You’re a mercenary type guy. Your first big job. Protecting the outer perimeter of your company’s compound on the graveyard shift. Boring work. So you’re there, chatting with a buddy about going to a little bar he knows to pick up some chicks after work when suddenly, one of the streetlights goes out. You spin around, checking the light out, but nothing seems to be around it. You turn back to your buddy and…he’s gone.
You yelp in pain as a wooden dart plonks on your helmet. Growling angrily, you spin around, looking for the source. It seems to have come from that streetlight you just checked. So you shine your flashlight up there again and…”HOLYGEEZWHATTHEHELL!” Your buddy is strung up by a chain, with a large hole hole where his neck used to be. You scream, firing wildly, and step backwards, until at last your back is safely against a wall…
Sorry, did I say safely? A pair of hands grab your legs and pull you swiftly into a vent. You don’t even have time to scream as a blade gets shoved into your head by something with a blood red tattoo all over his face.
Congratulations. You’ve just been ninja’d by the hero of Mark of the Ninja.
I’ll put this plainly. I freaking LOVE this game.
I happen to really like stealth games, and this is one of the best ones I’ve played in years.
If the name hasn’t already clued you in, you play a ninja. A real ninja. Not one of those kids in orange pajamas whose definition of tactics involves charging into everything head first to kick its ass.
(No offense meant to any Naruto fans.)
(But you have to admit that 95% of that show’s cast don’t behave like actual ninjas.)
No, I mean one of those “sneak around in the shadows and do your job without being seen unless you want to be seen” kinds of ninjas.
Pictured above: AN ACTUAL NINJA.
The story is somewhat simple, but they make it feel rather interesting. You’re one of the best and brightest students of Clan Hisomu, one of the last (if not THE last) ninja clans operating in the modern age. The secret to their success? A strange ink that comes from a rare desert plant. When put into a tattoo, they grant the bearer powers of perception and speed…But at a terrible price. Your mission? To take revenge on a private military company that violently raided your hidden sanctuary. There’s more to it than that, obviously, leading up to a phenomenal ending…….Right up until the last 30 seconds, in which they do something that I feel was quite a bit annoying. Aside from that, it was really well done.
What really sells it is the aesthetics. Everything looks either vibrant, or dark and inky (like it should, given that it takes place almost exclusively at night). The world and characters look stunning, and the little story cutscenes really suck you in. In gameplay, it also helps that they have easy to identify visual cues for everything, making the stealth a joy to play.
Ah yes. The stealth. This game plays like a dream most of the time. Everything feels smooth and natural. Aside from one or two very specific locations, you can seamlessly go from wall climb to ceiling climb to hookshotting to a perch to dropping into a hiding spot to stealth kill an enemy in perfectly flowing sequence. And the little visual cues that show you how much noise you’re making, or where an enemy is looking are really intuitive and keep you up to speed with your situation with just a glance.
As for the stealthing itself, there are a huge variety of scenarios you’ll be faced with, each with many solutions. Do you want to go through, killing only when convenient, and ducking into vents and dropping spike traps for unwitting prey? Go for it. Do you want to sneak through peacefully, leaving confused guards, and total darkness in your wake? You can do that. Do you want to be an evil version of batman, terrorizing guards into shooting each other, hanging their buddies’ corpses up from lampposts, drinking in their screams of terror and then finally dropping onto them once they are alone and terrified to grant them the mercy of eternal slumber? Yeah, me too.
You have a ton of tools, ranging from bamboo darts that can take out lights and distract guards, to smoke bombs, spike traps, a grappling hook, and even unlockable ninja styles (read, ninja suits) that change your abilities. And each environment is a playground full of vents, grappling perches, and various hiding places. Oh, and plenty of well armed guards and lights that will expose you to the former’s bullets.
While it’s certainly fun to just go through each level willy-nilly, attempting a pure-stealth pacifist run is a huge challenge, even with the ninja suit that’s designed for pure stealth. But overall, the most fun I’ve had was abusing the terror mechanic. Certain actions (like making a guard spot a corpse strung up from a grapple point) will cause guards to enter a panic state. In this state, their motions become erratic and unpredictable, and they’ll shoot at the slightest noise. While this might seem like a bad thing, it’s actually very beneficial (and fun!). By carefully luring them around, and provoking them at just the right times, you can make your foes friendly fire each other which is both amusing and very rewarding, points-wise.
As if that weren’t enough, there’s a lot of optional objectives, collectibles, a leaderboard and a new game plus mode that makes the game a lot harder. As far as stealth games go, that’s pretty good.
As of this weekend (the 21rst to the 24th of March 2013) It’s on sale. If you like stealth games you really ought to pick this up while you can. Highly recommended.