Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun PS4 Review

August 19, 2017 by  
Filed under PS4, Reviews & Features, PlayStation

Publisher: Daedalic Entertainment  Developer: Mimimi Productions  Genre: Stealth/Strategy

Players: 1  Age Rating: 16+  Other console/handheld formats: Xbox One

Do you fancy a gaming challenge? Well, you may have found your perfect partner with Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun. It’s a tricky game without a doubt, and while it does stack the challenge up, its difficulty never feels unfair in the way that you’ll feel hard done by. It’s also an impeccably designed game with a moreish appeal, and even when I failed time and time again, I just wanted to keep going back to it. I’ve never been happier being a glutton for punishment, let me tell you that.

Shadow Tactics is a stealth game, although it’s a stealth game with a difference. It’s a top-down tactical stealth game that requires a ton of patience and persistence to get the most out of it, and is one to be avoided if you don’t possess any of these traits. Taking place in feudal Japan, the game stars five very different characters as they band together in their mission to defeat a rising warlord. The characters are likeable enough, and the story does enough to remain interesting throughout.

If you’ve ever played the Commandos series, then Shadow Tactics may prove to be rather familiar – it’s tactical and stealthy gameplay definitely brings to mind that very series, and you’ll also be switching between different characters to get the job done. Unlike Commandos though, the game forgoes the point and click movement system, allowing you to move around freely.

Visually, things are miniscule, although there’s plenty of rich detail to be found in the character animations as well as the environments.

Starting life on the PC, I’m pleased to say that Shadow Tactics console release has been handled beautifully. True, the controls do take a little while to get used to, but you’ll soon discover plenty of shortcuts and also realise that smart decisions have been made in regard to assuring that the game would work on consoles without it feeling clunky. Switching between characters as well as their individual skills is achieved through selection wheels, allowing you to quickly cycle through them or choose the one you want instantly. Like the rest of the game, there’s certainly plenty of intelligent design to be found in the controls.

Shadow Tactics’  levels are wonderfully laid out, and each is expansive, allowing for varied approaches to your different tasks. There are fortresses, snowy villages, camps, cities, castles, and more, and you’ll discover distinctive things about particular environments, such as enemies being able to track footprints that you have left in the snow, and you’ll also come to realise that there are pros and cons to undertaking a night mission. As for if you are struggling during a mission, if one way isn’t working out for you, then attempting another method may well see you through. Some missions allow you to take to the rooftops with the characters that are equipped with grappling hooks for example, and you may find that this is the better approach on particular missions. It certainly pays to have a look around as much of a level as possible before deciding on how to make your approach.

The five Shogun characters that star in Shadow Tactics are distinct from one another. Mugen is the brute of the group: his special skills enable him to do such things as taking a number of enemies out with a swing of his sword, he also carries a bottle of Sake, which can be put down on the ground to entice enemies, he can effortlessly carry two enemy corpses around, and even run with them in his arms, he is also able to carry heavier objects, and finally he is the only member of the team that is able to kill samurai outright. Hayato, on the other hand, is a ninja that can throw a shruiken, and he can also lob stones to distract enemies. Yuki can lure her enemies towards her position by using a flute, and is also able to lay traps. Aiko can lower an enemy’s field of vision for a short while by throwing sneezing powder at them, and she can also disguise herself, Agent 47 style. Finally, Takumu is a sniper with a powerful rifle, he can also throw grenades, and can use a Tanuki to distract enemies. Particular characters do share passive abilities, with Hayato, Aiko and Yuki all being more agile thanks to their climbing abilities and grappling hooks for example, while character weaknesses include Mugen and Takumu being unable to swim, and Yuki and Aiko are rather slow at dragging enemy corpses. All characters also receive pistols with limited ammo, which are helpful for the tougher moments. The characters that show up are determined by the stage that you are playing, and it really does pay to make use of their differing skills and employ teamwork to overcome the challenging levels.

Speaking of the characters, the game features an option called the Shadow mode, which is a clever way of having the characters quickly team up with one another. Shadow mode is achieved by simply pressing a button, and then you set-up the desired action. The character then won’t undertake the action until you instruct him or her to, which means that you can switch to another member of the team, kill an enemy, and then tell the other character to complete his or hers action at the same time. It’s a gratifying method of dealing with multiple actions, and may even prove to be your saviour during certain situations. Some may not like that you aren’t able to stack up a string of actions using Shadow mode, possibly seeing this as rather restrictive, but I felt it was a powerful enough feature to see me though the moments that I felt called for its use.

The game looks a lot simpler than it is. You may find yourself feeling rather stressed and overwhelmed at times, but that’s why it’s so satisfying when you eventually come out on top.

As mentioned earlier in the review, Shadow Tactics is a very difficult game. You are only able to see the view cone of a single enemy at once for example, which means that you have to select which enemy’s field of view that you want to keep an eye on, fiddling with the game’s camera and switching between view cones to make sure that you aren’t seen. It’s also a game that really does require you to check every single angle before proceeding, and earlier on you’ll probably make the mistake of playing the game like a simpler stealth game, but believe me, you’ll soon learn that playing it this way won’t get you very far. Failure does cause you to approach the game entirely differently, and you’ll more than likely start thinking more tactically. When you do get spotted by an enemy, they’ll rush towards your position in overwhelming numbers and even bring in extra men, and if you fail to get away, then nothing other than death and a reload can be expected. You’ll also have to alter your tactics based on the enemies you face, with the samurai requiring Mugen’s skills or teamwork to bring down, while the straw hat variety aren’t distracted by sounds, and patrols always move together, like a well oiled machine.

The game never feels completely unfair, and what will be very welcome to many is the option to quick save at any time. As brutal as the game is, if you haven’t saved for 60 seconds, a friendly save reminder shows up, although this can be turned off if you find it overly obtrusive. Saving is achieved through a single button press, and if you are anything like me you’ll most likely find that saving every little bit of progress soon becomes a regular routine. In some ways, it does feel a little cheap to save the game over and over again in this way, but it doesn’t in any way dampen the feeling of utter glee when things do go according to plan. You really will feel massively relieved when you manage to complete a level that you may have thought was beyond your skill level by simply approaching things differently.

Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun is a game that certainly won’t be for everyone, as it is a brutally tough tactical stealth game that really does require you to face it with patience and persistence, and for some it may even feel like a bit of a slog. But if you can accept its very trial and error gameplay and be cautious at all times when playing, there’s an expertly crafted and very intelligent game in here, and it’s also one that is both beautifully fulfilling and hugely engrossing at the same time.