Wot I Think: Mark Of The Ninja

By Nathan Grayson on October 20th, 2012 at 2:00 pm.

It’s a semi-well-known fact that real ninjas did their best work in the shadows and – unless their express objective was “be hacked into ninjiblets by a vastly superior opponent” – rarely emerged into open combat. Clearly, however, someone forgot to tell videogames about this, resulting in a new breed of ninja that’s basically just a regular ol’ mass murderer in silly feet pajamas. To put things in perspective, Rambo (circa the first film, of course) was more of a ninja than our modern crop of videogame Rambo ninjas. Strange times we live in, right? Happily, Klei Entertainment’s decided to sheath its shank and go for a nice evening skulk about the town. But does it succeed in crafting a multi-faceted, occasionally murderous game of hide-and-go-seek? Here’s wot I think.

I really wish Mark of the Ninja had a “save anywhere” feature. Don’t get me wrong: occasional frustrating exceptions aside, its checkpoints are serviceable – if not particularly amazing. And honestly, if I was able to whip out a piece of parchment and make a gorgeous kanji note of my progress whenever I wanted, I’d probably just end up stopping to do it every three steps. Mark of the Ninja, though, is one of those games that makes me want to mercilessly poke and prod at its outer limits – to try every possible option and item combination – before deciding on one “real” way to proceed. Sure, at its heart, Mark of the Ninja is absolutely a stealth game – cut from the same chloroform-soaked cloth as Thief and its masterfully tip-toeing brethren. But sneaking means a lot of things to a lot of different people, and Mark of the Ninja’s focus on rewarding clever, deliberate thought with options may be its most impressive feat of all.

The special sauce here is made up of one part fantastically meticulous level design and multiple parts of, well, other games. Despite the 2D viewpoint, vision cones, light vs dark mechanics, and even Batman: Arkham Asylum-style enemy terror tactics are in the mix. In fact, the lack of a third dimension actually enhances these tried-and-true mechanics a lot of ways, as it allows you to take in more of your surroundings and ultimately view each area as something of a puzzle. Everything, then, is represented in a highly visual fashion – even sound, which emanates circles of varying sizes to represent whether or not enemies can hear you. The end result is that nothing’s left to chance. Even the briefest of glances will tell how far enemies can see, what they’ll be able to hear, whether they’re on alert or not (and, if so, where they think you are), and whether they’re on the hunt or fleeing for dear life after they knocked down one of your sets of trap-based death dominoes.

It’s insanely empowering – which makes for an interesting contrast with the fact that Mark the ninja (note: not actually his name, but it should be) is basically worthless when he doesn’t have the drop on his foes. He doesn’t really have a fight or flight instinct, per se. His is more along the lines of “run for your life or stop living.” Then again, bringing a traditional Japanese sword to a non-traditional jerkanese gunfight tends to have that effect on people. So the key is to simply avoid being sighted directly. And that’s where some absolutely outstanding level design enters the picture.

At any given moment, odds are good that you’ll be able to make a dash for the straight-and-narrow (hopefully darting between plants, doors, and whatnot as you do), tunnel under via the occasional ventilation system, climb up and over, or even soar through the air with a wonderfully satisfying grappling hook. Meanwhile, secrets are scattered all around for those who are willing to go the extra mile – including enemy free challenge levels that use the environment to tie your brain into a delicious array of pretzels.

That said, Mark of the Ninja did kill my serene stealth groove on the rare occasions when its level design broke down. In these instances, I felt like I was being funneled toward a single predetermined solution, often resulting in bouts of trial-and-error punctuated by oily explosions of cursing. This became especially egregious during my second playthrough, which was an (eventually successful) attempt at being totally non-lethal. See, Mark of the Ninja doesn’t actually have a non-lethal counterpart for good old-fashioned sneak-up-and-eviscerate tactics, so options on that front are quite limited to begin with. Drop in a couple incredibly well-positioned enemies and a few insta-death lasers, and you’ve got a recipe for rage.

Even so, I can understand why Klei opted to omit non-lethal takedowns from Mark’s arsenal. I mean, I love the “offensive stealth” in games like Arkham Asylum/City (and even modern Splinter Cell, to some extent) as much as anybody, but lethal and non-lethal may as well be the same thing in those games. The closest parallel for Mark of the Ninja, actually, might be Deus Ex: Human Revolution. Sure, lethal was louder and obviously more permanent, but I was still ultimately going through the same motions. Deliver the blow, hide the body, etc. In Mark of the Ninja, meanwhile, I generally found the bloodier path to also be the easier, more efficient one, but ghosting my way past overwhelming odds was so much more gratifying. I felt like a bull in a China shop who’d managed to daintily slip in without so much as wobbling a single impractically lofty plates tower. It was as though I’d never even been there at all.

