PS2 Stealth classic Commandos 2: Men Of Courage was a unique title that's never really been matched on consoles since. The game had you take control of an elite squad of soldiers in World War II as they tackled clandestine missions behind enemy lines. It was a deeply satisfying and stripped down experience, far removed from the base building and resource management strategy fans might have been used to.
Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun takes the format of the Commandos series, throws in some stealth mechanics from recent years, and translates it to Edo period Japan. The result is one of the best stealth-action games on PS4.
Kicking off with an explosive raid on Osaka Castle, the fortress is ripped to pieces by cannon fire during a decisive assault. Soldiers patrol the interior and line the ramparts. It’s a bloody siege and as a lone ninja, you stalk through bushes and move towards the main entrance, avoiding the gaze of armed guards and panicky civilians alike. It’s a nerve-shredding experience that throws you right into the thick of the action, feeding you tutorial tips on the fly.
Missions take place in large open areas, teeming with life and incident. Environmental design is top notch; cherry blossoms sway in the wind as you slice someone open with your katana, lavish jade temples and roaring waterfalls set the scene for a tense prison break. The isometric viewpoint makes everything look like an intricate diorama.
The aforementioned opening is a highlight, but each mission presents a distinct visual style and thematic approach. Overall the game looks and sounds fantastic, with only some minor frame rate drops when moving the camera at speed.
Bolstered by the look and design, the atmosphere is the game’s strongest aspect. Guards are everywhere in the mission areas and villagers go about their daily business, sometimes stopping to have a chat with men that would shoot you in the face as soon as they spotted you. The relationship between civilians and soldiers adds a murky moral quandary to proceedings; do you take out that kindly old farmer, because his friendliness is diverting a guard route? Luckily, non-lethal is always an option.
Your choice of approach doesn’t end at 'kill or pacify', however. There are multiple ways to tackle every obstacle, a playground of options for both sneaking and head-on approaches. The rag-tag bunch of warriors hired to investigate the corrupt corners of the shogunate have a varied set of skills to cater for every situation.
Hayato is the all-rounder, with a good balance of attributes shared across his squadmates. Mugen is the burly samurai muscle, able to take on the larger enemy units one-on-one, but lacks agility and speed. Yuki is a precocious samurai-in-training, with a bird whistle lure and ground traps. Aiko can disguise as friendly NPCs and distract guards, or reduce their range of vision with her sneezing powder. Finally -- and perhaps best of all -- is Takuma, the crotchety old sniper, who has his trusty Tanuki Kuma for a furry distraction. It’s a diverse team and the interplay between them often breaks the tension of missions. Dialogue is presented in both English and the original Japanese and both are outstanding.
You’ll need to combine the strength and tools of each character to reach the end of a mission. The effectiveness of each ability is situational and most of the fun comes from combining strengths to overcome each scenario. Some enemies are resistant to lures, while others have no weaknesses other than the blade.
’Shadow Mode’ allows you to set multiple actions in motion at once -- it’s a great mechanic that will have you coordinating your squad in synchronised attacks. There's a giddy thrill to be had when you clear watchtowers across the map in one fell swoop or have Hayato and Yuki work together to take down a samurai in the absence of Mugen.
Planning out your strategies can often result in failure, however, and the presence of a smooth and intuitive autosave system is welcome. A timer is displayed at the top of the screen (which can be disabled in the options) that ticks off the seconds since your last save, offering a little graphical flourish as each minute passes. This is essential in a game in which mission success requires thinking ten steps ahead. Often you’ll find that a silly mistake like footprints in the snow or wasting precious sniper ammo will result in losing a lot of progress, and as such, the save system carries its own strategic considerations.
The game is tough, with each mission introducing new ways to die. Guards have large detection cones -- split into vision and hearing -- and patrol routes that change organically, usually based on your actions. Each mission carries with it a collection of masochistic challenges in the form of badges. These range from classic 'no kills', to time-based runs and mission specific challenges.
There's a lot of replay value here, whether it's to complete all badges or approach an objective in a way you never thought of before. Each mission can take a couple of hours on an initial run and there are 13 in total. The sandbox nature of the maps adds depth to how you navigate them and you'll find yourself returning to them even after the main campaign is cleared.
A welcome return to a type of stealth-strategy that hasn’t been seen on PlayStation for many a moon. The period setting forms a great backdrop for the action, missions are steeped in atmosphere, and the central characters are just plain cool. Lack of co-op is a missed opportunity, but the addictive challenge badges will keep you coming back for more. Shadow Tactics: Blade of the Shogun is a serious tactical treat.
Not on my radar --> In my shopping cart.
Since I live in Osaka, the third paragraph stating a kick off being a raid on Osaka Castle + the rating = instant buy for me.
As if i dont already have too many games to play. Thanks Pushsquare!
GOD, I didn't even know this game existed
that theme, that genre, and the PushSquare Rating... definitely going to buy it... thanks PushSquare
@kendomustdie How about controls? Did they do a good job converting the original mouse+keyboard scheme?
I'd heard good things about the PC version. Interesting to see such games on the Playstation.
@andreoni79 I haven't played this game on PC but I did recently re-install Commandos and I think they did well to translate those mechanics. Movement with the left analogue stick feels responsive. Camera controls were very briefly fiddly, but I got used to them. Holding R2 locks you to pan and zoom the camera and you can quickly centre on the currently selected character. It's a solid way to adapt isometric movement from mouse controls.
This sounds excellent, will add it to my backlog.
@kendomustdie Thanks, sir. Last request: I'd like to know if difficulty levels change the game (enemy layout, missions goals...) or if it's just a matter of different health for characters and enemies.
@andreoni79 It is different health, but it's also detection time. Once seen or heard, enemies zone in on you and that happens much quicker on higher difficulties. I spent most of my time on normal, which allows for some wiggle room in tight situations. Beginner is still a challenge, but very forgiving and also takes away the ability to earn badges. The hardest difficulty should just be called 'don't ever get caught'.
Been waiting on this for a while now after being super jealous of the PC version - hurry up postman!
@kendomustdie Thanks again! Just added this title to the infamous list of "Games I'll never have time to play"...
Wow, unexpected gem, will have to get this at some point. But as so many others have said, finding the time to play isn't easy at the moment.
Unknown to Day One buy, not bad!
Great review, I've had my on the PC version for ages. I'd think about the ps4 version, but I can still feel the pain of the massive loading times of that PS2 version of commandos 2. I know it's a different game from a different Dev, on a different system, but that's how bad those loading times were (commandos 2 is a great game, by the way)
This came as a shock to me as I had not heard anything about this till I read this but now its on my buy list next looks great looks right up my alley
Wow, where did this come from, can't even pre order it, I was getting a bit of fatigue from the usual games, then this turns up out of the blue. Day one. Bring on the frustration then joy of achievement.
I had this on pre-order as soon as it was announced around 10 weeks or so ago, 32 quid on Shopto.
I very nearly picked it up in the Steam sale a few weeks ago but decided to hold on as I prefer gaming on my PS4. Really chuffed I did wait now as it seems the controls are decent enough once you get to grips with them.
I have 6 stars left to find in Mario Galaxy and then i will get cracking with Shadow Tactics
The art work looks amazing. Been watching gameplay vids, now ordered from base.com, £29.99. Bargain!
I didn't see it in the review or anywhere after a quick search on the web, I've noticed there aren't any trophies for this game.
Does anyone know anything about this? Why there aren't any or if they're coming at a later date?
Just started playing this. Lovin it, just what I needed. Something fresh.
Yep there are trophies, and it has its own separate badges, not easy to get.
Looks great. Btw there is a free demo you can download.
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