REVIEW: Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun


shadow-tactics

Set in feudal age Japan, this spiritual successor of the great Commandos series captures the feeling and charm of its mentor perfectly. You’ll immediately notice many similarities between your teammates and the commandos, and you’ll also find yourself comparing the these two games automatically in your mind pretty often while guiding your team through tightly guarded passages, villages and castles. Even though such similarity is a double-edged sword – it can either be great nostalgia for some, or too much of a copycat to others – Shadow tactics: Blades of the shogun is still a great squad-based RTS, honoring traditions as is the way in Japan.

Status: Released

Developer: Mimimi Productions

Publisher: Daedalic Entertainment

Genre: Hardcore Tactical Stealth

Release date: 6th of December, 2016

Type: Single-player

Beautiful days of the past

Graphics reminded me immediately of comics, with a black outline on almost everything. It brings a certain visual style to this game that differentiates it from others, and makes it more memorable. This style also fits the age of the game’s setting perfectly. Animation is sharp and clear; every team member has their own distinctive movement style. The levels themselves are varied, detailed and a pleasure to look at. One really positive surprise was being able to choose Japanese voicetrack over the English one since we are in Japan, and I doubt many Japanese had learned fluent English in the year 1615. Even if they had, why would they use it amongst themselves?. There are subtitles, so we don’t have to rely only on our Japanese.

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The graphical style is pleasant to look at, though cartoony.

Daedalic Entertainment have built a detailed fictional Japan from the past for us to roam around. Even if the maps are small in the end, there’s a lot of content in them. Lots to explore and see. From the villages to castle gardens, the architecture and objects scattered around the maps are spot on. Small map size also allows us to have compact levels; there are really no areas just to fill and increase the size of the map just for the sake of it. This eliminates all needless work like sneaking through 5 alleyways since it could very well be 3. It keeps the levels fun and not tedious. Even if you fail at some point (and we all will), you don’t need to spend too much time getting back to where you were.

The team

Characters are well written, diverse and have clearly distinguishable personalities even though they all have a clear role: one is a brute used for heavy lifting/killing, one is a marksman and so on. They form the backbone of the solidly written story that’s experienced through cutscenes, complemented by villains, joke-throwing and your team members talking with each other during the missions to open up their pasts, They feel like a ragtag team of friends on an adventure, each with skills suited to a different situation. Like a good buddy comedy that makes you care about the characters since they seem to enjoy each other’s company and grow together through the course of the game.

There was one strange thing going on between them though: they can communicate wherever. No matter how far from each other they are, they can still talk with each other perfectly well. There are points in the game for example where one member is inside a building on the top floors, another one is outside at the ground level and they still communicate perfectly. This is just an immersion breaker, but the (usually) interesting dialog in those situations makes up for it.

Gameplay

Veterans of the genre are right at home here. Everything works as you expect. Without much attention to skills you can easily guess from the appearance of your team member what his/her skills are, who should be used on which task etc. The skills are also logically ordered. Lure/Distraction is bound to the same button for everyone, as are attack and character-related skills. As logical as it sounds, this isn’t the case with every game of this genre.

Veterans of the genre should also start straight from hardcore difficulty, in addition to more damage from hits, though a good ninja should not get hit at all in the first place as the enemies notice you quicker. On normal you can spend a good deal of time in the enemy’s viewcone before you’re actually noticed, and since there are many times when you have to surf the enemy’s field of vision to progress in the area, this makes a major difference.

There’s also the shadow mode that lets you apply one action to your team members and pressing enter makes them act it out immediately. This is especially satisfying when you see two or more of your members killing an enemy at the same time, perfectly coordinated and executed. Shadow mode isn’t just for decoration. There are lots of uses for it during both necessary and optional situations throughout the campaign.

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I need a bigger rock to hit the little human with…

While the game itself is short, there’s a lot of replayability. Every level has badges to obtain – in other words, certain objectives to meet. It might be finishing a level without killing anyone, using a specific route, meeting a time limit, orchestrating ”accidents” (some of which are pretty funny) for the unlucky guards who happen to be on duty during your mission and other similar ones.
Some of the badges contradict each other, so they’re not all obtainable during one playthrough. Badges requiring different things also contribute to finishing the level in different ways. There are also 16 unique enemies named after the developers to hunt down and, you guessed it, kill. Some of them are in easy places, some not so much. While being an extra challenge on its own, it also encourages you to explore the beautiful levels even more while you’re searching for them.

As a fun but useful quirk, developers have added a save reminder that activates a minute after quicksaving. It’s like a digital clock that stays on the top of the screen showing how long since you last saved. We’ve all had those moments in gaming when we fail and have to go way back to our last save because we didn’t remember to (quick)save. It also serves as a good ”look how long I’ve played this level without saving” type of showoff that you can playfully compete with. In case you don’t want it, it can easily be turned off from the options.

Conclusion

I acquired this game a couple of days after launch and haven’t encountered a single bug. It really feels like a finished product. Due to the graphical style, it looks really good without being too taxing on the hardware. I didn’t mind the short duration of the game myself, since there’s a lot of replayability of the levels if you strive to achieve everything. You also don’t have to spend dozens of hours on this game to finish it, so it’s fine for people who can’t devote much time to gaming weekly, but I wouldn’t mind getting more levels as a late Christmas present from the developers.

This is a very good squad-based RTS for fans of Commandos, with a solid story and interesting main characters. Not as unforgiving or brutally hard as C1 was but equally fun. Most of the Steam achievements are fun to reach for but there are some grindy ones that I’ve never been fond of.

Killing xx number of enemy soldiers takes a lot of time, especially considering this is a stealth game. There aren’t exactly hordes of enemies just waiting for you. I doubt I will ever spend the required time to kill 1000 guards. As if that wasn’t enough, there’s also one for knocking out 500 guards. Yes, killing and knocking out are two different things. Grindy achievements aren’t really a flaw in the game but for completionists it means a lot of extra work and time investment in one game for basically nothing in return.

RATING: 90/100

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