And yet, while that aspect of Mark of the Ninja is philosophically sound, the end result still leaves something to be desired. Put simply, the game feels like it’s skewed in favor of slicing and dicing. Lethal skills and items that are actually useful outnumber their lethal counterparts and generally produce more impressive results. Even during my non-lethal playthrough, I found it extremely difficult to resist knocking down a colossal chandelier and watching it clatter onto two enemies in a sparkly storm of instant death. I mean, it was right there. So easy. So natural. Same with underground poison vents. And don’t even get me started on the options that open up when you add spike traps, the ability to dangle terror-inducing corpses from the ceiling, and other spike traps to the mix. That’s my Ninth Symphony, guys.

Now, that’s not to say pure stealth isn’t viable. With the aid of gas bombs, guard-distracting firecrackers, and a good deal more patience than most modern games expect of us, it’s a largely incredible experience. Moreover, Mark of the Ninja rarely penalized me for mixing and matching. While there’s a big point reward for making it through a level without a single kill, there are also multiple bonus objectives – some lethal, some not – that easily equal it. So I never really felt pigeonholed except when I was placing a restriction (for instance, full non-lethal) on myself.

In some ways, then, it really just  comes down to personal taste. Do you derive more satisfaction from big displays of cunningly planned force, or do you prefer the stomach-lurching rush of just barely dodging a flashlight beam that would’ve signaled the beginning of your incredibly abrupt end? Mark of the Ninja can offer you both – at the same time, even, if that’s how you choose to play. Sure, a few systems feel like they exist almost solely for the benefit of lethality, but – for the most part – that doesn’t diminish what the non-lethal route brings to the table.

There are, however, a few little things that warrant nitpicking. I encountered some annoying AI bugs (for instance, having the alarm sounded on me when I’d definitely sneaked past a bunch of guards and into an entirely different room), and the “sticky” controls for jumping, going through doors/vent entrances, and the like occasionally misinterpreted my input and sent me careening into enemy territory with all the subtlety of a clown bursting out of a birthday cake. Also, some of the menus still felt pretty console-y. Even though I had full mouse control, I was forced to move through each individual step of the equipment menu every time – always followed closely by “Are you sure you want to do that?” prompts that I imagined to sound like a pack of overly concerned grandmothers.

By and large, though, Mark of the Ninja’s a remarkable little game. It brings together elements of stealth classics, modern standouts, and a few of its own brilliant tricks to form one of the finest sneak-a-thons I’ve played in ages. Sure, it’s a bit inconsistent in places – both in terms of level design and central mechanics – but the good positively sumo slams the bad. Bravo, Mark. Mrs OfTheNinja will surely be proud.

Mark of the Ninja is now available on Steam.

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166 Comments »

  1. HalfDane1975 says:

    I’ve heard alot of good things , but I’m not a big fan of platformers and this sure looks an awful lot like a sidescrolling platformer. *Booting up XCOM*

    • Mordsung says:

      It’s a side scroller, yes, but it’s also probably one of the top 5 best stealth games I’ve ever played.

      And this comes from a man with a borderline obsession with stealth games.

      • lordcooper says:

        I need more stealth games, what were the others?

        • emorium says:

          i’m guessing the 4 assassin’s creed released so far.

          • povu says:

            I’d say this game is closer to Thief than Assassin’s Creed. In AC stealth is almost entirely optional (except when missions instantly fail when you’re detected) since it’s not very hard to take down a group of 10 guards head on, especially when they added the kill streak feature in Brotherhood.

          • suibhne says:

            @emorium: You have to be joking.

            Please tell me you’re joking.

          • emorium says:

            @suibhne. yeah i am joking lol. i find AssCreed as much a stealth game as CoD is a military sim.

          • masidab5154 says:

            How are the controls, actually? Steam’s Store page for this game informs me that it has controller support, but isnt there any mouse-aiming of throwing knives and more of that ninja stuff?
            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lzyd91NFx-Y

        • SkittleDiddler says:

          Dishonored.

