Released last December for PC, tactical stealth action game Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun is now available on console.
Set in the Edo era of Japan, it's a game all about sneaking around to complete objectives, viewed from a zoomed-out isometric perspective. Of course, along the way there'll be times where stealth simply just isn't enough, necessitating you to take direct, often violent, action. And for that, you have multiple options at your disposal.
You're given a small team of characters to complete each level, each with their own set of skills. The ninja, Hayato, can throw a shuriken to take out enemies form a distance, while the juvenile Yuki can lay caltrops before whistling to lure enemies to them. Mugen, a rather large samurai, on the other hand, is rather handy for taking out multiple enemies at once with his blade skills.
With your motley crew at hand, strategy runs deep in Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun. You need to study enemy patterns and their visibility cones, seek out environmental opportunities and look for the best routes. Once you've assessed the lay of the land, you then need to use the right character and the right skills in the right situation, especially considering that the use of many skills is somewhat limited. It makes for a deep, engrossing experience that rewards ingenuity, patience and thought.
Some instances even call for your posse of characters to work concurrently as a team, in what Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun dubs "Shadow Mode". Allowing you to record movement and one subsequent action for each character you have at your disposal before allowing them to all play out at once, it's essential for some of the trickier situations where one pair of hands just isn't enough. Using it can sometimes be a case of trial and error, though, as you try to fine-tune movement paths and timings.
If your plans ever do go south and you find yourself in a sticky situation, your best bet is to reload a save. And thanks to the game's handy quicksave system, it's a very easy process. You can quicksave by simply pressing a button at any time, with a handy timer reminding you of when you last did so. Make a mistake and you can quickly go into the pause menu and click on one of your last three quicksaves to load it up without any fuss. It undoubtedly takes away some of the challenge of the game, but its use is solely up to you, and there's always the option to play on a higher difficulty if you're finding it all a bit too easy.
Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun's setting means that it looks absolutely beautiful. Environments are frequently picturesque but always wonderfully detailed, and characters just exude personality. There's a beautiful soundtrack to accompany your exploits too. The neat visuals come at a cost though, at least on the Xbox One version I played, with screen tearing being clearly visible at times. To be honest, it didn't really bother me so much, and locking the framerate to 30 fps in the menu helps, but if you're nit-picky about such things you're probably better off picking up the PC version if you can.
Without a doubt, the worst aspect of Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun is its camera. It doesn't automatically move to keep your current character at its centre, requiring you to constantly move the right analogue stick to keep them in view. And to rotate the view to see around corners etc. you need to hold down the right trigger while moving the right analogue stick. There's nothing wrong with the camera system in principle, and eventually you get more used to it, but it's not ideal for those heat-of-the-moment situations that require swift action. It's just too easy to get caught out by a guard that you can't see, and too cumbersome to quickly find the best view for your antics.
Despite its minor camera and screen tearing issues though, Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun is great for those looking for a challenge. Its mix of stealth, strategy and action is a highly enjoyable one, and with its wealth of missions and bonus objectives there's plenty to go at.