Styx – Master of Shadows Review: Enveloped by Darkness

October 21st, 2014 -

The first game I played that really pushed stealth mechanics was Metal Gear Solid. It was vastly different from my first experience with Metal Gear on the NES. Since ’98 I’ve always enjoyed delving into various stealth experiences, attempting to be undetected for as long as possible in games that don’t even focus on that aspect. Following my disappointment with the recent Thief, I was eagerly awaiting the next title that would have me lurking in the shadows. Styx: Master of Shadows snuck past many, but is it because it hid so well, or because it isn’t worth noticing?

02

You play as Styx, a goblin who is looking to make his way to the heart of a tree filled with Amber, which is a magical substance that is like a drug in this world. Though for you, it also serves as your magic in the game, allowing you to create clones, alter your vision to see what you can interact with, or even turn invisible. The game plays out in a series of flashbacks – it begins with Styx being interrogated, and from there he tells his story. And you play through that story, beginning with the prologue (one of the longest prologues I’ve played in a while). This will get you acquainted with the controls, what you’re capable of getting away with, and a taste of all the extra things you can do in the game.

Gameplay involves exploring vast areas with your goal constantly pointed out for you so you know where to go. Aside from the main goal, there are plenty of nooks and crannies to explore – mainly for the sake of collectibles. Don’t care about collectibles? That’s fine, they aren’t necessary. However, investing time in them will boost the skill points you get at the end of a level, which gives you the opportunity of buying new skills. New skills means more opportunities for playing through the levels. Of course, that means the levels are technically easier, and the challenge of using merely base skills is fun too. But there are times those skills almost seem like a necessity when you back yourself into a corner. Each chapter contains high levels of verticality as you would expect in a modern day stealth game. Platforming through these portions can prove difficult at times, but it’s nice being challenged here when you are so often not asked to participate and just watch the game move with the press of a button.

01

Through the course of the game, you can either kill enemies and hide them in hiding places within the areas, or take the passive route and hide in the shadows, never alerting a single person. This is harder than you may think though, as the cone of vision is difficult to determine and seems random based on the characters. However, it is in your best interest to stay hidden, as once you are seen, you are forced into a duel. Duels pit Styx against another enemy, and you must parry their attacks until they are dazed, in which you kill them. While this sounds intuitive, it ultimately becomes tedium. It’s frustrating that you must time the attack just right (you can buy a skill that allows more leeway) in order to make progress in a fight, especially when surrounding enemies throw projectiles at you and kill you in a matter of seconds. You can manage to get away from the duel with enough rolling, but by then you’ve probably attracted too many enemies and aren’t quick enough to get anywhere safe and you may as well die. And if you play on the hardest difficulty, one hit is death. So if you’re looking for a game that isn’t too easy, this may be up your alley.

Of course, this is stealth game. If you’re getting into fights head-on, you’re playing it wrong. The darkness is your greatest ally in this game, and creating that darkness may remind you a bit of Splinter Cell. You won’t be shooting out lights, but you will be throwing sand at lanterns, or just putting them out with your own hands. Of course, being in the dark doesn’t make you invisible, but it does raise your chances of survival. You’ll know when you’re hidden by the glow of the tattoo on your back, which may be why you aren’t invisible in the darkness – a creature that lurks in the darkness, you’d think he wouldn’t give himself away (but if Sam Fisher can avoid contact with three green glowing eyes… this shouldn’t be an issue). A majority of the stealth skills you can learn pertain to the invisibility skill, because you stick out so much with that glowing monstrosity on your back. Other skills include new kills, like killing from cover, or aerial murders. It makes maneuvering levels easier in some instances, but it’s at the risk of making noise and drawing attention to yourself, and if you aren’t able to make yourself scarce quickly, you may as well just die – though invisibility is a godsend in these instances.