          LULZ JUST KIDDING

          • DrGonzo says:

            I would easily put it up there, better than The Other Thief. And as a stealth game better than Deus Ex. Certainly the best stealth em up of recent times.

          • SkittleDiddler says:

            I would easily disagree with you, as I found the stealth elements in Dishonored to be so watered down as to be a pale imitation of pretty much every stealth game that came before it. Hell, even Velvet Assassin has more to it in the stealth department.

          • Xocrates says:

            Having finished Dishonored just yesterday, I will say it’s one of the best Stealth games I’ve played in several years. The problem might be that the tricks at your disposal tend to make stealth too easy – as well as surviving in case you’re discovered – but whether that’s a good or bad thing is debatable.

          • KenTWOu says:

            The problem might be that the tricks at your disposal tend to make stealth too easy…

            The first part of the problem is the lack of non-lethal powers, weapons and Corvo’s abilities. The second part of the problem is Dishonored AI. AI can’t even see door opening in front of his nose and doesn’t notice tons of other stuff. It’s not challenging, not interesting enough to play stealth with such deaf and dumbed down AI.

          • Claidheamh says:

            kenTWOu,

            Well, Thief had those exact same problems, and it definitely was challenging and interesting.

          • KenTWOu says:

            Claidheamh

            Thief 1 and Thief 2 have light/shadow mechanic and strong focus on noise of your steps, so you should manage both your speed and visibility, that’s why their gameplay was challenging and thrilling. Obviously Dishonored doesn’t have the same light/shadow mechanic, tries to make fast stealth and makes your movements almost noiseless. That’s not a bad idea! But it throws away speed and visibility management. So you should add something to stealth formula to make it interesting enough.

            Thief: Deadly Shadows despite slightly less focus on your movements noise has better AI, Its AI notices different environmental changes and makes stealth very thrilling, especially inside claustrophobic levels. That’s why its stealth gameplay also was great. But the lack of Dishonored AI awareness about environmental changes (doors, candles, loot) deprives us of such thrilling situations. So stealth player almost can’t manipulate AI through environment.

            And Corvo’s supernatural powers and the lack of non-lethal abilities aggravate that problem makes the game less challenging and more repetitive for a stealth player. That’s why Dishonored stealth approach isn’t interesting enough. And only Corvo’s parkour and great level design save Dishonored stealth gameplay, but unfortunately that’s not enough for a great stealth experience.

          • Claidheamh says:

            You must be kidding about the speed/visibility management and the adding something to the stealth formula. That’s what stealth in Dishonored is all about: keeping away from sight, and moving quickly if a patrol is coming around a corner. This makes it seem to me like you haven’t played the game.

            Also, Dishonored does actually have a light/shadow mechanic, although admittedly a bit less sophisticated than Thief’s (I’m referring to the entire series when I say Thief). That’s because Corvo doesn’t have Garrett’s ability to be invisible 5 meters in front of your face: if you’re so close to a guard, you better be hiding behind something. But hiding in shadows matters very much at medium and long distances. This system is a bit more more lifelike that Thief’s, not necessarily superior, but different. There are also many levels you’re under daylight, where it isn’t as important. The footstep noise on the Thief games – although a great gameplay mechanic, definitely – always struck me as a bit too ‘gamey’. You’re a master thief, and yet it seems like you’re walking about wearing clogs. That’s not to say Dishonored’s approach doesn’t have some problems, but it is, again, different.

            And again some more inaccuracies about the AI. The AI in Dishonored doesn’t react much to loot, sure, but since loot’s not really the focus of the game, I don’t see how this is much of a problem. It reacts the exact same way to doors than Thief’s, though, which is to say no way at all. And candles? Again it seems like you haven’t really played Dishonored, because there are no candles or torches or whatever. So of course this doesn’t affect the AI. What does affect it though, are changes in the patrol routes. If a guard notices that there’s another one missing, he’ll change his route accordingly. So, basically, the AI is at least as good as Thief’s. There is less focus on manipulating the environment, yes, but again, that’s just a different style of stealth. Playing non-lethally is supposed to be harder, which is probably the reason you have less tools at your disposal. On my first playthrough, I tried not killing anyone, was able to ghost some levels, and had a truly great time. I’m just starting my second playthrough where I’m trying to wipe every level clean of all life.

            But anyway, this is enough troll-feeding for the day. I am a huge, HUGE fan of Thief, and I thoroughly enjoyed Dishonored in every way gameplay wise. This is possibly game of the year for me.

