Friday, November 14, 2014

Styx: Master of Shadows (PS4) Review

Styx, the wise-cracking, foul mouthed companion from Of Orcs and Men now strikes out in his own game.  Making full use of his shadowy and thief talents, you must keep to the shadows and master your skills to complete your missions.

Granted, this is my first PS4 game, so I can't compare it to too many others, but it looks really good.  The lighting effects and detail is noticeably higher than games from the previous generation of consoles.  There are a few visual hiccups, though.  There is some noticeable pop-in of some of the environment while crawling around the tunnels and some while rotating the camera sometimes.  I wouldn't call it screen tearing, since it looks different than that, but it's similar.

As you can infer from the title, Styx: Master of Shadows is a stealth-based game.  It's third person, so you get a better view of your surroundings.  This helps, since many items lying around have physics to them.  If you walk to close to a chair, or across a broom and bucket, you may knock them over, giving away your position.  This is the first game I've encountered that in, and I think it's really cool (even the times it screwed me up).  You also have an amber mark on your shoulder that glows when you are in full darkness, so it's easy to tell if you are likely to be seen.

Although, there are plenty of times I've been seen while standing in complete darkness.  Hugging a wall or at least standing behind something fixes that, but I felt the enemies saw me times when I was standing still in the dark.  They also have really good peripheral vision, so make sure you only approach them from the back, or you may get a sword in your face.

Each mission is divided into a few large areas with multiple paths through them.  This is one of the game's strengths.  There are lots of places to explore if you want to avoid enemies, sneak up on them for a stealth kill, or hide a body.  There is some platforming, too, since you have to jump around from ledge to ledge and climb to some areas.  Unfortunately, this is a bit spotty, since the jump isn't scripted, like the Assassin's Creed games, so it can be a little frustrating trying to jump far enough, or land on that small ledge.  It works for the most part, but there were times that a jump looked possible, but was just too far.  Trying to drop down and grip a ledge was annoying, since you had to walk off the edge slowly to do so.  It always felt like I would just fall down and die.  Why not just make it the drop button?  Anyway, movement was sometimes frustrating, but workable.  Just make sure you save a lot.

Styx does get a few abilities to help deal with threats.  He can carry a few throwing daggers for distance, and even has acid to melt a body away.  You can create a clone to fit in some areas, or even as a diversion.  If you are caught, your enter a duel with most enemies.  You will have to parry or dodge their attacks several times in a row, and then you can kill them when they are off balance.  It's not too hard, but you can die quickly if you don't get the timing down.  Unfortunately, not all enemies can be dueled.  Partway through the game, knights are introduced, and they are unaffected by your weaponry.  If they catch you, you are just dead.  Yuck.  They make the game harder, or at least force you to be more cautious and clever if you want to take them out (or just avoid them).  At least the new enemy types are spaced through the game, so you continuously get new challenges.

There are eight missions in the game (counting the prologue), and they took me about two hours game time each.  However, that two hours doesn't count all the time spent messing up and loading.  I wasn't trying to do perfect runs, but at the very least I didn't want to be seen (I was trying to be very stealthy).  This involved a lot of trial and error, which increased my playtime by a lot that isn't reflected in the end stage totals.  Missions have some replayability, since there are many paths to the end, and different play styles.  If you are a completionist or trophy hunter, you will very likely repeat each mission more than once, so you can get all the insignias (not killing, speed run, etc.) and the extra experience it gives for your skills.

If you like stealth games, I'd recommend Styx: Master of Shadows.  It's not the best one I've played (can anything topple Dishonored?), and it is far from the worst.  There is a lot of trial and error if you are a perfectionist, but it's usually possible to muddle your way through the levels and correct your mistakes if you don't want to keep re-loading.  The platforming isn't as smooth as I'd like, but the large, explorable areas make for some good replay value.

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