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Sneaking past wave after wave of enemies is exciting, and feels like the way the game was intended to be played. Dropping from a balcony onto the carpet to muffle your fall, followed by throwing a dagger and then performing a muffled kill is very satisfying. Sneaking about in the ventilation shafts, under tables, making sure to avoid running into objects that give away your position is all great fun. It’s the moment you screw up by letting a guy see you or hear something from a distance they have no business hearing that things take a turn toward frustration. But the characters go along with the same scripting over and over, so the game ends up being a lot of trial and error. While the game presents itself as being open with various routes to take, there are sections that require you do something in a very specific manner. That’s not a bad thing, per se, but it can be immersion breaking. The first time I ran into this was when I was supposed to follow an NPC. I didn’t realize I had to wait for a conversation between these two guards to finish and have them disperse until the fifth or sixth time dying for being spotted. Obviously not a huge deal, but if you are trying to tail someone, the last thing you want to do is wait around and lose them. I didn’t realize he’d notice I wasn’t following him and stop, considering he told me to keep my distance. Also, if he’s able to tell I’m not following him, and I’m behind him, either he is amazing at knowing his surroundings (isn’t based on the next section), or Styx gives off an aura everyone should be able to feel that makes stealth impossible. Following this part though, you are given an example of a couple ways to approach a situation. Kill the guards and dispose of their bodies with acid, or merely distract them by dropping a chandelier. Again, not a huge deal, but in a game that offers more than one pathway and teaches you to try different approaches, it’s annoying when you are stuck with a single path.

One of the most unique features in the game is the use of clones. Clones are made from your Amber and at the bare minimum will open doors you can’t (they’ll have a huge door spike dig into their spine, which is why you can’t do it yourself). You can upgrade the skills of what your clones can do, which allow for getting around some of those seemingly impossible parts. Have a clone jump on a guy and keep him occupied, or hide a clone in a hiding place, lure an enemy to it, and have the clone drag him in to his death. These of course mean leaving Styx unaccounted for, but it’s not hard to find a hiding spot for him while you take control of the clone. The game has plenty of places where no one would ever look for Styx. This is the feature that makes Styx: Master of Shadows different from the majority of other stealth games you’ve played. Is it done well enough to propel the game beyond all of its shortcomings? No, but it is a neat addition and definitely helps.

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I’m not typically a graphics snob when it comes to games. I can still play old RPGs from the NES to the last generation. It’s not graphics that make a game fun, and that’s evident by games that look terrible and are great, compared to stuff like Final Fantasy XIII which was on another level graphically at the time, but gameplay suffered. Despite being on current-gen systems, it feels like it belongs on the PS3 and 360. There is constant screen tearing, texture pop-in, and frames of weirdness when switching cameras in conversation. It’s a drag when you are unable to do something because you are can’t see something due to graphical issues. Also, the lighting of the game is a bit… off. As mentioned before, you know you’re in darkness when your tattoo lights up – so when you are sitting in a seemingly dark corner, do make sure you’re actually in darkness. Visual cues of the environment are not always correct. What the game does well is create a character people will enjoy. Styx is written in a manner that may be reminiscent to your typical “cool” character, but the voice actor really brings him to life. It didn’t feel like a goblin at first, but as you begin to understand his personality, he fits perfectly. His snarky comments, his level-headedness, and even when he’s losing himself to the Amber. Wonderful job bringing a character the audience can appreciate to life.

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I really wanted to like Styx going into it. And while I enjoyed it at times, I had to be in the right mood to play it. It definitely has its share of problems throughout. But if you want a stealth game that is punishing for not sticking to the shadows and being clumsy, this is the game for you. If you’re looking for something with lots of challenges and collectibles, this is still for you. Do you love the idea of playing as a goblin? Yup, you should play this. Do you want a highly polished, unique stealth game that reinvents the genre? Well, you’ll have to look elsewhere for that. It’s a good game, and for $30 it’s not trying to pull the wool over your eyes like Rogue Warrior. If you’re worried about length, it’s more than adequate. With the options of replaying missions though, I have no interest, even with the new abilities. Every fun part is followed by frustration. I don’t regret playing it by any means, but I can’t recommend it at full price.

RENT

Pros

  • Clone Maneuvers
  • Voice Acting
  • Stealth

Cons

  • Sporadic AI Awareness
  • Constant Screen Tear/Texture Pop-in
  • Duels

Styx: Master of Shadows was created by Cyanide Studio and published by Focus Home Interactive. It is available on the PS4 ($29.99), XO ($29.99), and PC ($29.99) as of October 7, 2014. The PS4 copy reviewed was provided for us. If you’d like to see more of Styx, check out the official site.

 

Here at FFoP we use a rating method that you may be unfamiliar with, so allow us to clarify. When we review a game, we see what sort of BRA fits. Buy, Rent, or Acquire is the rating we give out – we’ve boiled it down for simplicity. A Buy is worth the full retail value; a Rent is something you may want to try before you buy, or grab at a discount; an Acquire is something you can play, but we’d suggest borrowing it from someone, grabbing it in a game bundle, or some other means. If you want further clarification, please feel free to get in touch.

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