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Return from Darkness
Score: 7.0 / 10
The original Tenchu for the Playstation is
my favorite stealth adventure game of all time. While many (read most)
people were instantly elevating Metal Gear Solid to king of the hill
status, I was still trumpeting the awesome stealth element of Tenchu.
Unfortunately, unlike the Metal Gear series, Tenchu’s sequels didn’t
really build on the success of the original—in fact, they backslid into
mediocrity. Because of this, I didn’t bother playing the first
next-generation Tenchu game, Tenchu: Wrath of Heaven, when it was
released on the PS2. Still, despite the weak sequels, I was excited to
have a chance to review the re-vamped Xbox version just to see if
Activision and K2 had got it right this
time. The answer is “yes” and “no”. Though Tenchu: Return From Darkness
(T:RFD) at moments reminded me just why I loved the original so much,
mostly it felt like a further re-hashing of game play elements that have
since grown tiresome. Worse, T:RFD features the worst camera in the
series, which makes playing the game really frustrating at times.
T:RFD, like the original, puts players in the
shoes of a ninja intent on ending the evil reign of various thugs. To do
this, players take on the role of either Rikimaru or Ayame and lead them
through both indoor and outdoor levels. Gameplay mostly consists of
methodically working through a level eliminating enemy guards until the
level boss is reached. The outdoor parts of each level are
straightforward and easy to navigate, but the indoor sections are
maze-like and confusing and so separated from any sense of a real living
space that they are almost surreal. It wasn't long before I tired of
constantly climbing up into attic spaces and through holes in walls in
order to find the room where an item or level boss were hiding.
I'm a huge fan of stealth game play, and T:RFD puts a premium on stealth
kills. By performing ten such kills in an area, players open up
otherwise unavailable bonus items. On the first level, I thought that
was a great feature, but by half way through the second level, I
realized that it required absolutely no skill to pull off stealth kills.
The enemy A.I. is simply atrocious. All that is required to make a
stealth kill is to hang around until an enemy turns his back and then
quickly run toward him and hit the attack button. This will cause the
character to perform a cool looking stealth kill, but it is hard to take
much satisfaction from the performance.
Other than stealth kill, I really love trying to make it through levels
of stealth games without being spotted. I'm willing to spend hours
replaying a level in order to make it through cleanly. With T:RFD, this
is nearly (or perhaps completely) impossible because of the flighty
camera. It is so difficult to look around corners or even to depend on
the camera to follow the character consistently that I was always
sticking my body out just a little too far and getting detected.
Difficulty in a game is great when it is earned, but when difficulty is
added by crappy execution, I have a hard time maintaining my enthusiasm.
Still, despite the easy kills and crappy camera, I did enjoy T:RFD at
times. Some sections of levels played just as they should, without the
camera getting in the way and with some legitimate challenges, and those
levels are enough fun that I can't completely trash the game. As it is,
I'd say the game is about average for a stealth-action game, but that is
something we shouldn't have to experience from a series that started out
with such a brilliant, original game.
A note on replay value — T:RFD features a decent online feature list
that includes both co-op and deathmatch play. The fighting engine is
rather lame, so deathmatch isn't great, but online co-op is fun. Also,
once a level is beaten (offline or on), players have the option to
replay the level with items, maps, and enemies shuffled around. There
are three total set ups for each level. Overall, if a player enjoys the
basic game, T:RFD is a solid value. Of course, if, like me, they find
the game unoriginal and uninspiring, then the bonus features for this
Xbox version aren't going to change that.