          • JackShandy says:

            “Again it seems like you haven’t really played Dishonored, because there are no candles or torches or whatever.”

            Not actually true, there are candles you can blow out. They’re rare, though.

          • Claidheamh says:

            They must be, since I don’t remember any. :P Were they on the Golden Cat or something?

          • KenTWOu says:

            Claidheamh

            You must be kidding about the speed/visibility management…

            There is no speed management, when you have one crouch mode instead of variable speeds from Thief/Splinter Cell (except Conviction) and guards don’t hear your crouch movements:

            Also, Dishonored does actually have a light/shadow mechanic…

            That’s why I said, it doesn’t have the same light/shadow mechanic. And I like that idea.

            And again some more inaccuracies about the AI. The AI in Dishonored doesn’t react much to loot, sure, but since loot’s not really the focus of the game, I don’t see how this is much of a problem.

            Not really the focus of the game? Are you kidding? The game practically screams ‘I wanna be turbo Thief’ and has strong focus on similar level design, loot and stealing.

            I am a huge, HUGE fan of Thief…

            And that’s why you didn’t remember that Thief:Deadly Shadows has better AI.
            http://postimage.org/gallery/ogc3n22/48aed852/
            http://postimage.org/gallery/iqomfmu/3bd90709/
            Splinter Cell:Chaos Theory and even Deus Ex:Human Revolution have better AI too.

          • LeeTheAgent says:

            It’s funny seeing all these comparisons of stealth games, especially in reference to Dishonored. The one other stealth game that Dishonored reminds me of (despite its environment similar to the Thief series) is Metal Gear Solid. Perhaps its the awareness cones you can see on the characters with dark vision.

        • Mordsung says:

          Thief 1 and 2, Deus Ex, and DE:HR (DE 2 isn’t very good), Dishonoured is pretty good as well.

          Batman AA was also a pretty decent stealth game.

        • Zralok says:

          Deus Ex, Splinter Cell, Dishonored (though I agree no way to play this stealthy) but dues ex is a real good one for it (the chieve of getting through the game with zero kills (except bosses) is real fun.

          • Mordsung says:

            You can actually complete Dishonoured with zero kills, even the targets of each mission can be dealt with in a non-lethal manner.

          • KenTWOu says:

            Mordsung, yes, you can, but that’s not fun, cause Dishonored non-lethal stealth is very repetitive.

          • Mordsung says:

            What is not fun for one may be fun for someone else.

            Fun is purely subjective.

        • RegisteredUser says:

          Since I enjoy stretching things out, too:

          There was no more harrowing experience than trying to crawl across the island in Operation Flashpoint, knowing that being discovered by a roving BMP or too large squad of enemy soldiers meant instant death.

          No health potion, no teleporting, no infinite saves. Just tolerance for 1 bullet wound if you were lucky, and one savegame(three on easy I think? Been a while.).

          If you want stealth, fearing for your life, routes and challenge, you will definitely find (one of) the most hard core essence of it on the battlefield of OF.

      • Syra says:

        This really is one of the best stealth games for ages. It hugely reminds me of stealth bastard (if anyone actually played that?) which I was obsessed with forever. If you took that and added in a mix of ninja and arkham you get this game.

        Top stealth must be Splintercell series, hitman series, thief series, deus ex series?

        Are there any other big “stealth” games?

        • Kilometrik says:

          Ummm, Tenchu? Metal Gear? Dishonored?

          • Steven Hutton says:

            Tenchu (the first one) is my moment of greatest gaming pride. Every level complete with a rating of GRAND MASTER.

        • Saiko Kila says:

          I liked The Saboteur. Someone (maybe even on RPS) named its attempts on stealth as “half-assed”, but I disagree, somehow I preferred that way. And killed much less Nazi Germans than average for that game. I was able for example to complete three full missions (including assassinations) in a row with a single uniform. Unfortunately some missions had obligatory “de-stealth” moments, but usually it was possible to use stealth to escape after a full scale mayhem sections anyway. It needed much patience though.

        • Geen says:

          The MGS games are very polished, and do stealth perfectly.

        • RegisteredUser says:

          *points up*

          Realistic military sims by their very nature aim to simulate life or death situations where one wrong move means just that. I am actually quite a bit surprised the stealth community never ever acknowledges the genre in any way, shape or form at all, especially as ironically enough it is the one with the least “funny” options like sitting down on benches, jumping into haybales, teleporting around or whatever. :P

    • fish99 says:

      I know what you mean, I love stealth games like Thief, but after watching TotalBiscuit playing MotN, it looks very fast, very hard and much more platformer than stealth game, i.e. it’s more about the execution than the planning.

