While stealth action games usually have you playing as a sneaky spy, the genre has recently expanded its career choices to include a space mechanic (Alien: Isolation) and a homicide detective (The Evil Within). But none have gone as far a field as Styx Master Of Shadows (PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC), a fantasy-flavored third-person stealth action game that has you playing as a real creep.
A prequel of sorts to 2012’s Of Orcs And Men (though you don’t need to have played that game, or even heard of it, to enjoy this), Styx Master Of Shadows casts you as a goblin on a quest to steal the heart from the all-powerful World Tree. But since you’re just a little guy, you can’t just walk into the place all guns…er knives a blazin’. You’ve gotta sneak your way in all quiet-like.
Not surprisingly, Styx can do many of the same moves as his counterparts in Splinter Cell and Metal Gear Solid. He can creep up behind someone, kill them silently, and then hide their bodies in closets or chests; he can also hide himself in those closets and chests, as well as in pots and drain pipes; he can peer through keyholes to make sure the coast is clear; and he can extinguish lights, both by hand or by tossing sand (though unlike when Cell’s Sam Fisher shoots out a light bulb, here the torches can be relit by conscientious guards). Styx can even pick people’s pockets like the guy in Thief, and can slip under a table the same way Amanda Ripley does in Alien: Isolation.
But Styx Master Of Shadows also expands upon the usual stealth action tenets. For starters, he’s a bit more nimble than Splinter Cell’s Sam Fisher or Solid Snake from Metal Gear Solid, in that his climbing is more akin to what you can do in Assassin’s Creed or inFAMOUS. Styx also can use amber to create a mini clone of himself, one who can distract enemies or explore areas you cannot, while his Amber Vision is like Styx’s take on Detective Vision in the Batman: Arkham games.
Styx Master Of Shadows also lets you pick locks without having to play some stupid lock picking minigame. Those things are never fun.
It also helps that the dungeons and castles in Styx Master Of Shadows are rather elaborate. Not only does this give you multiple ways to complete your objectives, but it also means there’s plenty of treasure and supplies to be found if you’re the exploring type.
Styx Master Of Shadows also recalls the Assassin’s Creed games when you take an enemy head-on. But that’s not a compliment; the frustrating swordplay is part of why I quit the Assassin’s series after about an hour of playing 2010’s Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood. Rather than just hack and slash people, you have to wait and parry their attacks and then attack them. Which doesn’t seem very goblin-like, but then I’m only a quarter goblin on my mother’s side, so what do I know?
Thankfully, most of the combat in Styx Master Of Shadows is of the sneaky variety. Though what makes Styx’s stealth kills a little different than others is that he can either kill quick, which can be a little noisy and thus might catch someone’s attention, or he can take his time and be quiet about it, and thus might be discovered by someone who just happens to walk by at the worst possible moment.
The thing is, while Styx Master Of Shadows has the makings of a good game, it’s ultimately just okay.
For starters, there are times in Styx Master Of Shadows when the difficulty varies greatly. After breezing through one area that’s largely bereft of guards, you’ll arrive at one that so populated that you’ll only get by after numerous tries, and even then only by the skin of your teeth. Adding insult to injury, the checkpoints are annoyingly spread far apart, and while it somewhat compensates by letting you save whenever you want, the load times are rather lengthy. As a result, this can sometimes be challenging, but can also be so challenging that it’s frustrating.
Because of this, Styx Master Of Shadows often feels like a bit of a slog, since you end up replaying the same sections over and over and over….
Styx Master Of Shadows also has a lot of little issues that makes this feel rather shoddy. For instance, when you create a clone, you don’t automatically take control of it. Granted, having to hit another button isn’t the worst thing in the world, but does seem like an unnecessary step. Similarly, while the voice action isn’t terrible, it’s not great either. Styx, for instance, doesn’t sound very gobliny. It also employs comic book-style cut scenes, which always look cheap if the game itself isn’t comic book-ish. This also has numerous technical glitches throughout. Nothing game-breaking, mind you, or even game wounding, but they’re still noticeable.
This even has a graphical issue, albeit a minor one. While Styx Master Of Shadows is neither the most original or unique looking game — we’ve seen these kind of grey and brown castles before — it’s not without its charm. More importantly, the camera doesn’t get in the way like it usually does in a third-person game. But when Styx goes from somewhere he can’t be seen to somewhere he can, which the game indicates by dimming the picture, the difference is a so subtle that you might miss it. Which may mean you enemies won’t miss you.
Styx Master Of Shadows also has a problem that’s so common these days that I now just cut and paste this paragraph into almost every game review I do (seriously, go check): some of the type is too small. Unless you sit really, really close to your TV — y’know, like your mama told you not to — you’ll have a hard time reading the button prompts or the captions.
As problematic as Styx Master Of Shadows may be, though, and as much as it’s not as good a stealth action game as Splinter Cell, Metal Gear Solid, or Alien: Isolation, I still managed to have fun with it. Far more fun than I did with Thief, for instance. While its execution sometimes leaves something to be desired, it has some interesting ideas at work, and can be challenging…when it’s not too challenging. Maybe Styx should’ve been even more of a creep.