The console market has suffered from a drought of tactical games for quite a while, but we seem to be entering a renaissance that has seen titles like Tropico 5 and Divinity: Original Sin landing on this generations home consoles. While these types of games will always feel most at home on the PC, a functional suite of controls and careful attention to detail is all that is needed to deliver a competent console port. Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun gets almost everything right in this regard, delivering a phenomenal stealth adventure with a ridiculous amount of lasting appeal.
Tales of the Samurai
Set in Japan’s visually stunning Edo era in the 17th century, Blades of the Shogun tells a brutal and incredibly emotional tale of a band of warriors that I fell in love with almost immediately. While some of the voice-acting can be shoddy, specifically with an old man the player meets early on, the character arcs of this merry group of five exceeds anything I’ve experienced in a tactical game. While the character banter that keeps things going during missions isn’t all that revealing, and constantly plays on a maddening loop, there’s a real sense of heroism and the story arc feels like a long and hard journey, mirroring the gameplay itself.
Said characters serve as different classes in a way, with each specializing in various types of mechanics and methods. Any particular area could require the use of multiple characters if need be, as a few take out enemies and others do the distracting work. Each is equipped with different gadgets and abilities for those tasks. I found myself constantly analyzing each arena before executing a plan, using multiple characters with different degrees of success. Sometimes, it’s better to ignore your friends and instead go it alone with a stealth-focused character, as enemy patrols can find and kill your other characters if you choose to enter the battlefield with them by placing them in different locations for different purposes. Blades of the Shogun almost plays like a game of cat and mouse or tug-of-war, with a symphonic melody playing out in the form of the player attempting to tactically outwit the enemy and their horde of backup forces.
It all takes place in the visually stunning expanse of Edo era Japan, and the game’s Borderlands style visuals fit the time period perfectly. While I would have wished for the ability to zoom in just a little closer, both to take in the visuals and to plan my tactics from a closer view, the black outlines around every object work well to give the player a sense of place in terms of where everything is laid out. It isn’t as black and white when it comes to engaging enemies though, as their cones of vision sometimes feel a bit unfair as I found myself getting caught when I probably shouldn’t have. But in a game that focuses on stealth, it isn’t so bad to pull out your swords every so often and engage the enemy directly.
But even better than its grounded storytelling and instantly likeable characters, Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun is nothing short of a mechanical masterclass. While you would think that a game that doesn’t operate in the traditional third-person or first-person mold would not attempt to feel as good as those games, there’s an addictive fluidity about the game’s base controls. Simply moving around the environments and pulling off one-button stealth kills feels rewarding, let alone the rush of slicing seven enemies to shreds with Mugen’s sword abilities. Even simple tasks like jumping up to ledges and vantage points just feels so right.
Shadow Tactics Blades of the Shogun PS4 Review - Samurai Slicing (PS4)
The game throws a million and one mechanics at the player, but the default control scheme and visual feedback from the character’s HUD makes it incredibly simple to grasp the multitude of different moves and abilities. The thrill of finishing off the last batch of enemies feels extra rewarding after planning out a strategy for ten minutes. I’ve found that many tactical games that put a huge focus on strategy tend to give the player only passing moments of satisfaction. Blades of the Shogun is strategically and mechanically rewarding with almost every move. The height of the strategic and mechanical brilliance comes in the way of a domino effect ability where the player is able to chain moves together with multiple characters to take out an entire horde of enemies in one fell swoop. While I rarely found myself in such a position to execute on the domino ability, it made me feel like a genius when I was able to connect the dots and plan the execution of the ability in my head, taking into effect each characters role within it.
Unfortunately, Blades of the Shogun is not without faults, however, they come in the form of minor annoyances as opposed to gaping issues. The most apparent of them is the game’s camera system wherein players are constantly required to either reset the position of the static camera to lock on to their character’s mobile location or move the camera simultaneously with the character. It just feels a little dated and this is where a PC set-up seems to be more appropriate with a mouse and keyboard handy. This is especially noticeable in moments where the player has to turn the camera on its axis to get a different angle on the battlefield. I felt like I was fighting the controls, and hitting a game over screen during these moments feels like the game isn’t giving you the tools to succeed. Thankfully, I got used to the system faster than I thought but it does detract from the first few hours of an otherwise mechanically sound experience.
Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun is an immense stealth game that features dozens of satisfying mechanics and an undying focus on the art of tactical warfare. Even on normal difficulty, the game will force the player to use every iota of their tactical nuance as they assassinate their way through an emotional story-line that takes them to all manner of settings across the island nation. The game’s camera system is the only misstep in an otherwise superb port to console, which hopefully spurs more games of its type on PC to go down the same route.
Review code for Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun provided by publisher. Reviewed on PS4. For more information on scoring, please read our Review Policy here.