a trap if you leave the footprints while they’re looking the other way, double back before they notice, and sneak up behind them and stab them in the throat as they come looking for the source. You’ll have to be careful, though, because having your footprints discovered by someone else may cause you a heap of trouble.
Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun looks ready to bring the RTT Stealth genre into a new age and, even more delightfully, a completely new setting. Feudal Japan and RTT Stealth are one of those matches that make one wonder why no one has thought of doing it before. I look forward to rekindling my love-affair with both the setting and the genre when the game is released later this year.