Sekiro Shadows Die Twice PS4 PlayStation 4 1

Playable for the first time, FromSoftware’s ninja-action death frenzy Sekiro was the 2018 Tokyo Game Show’s hottest ticket. Sekiro sets out its threat in the subtitle: Shadows Die Twice.

On the subject of death, we were reminded of a story by Pulitzer-winner Annie Proulx, in which she sees a goat after a family visit, representing the inevitability of mortality. Sekiro does a similar thing, but instead of driving past a goat, you are disembowelled a thousand times by men with swords. We suppose there are two ways to make the same point.

Sekiro was in high demand at the Game Show, and even after starting about fifth in the queue and running (for real) straight to Sony’s booth, our 15 minutes on the game took pretty much two hours.

“Sekiro” means “lone wolf”, and you play as a ninja in ancient Japan. But we were no lone wolf going in, as we befriended two other writers in the queue, who reminisced about dying repeatedly in Dark Souls, Sekiro’s smash-hit ancestor. Expectations of killer difficulty had been set.

Sekiro Shadows Die Twice PS4 PlayStation 4 2

As seen in trailers, Sekiro looks smart and modern, if not jaw-dropping. Animations are clean and fast, although we occasionally found ourselves watching in dread as our character yawned to his feet without the urgency to be expected when dismemberment is very much on the cards.

The booth staffers – all young women in Sony blue and leggings – would offer gentle clarification if you misunderstood the controls and applaud cutely when you eviscerated someone. The encouragement was welcome, as everyone who played received a jolly good murdering.

The much-anticipated grappling hook mechanic is basic but not a gimmick. There‘s no freedom with it – you see a green circle appear on part of the scenery, point the camera vaguely at it and hit R2. When the circle is out of range, it’s grey. No circle; no grapple. The placement of green circles seemed arbitrary – the gables of some old wooden structures, but not others; the heaving, looming branches of some snow-covered trees but not others. (The branch you can mount bows and sheds its snow when you land – a pretty bit of peacocking for this opening scene.) What grappling does do is prompt you to look for new vantage points and lines of attack, and it makes aerial assassinations satisfyingly available. You’re no Bionic Commando, but it changes your relationship with the world.

Sekiro Shadows Die Twice PS4 PlayStation 4 3

Combat is intuitive: lock on to enemies, dodge, parry, and strike, toying, feeling for the right time to serve death. The minions are easy, bloody kills, but if you screw it up then they can be lethal when they hit. The ones in the opening scene were sneakupable from bushes or above or behind and could be removed from existence quite mercilessly, to orangey-red ceremony. These stealth attacks are not going to get old quickly.

The first section of the demo led to a tough general patrolling the gates to the citadel. A couple of notes here: 1) we assume this was only the first section of the demo; 2) we assume the gates were to a citadel and not to, say, a chocolate factory or a theme park. The general killed us over and over and over and over and over again, so beyond him, for us, lie mere assumptions.

We were warned by the staffer as we approached the general that he was “mechya tsutyoi”. She realised she had spoken in Japanese and quickly corrected: “mechya strong”. “Mechya” we were left to translate ourselves. We're guessing that in English it begins with an 'F'.

Leaving the booth, one of our new friends quipped, “‘Shadows Die Twice’? More like ‘Shadows Die Like 20 Times’!” Hurr-hurr, we laughed along. If only it had just been 20.

Do you think you’ve got what it takes to cut through FromSoftware’s latest? Are you impressed with what you’ve seen of Sekiro so far? Sharpen your blade in the comments section below.