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In case you missed it, I was very enthusiastic about Styx: Master of Shadows last year because it was 'a stealth game actually about stealth'. Nowadays most games which get billed as 'stealth games' in fact only use a simplified implementation of stealth as a minor part of the overall gameplay experience. Allow me to quote myself: In short, despite its low-budget looks and lack of polish, Styx: Master of Shadows is very much a stealth game like they used to make and it features a focus on verticality in the design of its environments, which reminded me of Tenchu in a good way. I always hoped that publisher Focus Home Interactive would let Cyanide take another shot at it and that's exactly what they have announced: This is the one screenshot they have released so far: Apart from Cyanide taking another stab at it, the good news is that they're getting a bigger budget to do so. The low-budget aspects were the main drawback of the original, so if they are able to retain the quality of the gameplay but offer it in a bigger, better, more polished package then I'm all for it. As long as the stealth remains 'pure' but going from the press release it sounds like we don't have anything to worry about. So. Anybody else except me excited about the return of the Styx?
I suspect not a lot of people are going to be interested in this thread, but what the hell. Styx: Master of Shadows is a stealthgame from Cyanide Studios, they usually make cycling games but have been branching out to other genres since a few years back. You may have heard of Of Orcs and Men, their b-game RPG that didn't click with me at all, despite a few interesting concepts. The sneaky goblin Styx also appears in Of Orcs and Men, it's the same setting and I suspect Master of Shadows is a prequel. But I'm not completely sure since the story is pretty bad. In fact, there are a lot of bad things about Styx; the human character models are terrible, the voice acting is bad, the story is badly told, the A.I. can be pretty stupid when patrolling guards walk into each other and simply keep walking until they 'unstick', grabbing and hanging from ledges is unnecessarily fiddly (but you get used to it quickly, I found) and the last boss of the entire game is atrocious. But here's the good part: apart from Mark of the Ninja (which is a 2D spin-off of a genre that has been defined by the act of carefully navigating 3D environments since 1998) Styx is also the only proper stealth game in over a decade. That I can remember at least. Sure, there have been games like Assassin's Creed, Dishonored, Metal Gear Cutscene, Thief 2014 (urgh), but they all use a simplified implementation of stealth mostly as minor part of the overall gameplay experience. They use the idea of stealth to complement the fighting, the set-pieces, the platforming and etcetera, but none offer the same focus on stealth as the actual stealth classics from way back when and therefore lack the fantastic nail-biting tension these games offered. Sure, traditional stealth games are not for everybody as it requires patience and a methodical approach, but the beautiful contrast of being horrendously overpowered while you remain undetected (you're basically one-hit killing everybody) and shockingly vulnerable once you are seen, is unique to the stealth genre and I love that. At any moment, with just one tiny mistake, you can instantly go from being an overpowered hunter, to an underpowered and insignificant prey. All of the modern titles I mentioned above, which use stealth as minor part of the experience, completely lack this defining contrast. Anyway. Despite its low-budget looks, production and lack of polish, Styx: Master of Shadows is very much a stealth game like they used to make. You can sort of think of it as a combination of 90s Thief and Tenchu, it has the careful concealment in darkness and focus on tools to maintain or expand that darkness of the former, and the fast acrobatics to avoid enemies and navigate environments with a focus on verticality of the latter. In fact, it's the verticality of the level-design which impresses most, the environments are huge and each one feels like a sandbox unto its own.Usually I hate games which use indicators to tell me where to go, but in Styx it doesn't matter - there are so many ways to reach the goal that choosing a path is almost a puzzle in itself. In one area I remember spending a long time getting past a heavily guarded room, lots of saving and reloading, but when I arrived there a second time I discovered an alternative route way above the same room - and I mean like six or so stories above it, making that dreaded room look tiny. The stealth itself is enjoyable if you like that sort of thing. It's a shitty thing to say, but that is what it boils down to - do you enjoy traditional stealth games? if not, stay the fuck away and wait for a new Metal Gear Dialogue or Dishonored instead. Styx is difficult and punishing, but enjoyably so. You get lots of options and tools to navigate past patrolling AI, like one-hit kill throwing knifes - but you can only carry two at most. Or tiny sandballs moistened with spit to put out torches from a distance - but you can only carry five. You can use amber, some kind of magical stuff with its own limited bar, to turn temporarily invisible - but you can carry only two amber-restoring potions. You can also create clones which you can control from a distance and once you level up you can use those to create traps - put a clone in closet and order it to kill the first guard that passes by. Amber always regenerates to a minimum amount so that you're at least able to create one clone or activate amber vision. This last power lets you scan the environment, it lights up enemies and hooks which you can use to climb up wall. Like the waypoint indicator this would usually annoy the fuck out of me in any other game, but the environments can be so sprawling and the enemies so difficult to avoid or kill, that you actually need to use it and so it becomes part of a challenging and satisfying stealth experience. Also, there's no distinction between a lethal and non-lethal way to dispose of enemies. Rather brilliantly you can choose from a quick and loud kill or a quiet but agonisingly slow kill. With the slow method you won't alert the other nearby guards (although they can be alerted if they're close enough to hear the body hit the floor) but while you're slowly killing one of their colleagues there's always a chance that another guard will walk by and see you. It adds a lot of tensions and it forces you to be even more strict with your timing that you usually would in a stealth game. After you've killed someone, you can pick up the body and hide it somewhere. Always a plus in any stealth game. You can also do stuff like drop chandeliers on unsuspecting guards below or poison the drinks or food - but beware that the poison takes some time to kick in. Each mission can be ghosted, there's even a reward for that, but it makes it even more challenging of course. You can replay every mission form the hideout, even after completing the game, and use any newly bought skills to actually stand a chance of ghosting earlier missions. I should also mention that all the environments of the first half of the game are recycled in the second half. They're even more enjoyable second time around because they've have made them more difficult, forcing you to get more creative, but it's jarring nonetheless. And the otherwise wonderful level design is sometimes spoiled by specific choke points, instead of having the usual freedom to go wherever, however you want - you're instead forced to navigate past a narrow hallway or door in a handful of specific ways. In short, Styx: Master of Shadows is flawed and low-budget, but its heart is in the right place. Cyanide Studios made a proper stealth game, like the ones we used to enjoy. If you can look past the flaws and enjoy it for what is, then you have a fun and challenging old school stealth experience to look forward to. It helps that it's also being sold digital-only, at half the price of a full retail game. The PC version is the one to get since the load times are really fast, which is pretty damn essential in a game which makes you use F5 and F9 as much as Styx does. In the Giant Bomb Quick Look they mentioned that loading times are really long in the console versions, and although I can't confirm this, that is enough to recommend PC. I mapped F5 to clicking down on the left stick on my 360 controller and F9 to clicking down on the right stick - it works great. So yeah, make of this what you will and I wonder how many responses this thread will get (For all the Dutch people: you can also read my review here)