Thursday, April 21, 2016

Styx: Master of Shadows

styx's-tattoo-glows-in-a-poorly-lit-room


Developer: Cyanide Studio
Release Date: October 14, 2014
Genre (Developer listed): Action?
Genre (Reality): Stealth

One Sentence Review:
A shining example of good moments in a low quality game.

Curious about the two genres? Well don't you worry, there's a good reason for it. One is what the developer would like this game to be while the other is what this game actually is. You'll probably notice that they aren't the same. There's a good reason for that too...

Gameplay

The gameplay itself isn't too bad. It's your usual system of hiding in the shadows and something will generally glow when you're invisible. In this case it's a tattoo on the character, which is a nice touch. The problems with the gameplay start creeping up as you progress though. 

Ledges which seem like they should be reachable from a cursory glance are shown to be decoration when you jump up to them. Buttons aren't very well allocated meaning you can try to do one thing and end up doing something completely different on a regular basis. Then there's checkpoints, oh are there checkpoints.

Actually, there aren't any checkpoints! Not really at least. The game autosaves every so often at key points in each individual mission. This means every time you mess up and wind up dead you usually have to start the mission from the very beginning. Does this seem a bit weird? Well let's just say this was put in because the game is pathetically short without it, running around 10 hours of total playtime for about $30 USD.

There also isn't a quicksave key because apparently this is a console port. Now this is where you might start thinking to yourself "fine, I'll just save manually before every jump so I don't have to backtrack and remember this exact spot". Well the game has you screwed there too! Not only is there a limit to the number of save files you can have at any given time, the rules in the missions like to change on you at certain points.

One time I found myself killing everything that breathed up to the halfway point of a mission. Apparently I missed just one person. How do I know that? Because the rules changed halfway through and told me that I couldn't be found out or I'd fail the mission. Apparently the one person I missed came across one of the many bodies I left behind. I tried several times to restart from checkpoints until I eventually gave up and started the mission all over again. That's an hour or two of my life I'm not getting back.

Now I would mention the final boss but I'll get to it when I talk about how horrible combat is.

Level and World Design

Aside from the aforementioned decorative ledges that you can't grab onto I actually like the design of this game. If you took out the NPCs and the main character I'd still get the same energy as if they were all there and alive. Lighting could use some work in some levels but attention to detail is good. I don't see many areas that look like someone just took random assets and cobbled them together as filler.

The problem with the design of the game is that everything is repeated a bit too often. Assets are recycled for multiple levels and that's just when the entire levels aren't being recycled. The total number of missions in this game far exceed the total number of levels designed for it. If I had to guess at the number of levels in this game that you're expected to explore and stealth through, it would be around 4 or 5. You backtrack through all of them. For reasons.

Dialogue and Cutscenes

This is one of the few games in recent memory where I was happy when the cutscenes were just hand-drawn art layered over voice acting. The artwork is pretty solid and I like the visual style but more importantly the animated cutscenes are terrible. Not only do they show exactly how low-res this game is, even by 2007  standards, they also show that the developers do not have one clue in hell about a little thing known as lip-syncing.

When I read the steam reviews warning me about this I thought "pft, no big deal". I figured I'd probably dealt with a lot worse and it was just a small millisecond off or something. Then I played the game and immediately went and gave everyone who included that in their review a nice big thumbs up. The lip syncing is immediately noticeable to the point that I couldn't focus on the characters as they were supposedly "talking". I would've preferred the mouths not moving at all to this, it would've reminded me of games I like.

The content of the dialogue isn't much to talk about either, it's more of the usual 2000s crap with the developers deciding that cursing all the time is the best way to make the character seem like a thug or edgy. Completely ignoring the fact that thieves with the intelligence to do half of what our main character does generally don't talk like they're complete idiots. The NPC dialogue isn't much better mind you. Did everyone just wake up one day and decide unanimously to replace every 3rd word in their sentence with "fuck"?

Styx-attacking-a-guard-with-his-dagger

AI and Combat

The AI can best be summarized by a special moment in this game that I keep in my heart to this day. I placed a clone inside of a trunk and told him to kill anyone who walks past. I then climbed out the window, nestled myself on the ledge and whistled. A guard immediately walked past the trunk, found me on the ledge and killed me instantly. My clone was apparently busy playing Thief 2 which I guess he ported to his smart phone.

The AI in this game is terrible. Redundant statement, huh? If it isn't your clone acting like a complete idiot then it's the guards and targets walking into each other and messing up their patrol routes. This got really annoying when I reached a bridge with no other way across except for a single hole in the guard's patrol route. This hole was immediately closed when the guard's bumped into each other and nudged each other outside of their routes just long enough to close that hole. I'll say it again, the AI in this game is terrible.

But what about the combat? Seriously, what about the combat. It's terrible as well. Apparently Styx isn't able to do anything proactive in combat like take a swing at the enemy while they're winding up an attack. Oh no, he only has two ways to kill people and that's counterattacking or stabbing them from stealth. Now this is probably where you might think that it's a good idea to put a few points into stealth based upgrades right? Well jokes on you, because then they throw enemies at you that can only be killed by throwing knives, and some that can only be killed by clones using their special "trap" ability. No, this game wants you to play as a pure stealth character and very little else.

Now with that in mind, explain to me why the final boss is basically wave-based combat? Every level up to this point there have been ways to complete it without killing a single soul but as soon as you reach this point it's pure combat. No time to pick up some extra throwing knives or potion vials, you're thrown in with however much health and equipment you came in with. This may not seem like bad design when you consider other games that do it, but again this is a game that has been centered around stealth up to that point. The enemies can kill you in two hits as well. And they can chuck throwing knives at you after you finish one of them off. And there are three waves of this you have to survive.

Final Thoughts

In summary, Styx: Master of Shadows is attempting to take the platforming and stealth elements from Assassin's Creed and utilize only the counter attack from that game. Not a bad concept but it's poorly executed in this one. The repetition of the levels and inconsistency of the enemy types and even the enemy AI just make it hard to play. It's definitely not worth its asking price of $30 USD and I'm not even sure it's worth the $7.99 I paid for it.

However, in deference to the good points of the game and the one person on the development team (whoever it was) that made them I price this game at $15.00 USD. There is enough to like about this game like the sound design and the few moments where the AI actually works to recommend it at a price like that. It's about a 10 hour game when you include the unfair deaths and setbacks so it's not like you get nothing from it. Though I don't blame you if you quit after dying to the final boss 3 times.