      • DrGonzo says:

        That’s true, but not as a platformer, at least the struggle wasn’t in landing on ledges correctly, what with the grapple and being able to climb up pretty much any wall and across a lot of ceilings.

        It’s very much a platformer, but that doesn’t mean you necessarily need to be a fan of them to enjoy it. Hopefully there’s a demo, as it’s not for everyone, but worth a try even if platformers aren’t usually your thing.

      • DickSocrates says:

        Don’t base anything on what TotalBiscuit says or does. He’s blunders into his opinions and makes rash generalisations all the time.

        • Eskatos says:

          “Blunders into his opinions?” What the fuck does that even mean? He doesn’t put enough research into a game before liking it or not to satisfy you?

        • elevown says:

          Are you an idiot?

          Aside from the moronic statement about TB ‘Blundering’ into his opinion- wtf does that even mean? he does first impression vids- those are his totaly valid first impressions- and BTW- he loved the game! –

          Beside that point- fish99 didnt say ANYTHING about what tb said- he said having watched him play it! i totaly agree. I dont care what TB’s opinion was on it- like i said he realy liked it- from the gameplay i can tell it isnt MY sort of stealth game either!

        • Shooop says:

          TB isn’t a reviewer you know. His show is just a short hands-on preview of the actual game itself instead of press release code.

          Expecting to get a full summary of the entire game from him is foolish.

        • fish99 says:

          Just to be clear here, TB actually loved the game. I was just talking about my own impression of the gameplay I saw in his video, and I was taking account that he is kinda bad at puzzles.

      • Shooop says:

        It is a platformer at its core. But it’s very heavily into stealthy movements and not getting seen by the guards.

        TB is a first-look player – he wasn’t necessarily playing the game the only way you could play it. His method is to give short previews of the actual finished game for people to see instead of publisher released previews.

        If you want a review, look to this site and to actual review videos if you’re so inclined.

      • Mordsung says:

        It depends entirely how you play it.

        My suggestion if you want a really tough stealth game:

        Beat the game fast and dirty.

        This unlocked “New Game +” where it removes all your sound indicators and gives YOU a cone of vision (anything outside of your cone gets blurred out).

        Then try to beat New Game + with a full non-lethal, never detected, no alarms raised play through.

        Did this last night and it required some significant thought on how to get past some rooms without being seen, or killing anyone.

    • El_MUERkO says:

      Yeah, it seems like a good game but it makes me pine for Tenchu 1 & 2.

      :sigh:

      /boots XCOM

    • Hypocee says:

      Your usage isn’t a particularly big deal, but I find I’m happier if I keep ‘platformer’ well-separated mentally from ‘side-scrolling’. Platformers revolve around timing/distance/speed of jumps to, well, platforms rather than floors. MotN seems to be about as much a platformer as Skool Daze or Monkey Island.

  2. Gap Gen says:

    I think you can buy ninjiblets in cans over here. They’re a little stringy, but ok.

  3. Shadrach says:

    I got frustrated by the game play of Shanks so am a bit wary of this. Then again I am easy to frustrate unless the design is absolutely perfect. Love the art style just like I loved Shank’s so will have a think about it.

    • povu says:

      I’m not sure what aspect of Shank you found frustrating, but if it was the combat then that shouldn’t be an issue. This game isn’t focused on button mashing your way through groups of enemies (the controls for that were a little awkward on a keyboard) and aside from a few control issues as mentioned in this review they work pretty well.

      • Spengbab says:

        How are the controls, actually? Steam’s Store page for this game informs me that it has controller support, but isnt there any mouse-aiming of throwing knives and more of that ninja stuff?

        • The Innocent says:

          Yes, mouse support for that kind of stuff. The controls are, in general, quite good for m&k.

        • GoodMorningSir says:

          I am in my second playthrough and from time to time still fighting the controls, but by and large they are absolutly fine with k&m and sometimes even feel very fluid.

        • Mordsung says:

          The controls are nearly flawless on kb and mouse.

          By my second play through, the speed and grace at which I could move through a level was both satisfying and tight.

      • fredcadete says:

        But of course it was the combat. Shank’s gameplay does not have anything else.

