Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun (2016, PC)

By Pentraksil / January 5, 2017

I am a huge Commandos fan and seeing this game's announcement was a dream come true after so many years of stalemate in this genre. And I have to be honest, seeing the first couple of trailers and screenshots I was not that hyped. It looked low budget to me but I still wanted to give it a chance.
   And then, out of the blue... A DEMO! Yes, a demo, believe it or not those things still exist. I downloaded it not expecting that much... but boy, was I wrong. Demo got me hooked, a perfect sample that made me buy this game at launch. But my surprise did not end there.
   Not going to spend half the review telling you about Commandos, because it is obvious that this was heavily inspired by those games (let's not forget the legendary Desperados). This game is a mix between the first games in the genre and the awesome Commandos 2. Although this game is not as detailed as the Commandos series (buildings had interiors, you could dress up as enemies, characters and enemies had inventories, and the array of things to counter, such as tanks and mines etc.), it's still a very welcome title and in some ways even superior.

   Graphics really surprised me, those first trailers and screenshots do not make this game justice. In motion it looks beautiful, animations are amazing and attention to detail is stunning (like weaker characters pulling bodies instead of carrying them, different styles of execution depending on the size of the character and their personality (Yuki-chan takedown FTW) and plenty more). Sound is also great with different sounding footsteps, depending on the surface, which together with weapon and ambient sounds create a great atmosphere. Also, voices, with a neat feature of being able to turn on Japanese VO, which is near-unheard of for a Western game.
   Mechanics are something familiar to the fans of the genre, but not a simple 1:1 copy. Game takes a lot from the legends of the genre but also adds plenty of new things to the table. What the game does great is combining all these characters in going through amazingly designed levels and with the use of all characters equally. While in Commandos 2 I would mostly focus on one character and kill an entire map with it (Tiny was responsible for the death of thousands of Third Reich soldiers :D ) that's not possible here. Every character is interesting and must be used to deal with a certain situation. The levels are amazingly designed and even if you think there is no way out, there is always a way out. And this is where the game encourages you to use a combination of characters, with a great Shadow Mode feature that lets you queue up actions of a couple of characters and make them execute orders at the same time. E.g. talk to a group of enemies with your spy, while two other characters sneak up from behind. Cue up attacks with all three characters. Press enter and watch how your three characters kill the three enemies at the same time. Amazing stuff.
   The abilities are realistically limited. For example you only get one shuriken and you have to pick up your shuriken after you kill an enemy. Your sniper only receives a few bullets. He will have to pick up bullets from containers. However, these are limited too. So you cannot just kill everyone with your sniper.
   My first playthrough of the first mission I managed to get only three of the challenges and some of them are really hard, ranging from speedrun to not touching bushes etc. which will make the game ten-fold harder to beat, especially on higher difficulties.
   The level design is excellent and it feels like a real puzzle trying to figure out who you can kill without being spotted. Do I wait for guard to leave, or distract them, or do I go looking for a guard who is out of everyone's field of view? There are bushes you can hide in. Bushes and obstacles reduce enemy field of view and some block enemy view completely. There is even a third dimension. Your characters can climb onto buildings (some only using ladders and some can also use vines). Once on top of buildings your characters are usually out of view if they remain crouched. The most fun is that you can attack enemies from above. Then there are snow levels. The snow temporarily reveal your tracks. Enemies will spot these and follow them. Some levels are set during the night. Enemies see a lot less in the night due to the darkness, except around light sources. Some levels have water. Walking through water makes a sound and enemies can hear that. Your characters can interact with certain parts of the levels. E.g. cranes with boxes. Click on the crane and the box will fall, or plants in pots which can fall from balconies, etc.

   The game also has a story, nothing too complicated and perhaps a bit too cliché, but still interesting enough to make you wonder what will happen next. All this with well-written characters that have plenty of development through cutscenes and during play. Certain actions will prompt interactions between characters that tell us more about their personas. Plenty of humor too.
   I also have to praise the amazing polish this game has. Devs thought about almost everything, from the Japanese VO option, to the neat Last Save reminder, even allowing us to choose if the dialogue will advance automatically or on click, choosing the highlight option for the characters that are talking during play etc. — stuff that plenty of big-budget titles add post launch or not at all. Plenty of quality of life features, I have to give it to the devs. Also Tobii Eye Tracking is implemented in this game so if you have that, it could also be great fun for you.
   I loved the English voice actors of Mugen and Takuma, but absolutely detested the actors of Yuki, Lord Noboru's annoyingly disrespectful son, and some guards who came across as either British or forced British accents. Either go full Western or don't. Mixing the two breaks away any attraction toward the characters and ruins immersion. The Japanese voice acting was top notch though!
   All in all an amazing game with a useful demo and with devs that are very active in the forums, giving advice and supporting their game and the players. You can feel and see the hard work they invested in creating this little gem. Try out the demo and decide for yourself, but I know you won't be disappointed.
   In short: A must play for fans of tactical stealth games. Now let's start hoping for a sequel.

Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun is runner-up to Insomnia's 2016 Game of the Year.