Back in 2012 Cyanide Studios and Spiders garnered critical appraise with the excellent fantasy role playing game Orcs and Men. This outing introduced the world to the unlikely paring of elite Orc soldier, Arkail, and sneaky goblin Styx. Flash forward to 2014 and Cyanide have revived the Styx character for another epic adventure. This time Styx: Master of Shadows focuses primarily on infiltration and stealth rather than combat and split second-hand and eye coordination.
The premise of Styx: Master of Shadows is that our titular hero must infiltrate the Atrium of Arkenash, a bleak, imposing structure that houses the Tree of Life – the only source of Amber, a mana-type, essence. Once he has ascended the Atrium, Styx can then steal the heart from the tree and thus take control of the Amber. If only it were that simple. Styx himself is a well crafted anti-hero. He’s small, green, ugly, prone to profanity and decidedly self obsessed. In fact, it’s fair to say that the only thing Styx cares about is Styx himself – and of course gaining control of the Amber
With its focus on stealth, Styx: Master of Shadows borrows many influences from early Splinter Cell games. Most objectives can be approached through multiple routes, lights must be extinguished, bodies must be hidden and players are forced to wait and watch patrol patterns rather than running in spraying and praying. As in Splinter Cell and Thief, shadows play a huge part in your ability to navigate through the environment. However, rather than Sam Fishers night vision goggles, Styx can use Amber Vision to help him see enemies in the dark. This isn’t always essential as Styx: Master Of Shadows rarely gets that dark that you can’t see, but it comes in handy.
The level design in Styx: Master of Shadows is excellent and challenging. As mentioned earlier, most goals have multiple ways of approaching them. The guards all have well programmed AI which react to any disturbance or noise you might make. If you watch them patiently, you can usually work out their routine. But if they’re disturbed, they become unpredictable – and that’s when the real fun begins. A word of caution: you’ll rarely get by with trying to fight your way from A to B. Sleeping guards can be tip toed past but, should you knock something over, the noise will wake them up and, at that point , you may as well bend over and kiss yourself goodbye.
This brings us to one minor niggle with Styx: Master of Shadows. The combat system is so weak it could be on life support. Although Styx is armed with a dagger, it is about effective as using a fly swatter to kill an elephant. When you’re sneaking up to a guard (or if he’s asleep) you can usually despatch them without breaking a sweat. But, should he awaken or if he’s joined by some mates, the game is up. Styx does not fight. Ok, he does fight. But he does it badly. You can try to parry by pressing the X button and wait for an opportunity to counter attack. But, nine times out of ten, you’re going to die. We found a good way around this was to simply reload the level every time we were detected or outnumbered by guards. Not a particular elegant solution, but it worked.
The graphics in Styx: Master of Shadows can best be described as passable. The environments are predictably bleak and muddy and can sometimes be choppy. On more than one occasion, guards would half disappear into the side of a table or wall. A strange shortcoming bearing in mind the otherwise high production values that have come to be associated with Cyanide games. Another minor issue we had with the game was that, about half way through Styx: Master of Shadows, you’ll find yourself replaying the earlier environments backwards as you return from the Atrium of Arkenash. An easy option for Cyanide perhaps but it would have been nice to have played new areas rather than the same ones reversed.
These minor gripes aside, Styx: Master of Shadows is a brilliant addition to the sneak ‘em up genre. With most developers obsessed with shiny graphics and knee jerk gunplay, it’s refreshing to play a game that actually forces you to use the old grey matter. For this we applaud Cyanide and hope that Styx’s minor wrinkles are ironed out in his outing. Well recommended.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Microsoft Xbox One code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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