    • DrGonzo says:

      Shank is nothing like this game, so you’re in luck!

    • RegisteredUser says:

      Shank has had some of the most fluid and sophisticated, combotastic mechanics I have seen in fighting/brawling games(and they’re close to my heart), so I don’t know what you mean with that.

  4. Emeraude says:

    I get a weird (probably just superficial) Strider 2 vibe from this…

  5. Jody Macgregor says:

    I wish it had a “save anywhere” feature as well. Not only because I hated respawning and having to outwit guards I’d already successfully outwitted so that I could get back to the hard bit again, but because having checkpoints made each of the challenging sections feel too discrete, too much like self-contained puzzles. I never got into the flow that I got into in Dishonored or Thief where the entire level feels like a puzzle box you’re tinkering with and prodding at, until a piece slides into place.

    • SkittleDiddler says:

      Yuck. The lack of a manual save makes it an instant no-purchase for me.

      • celozzip says:

        what the fuck?

        • SkittleDiddler says:

          I like having the option, and as far as I’m concerned developers that don’t include manual saves in their games are being insensitive to my personal wants and needs as a PC gamer.

      • elevown says:

        You must be an idiot. If you never played a game without quicksave any time you would have missed out on some of the best games to ever exist- that in some cases would be totaly RUINED by having a save any time system.

        The save system should simply be appropriate for the game, and not simply a cause of frustration or limitation. If a game has check points or save points or even NO saves- if its suitable for the game then thats all that should matter.

        • SkittleDiddler says:

          You’re so wrong you could be mistaken as borderline comatose. Almost every game should have the option, I don’t care whether it’s stealth, RPG, action or whatever. The only exceptions would be puzzle games or shooters like Jamestown.

          Nobody is forced to use manual saves. However, we’re all forced to use auto saves. Suck on that one for a bit.

          • Mordsung says:

            Manual saves suck all the difficulty out of a game.

            The ultimate joy comes from defeating a game that punishes you with its difficulty.

          • SkittleDiddler says:

            That’s a very tired argument, Mordsung, and it’s one that is based in old-school video game elitism. Others don’t necessarily want to play the game the same way that you do.

          • scottyjx says:

            Man, I dunno. Something like Demon’s/Dark Souls would be a much lesser game if there were a save anywhere function. I get that it’s annoying (and it should be a function in this particular game) but to make a blanket statement like that comes off as both short-sighted and petulant.

      • RegisteredUser says:

        I’m not sure if you’re after the “saving the usual grindy, annoying time to get back to the spot I _actually_ want to / have to retry” thing, which is already annoying enough, but to me at the very least there needs to be a “anytime-when-you-need-to-go” save that lets you pick up exactly where you had to stop playing.

        Punishing the player because he has to run errands or go to bed(especially if the post-autosave performance has just happened to have been extraordinary) is just stupid.

        • ThinkAndGrowWitcher says:

          EXACTLY THIS.

          There’s nothing more annoying than feeling you *have* to put a full hour of playtime aside *just* because what-is-a-great-game-otherwise can’t be easily suspended/saved at that point.

          Games like Shenmue (or was it 2? or both? – anyway, plenty of examples out there) did this perfectly. No ‘cheating’, and equally no feeling like you want to slice your PC’s (or console’s) electronic balls off with a Samurai sword.

        • SkittleDiddler says:

          “Punishing the player because he has to run errands or go to bed(especially if the post-autosave performance has just happened to have been extraordinary) is just stupid.”

          That’s certainly a big part of my complaint, and I’m glad someone else feels the same way. For the most part, I just want to play a game the way I want to play it, not the way the developer wants me to play it. Auto saves are way too often used to abuse my right to play the game the way I want. Grand Theft Auto IV comes to mind here.

    • ulix says:

      There’s a generous amount of checkpoints every few meters. So even if you fail, repeating what you did before usually doesn’t take longer than 30 seconds to a minute max.

      • Mollusc Infestation says:

        I’m a compulsive quicksaver and i haven’t had a problem with the checkpoints in this game. They’re pretty frequent, and once you’ve worked out a strategy for a room, it’s not such a chore if you have to repeat it.

      • GoodMorningSir says:

        For me the checkpointing is mostly fine, since I am a lazy person and therefor happy not having to save myself. Woo!
        And, as already mentioned, there are checkpoints a plenty.

