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Platform

Playstation 2

 

Genre

Action

 

Publisher

Activision

 

Developer

K2

 

ESRB

M (Mature)

 

Released

Q1 2003

 

 

- Nice visuals

- Lots of weapons and items to use

- Good replay value

- Sneaking up on guards is fun

- The guards are tough in a head-on fight

 

 

- Discombobulated story

- Some bad camera angles

- The guards are pretty dopey and predictable when doing their rounds

 

 

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Review: Hitman 2: Silent Assassin (PC)

 

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Tenchu: Wrath of Heaven

Score: 8.4/10

If thereís any one phenomenon that gets milked in video games, itís ninjas.  Since the 8-bit days these stealthy little buggers have been keeping us busy in Ninja Gaiden, Inindo, Ninja Turtles, you name it.  But a lot of these games didnít have the stealth element ninjas are traditionally known for.  It was all about crazy acrobatic skills and slicing and dicing your enemies with your Katanas.  The Tenchu series, on the other hand, has gone with the whole premise of ninjas sneaking around, trying not to be seen.  The third installment in the series, and the first in this generation of consoles, does a marvelous job of bringing the tension and suspense of being a silent device of death to the PS2.  

tenchu-wrath-heaven-1.jpg (15947 bytes)          tenchu-wrath-heaven-2.jpg (18453 bytes)

 

The nice thing about the game is that it embraces the fact that youíre in the distant past, so you have to rely on line of site, light sources from lamps, sound, and other very basic signs that enemies are near by.  No radars here, just your five senses.  If you donít take your time and be very careful youíre going to find yourself in a pickle good and quick.  The whole game is really geared toward this.  In some stealth games you can get away with being overly aggressive, but the AI of the enemies is so smart in combat that players are better off either avoiding guards outright, or sneaking up unseen, then killing their foe instantly by gutting them, slitting their throat, or decapitating them.  If you get caught youíll likely find yourself in a tough sword fight as the enemies know when to block, how much to attack to force you out of weapons range, and how to maneuver around you so they can find an opening for attack.  Theyíre clever bastards and players will do well to respect this early on, using the element of surprise instead of fighting them head on.  Itís so satisfying to successfully pull of a clean assassination on one of the guards and it gets even better when youíre creeping up on one, he detects you, but doesnít have time to react because you still get in the kill just in time.  Itís very intense.  On the other side of the AI coin, the guards run very easy to learn routes, and when they give chase they aren't too bright, losing you pretty quickly.

 

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Youíre weapon and item selection is very comprehensive as well, providing all the useful tools a ninja could need with more becoming available as the game progresses.  Players have access to smoke bombs, mines, and shuriken, among other offensive weapons, as well as a number of items to affect your characterís health from healing potions, to poison antidotes, to items that augment your strength.  Players can also pick up weapons from fallen enemies to use.  The catch here is when you switch back to your stock sword you 

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lose the weapon you picked up earlier.  Nonetheless, knowing the benefits of these additional weapons proves very useful, as you take on different enemies in different environments.  Very quickly, however, it becomes important to get comfortable with your grappling hook.  This will allow you to get to high up areas, pass crevasses, and sneak past some enemies unseen.  The grappling hook is easily one of your most important tools for getting out of a pinch or passing obstacles.

From a visual standpoint, Wrath of Heaven is very easy on the eyes.  There is a lot of detail in the environments, even when you stand right up close to a wall.  The detail isnít like a finely woven tapestry, but the effort was put in to make sure the wall doesnít look like a plain, washed out mess like in a lot of other games.  Walking into some of the areas itís easy to be floored by the sheer level of detail that has been put into the game, with fine art decorating the walls, delicate lanterns, and so forth.  Character design is also well done, staying relatively authentic to the garb of the era with fine details thrown in when dealing with humans, and being wonderfully ghastly when demonic beings step onto the scene.  A lot of effort was put into the light in the game as well, since it casts shadows alerting guards of your presence and vice versa.  But from a strictly aesthetic point of view it really does a lot to illuminate the environments and give an almost cozy sense to some of the levels.  Tying it all together is very smooth frame rate, no stuttering, no pausing, just solid animation.

On the aural end of the presentation spectrum things are just as impressive.  Sound is very detailed to help players tell when enemies are present as well as a lot of voice acting.  Happily, the voice acting is very well done too, sounding fairly believable with some funny comments from the guards as they complain about this or that or wish for their shift to end.  Musically the game is a joy to experience as well, with tunes reminiscent of the era adding a nice element to the atmosphere of Wrath of Heaven.

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You start off the game having the choice of playing as either Rikimaru or Ayame (with a third character to unlock after completing the game with the first two ninjas), trying to rid their land of corruption and evil.  Slowly they begin to realize that thereís one singular force behind this, but unfortunately as you pass from mission to mission discovering all this and how it all ties together is very disjointed.  Itís like the narrative is telling the player, ďGo here next.  No, trust us just do it, itíll sort of make sense later.Ē  Itís not the end of the world, but easily one of the main sticking points in the game.  If the story had a few more tweaks it would have been a lot more enjoyable.

The other main problem with Wrath of Heaven is the camera.  Using the R1 button, players can quickly re-center the camera and see whatís in front of them, but on occasion, usually in confined areas, the camera just doesnít feel like cooperating.  As such, if youíre fighting an enemy you may not see them properly resulting in it getting in a few free shots.  It becomes even more of a hassle when trying to make a tough jump because the camera will face downward so that it becomes difficult to gauge how far to leap.

Adding replay value to the game is that there are multiple layouts to the different missions in the game.  If you think you aced getting through a level, try one of the other floor plans and see how you fair then.  On top of this there are a couple of multiplayer modes to choose from.  Firstly thereís a split screen cooperative mode where players have to accomplish tasks together.  They can actually be very challenging, and a load of fun once the both of you have a solid understanding of the game.  The other multiplayer mode is head to head combat.  This one feels pretty simplistic.  To expect a full blown fighting game engine out of it is unrealistic, but it would have been nice to have a bit more depth.  Itís okay for a few short bouts, but if youíre looking for a night of fist-a-cuffs, pop an actual fighting game in the PS2.

If youíre in the hunt for a stealth game you wonít be disappointed with Tenchu: Wrath of Heaven.  It makes for a very satisfying experience, sneaking up on bad guys, or simply sneaking past them.  Ninjas hiding in the shadows has not been this fun in a long time.

Mr. Nash

April 12, 2003

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