        That said, they can create problems when stuff happens during a checkpoint and you then have to reload.
        My first run was supposed to be completly “I WAS NEVER HERE!” so I reloaded whenever I got spotted. Which can happen on a checkpoint, so you are kinda screwed, since if you want to reload, well, you get instaspotted.
        And once my save was directly in front of a guard. Dont know why that happened, since I had never been in this situation before reloading.
        Took me around 10 tries to escape superfast without him seeing me.

        So, can create problems, but mostly nothing to worry about.

    • blind_boy_grunt says:

      quicksave/loads are stupid. There, i said it.

      • SuperNashwanPower says:

        Thats your opinion. But opinion is just a combination of Pi and Onion, and since no one likes maths and onions make you cry, your argument is invalid.

        • sbs says:

          I give this comment a perfect 7/10

        • blind_boy_grunt says:

          i never made an argument. Just stated an opinion. I could make an argument, but it would be a pretty long, boring post on a topic only loosely connected to the game. And in the end it would still just come down to an opinion. So i just wanted to give a show of hands that there are other schools of thoughts.
          It’s just that for me with quicksaving/loading i never learned a game’s system just how to get out of a string of very specific situations.

          • x1501 says:

            I don’t think they’re inherently stupid, but I also think you have a valid point. The most recent example: quicksaves and quickloads were the main reason I sleepwalked through Dishonored on Very Hard without ever being noticed, or killing anyone, or even bothering to buy or upgrade anything but Blink II. Comparing it to, say, Hitman 2—a game that only allowed 2 saves per level on Expert (and none on Professional)—I found the 2002 game to be far superior in this regard.

          • Whosi says:

            That’s why it’s an option. Don’t like it, don’t use it. Unless you are saying you don’t have the willpower to not use it when it’s available. But then the problem isn’t with the game.

          • x1501 says:

            Oh, spare me the willpower nonsense. In a game that autosaves you at every turn just to make sure you didn’t forget to do it yourself, the use of savegames is a perfectly valid part of the gameplay. And just because I played the game by its rules as best as I could, and had no desire to intentionally gimp myself by minimizing my efficiency (Any other suggestions? Playing with one hand? Ghosting without using chokes and backstabs?), doesn’t make responsible for the game’s hardest difficulty being made this easy. A truly well designed game would take this factor into account and adjusted the difficulty accordingly, as many other games do.

          • blind_boy_grunt says:

            re the post before whosi:
            i was watching a hitman let’s play (can’t actually remember which one) recently and i had a real “oh that’s how you play the game” moment because he died and restarted the level a lot, trying different approaches etc. Whereas i never had willingly lost any progress, always loading from the latest save. His way seemed more fun.

          • MikoSquiz says:

            Every game should also have a button that switched on invincibility for those who prefer to play that way. And a button that skips to the next level. And a button that gives you all the items and weapons.

          • jrodman says:

            Miko, I suspect this is not the response you were looking for, but you’re correct. They should.

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      • SkittleDiddler says:

        Well, you’re stupid. So there.

        • Totally heterosexual says:

          You are also pretty retarded.

          • jrodman says:

            Your motion is slow and you did not arrive promptly to our prearranged appointment.

          • SkittleDiddler says:

            You more retarded than I.

          • jrodman says:

            SkittleDiddler: I PROTEST! I am continuously accelerating!

          • SkittleDiddler says:

            Not you, jrodman. I was talking smack to the homophobic dude you were originally replying to.

            What are ya, retahded or something?

          • jrodman says:

            But without pretending that you were responding to me, I couldn’t continue in my ridiculous talk!

            Also, pretty sure the name is meant as a silly joke.

          • Totally heterosexual says:

            Seriously though skittle you really are retarded if you keep commenting like that.

          • SkittleDiddler says:

            I could be retarded, or at the very least within the autistic range. Maybe once I can afford health insurance I’ll be able to find out.

      • MikoSquiz says:

        Yes.

  6. LTK says:

    Lethal skills and items that are actually useful outnumber their lethal counterparts and generally produce more impressive results.

    I think the second ‘lethal’ is supposed to say ‘non-lethal’. Otherwise, great write-up!

  7. Jason Moyer says:

    Why would a ninja take a non-lethal route? Ninjas were killers.

    • Arglebargle says:

      The more historical ninja were spies first, and occasionally assassins. The legendary ninjas are stealthy death machines. Don’t let the modern Hayes-induced myths fool you. Though mythic ninja games can be loads of fun.

      • Jason Moyer says:

        Yeah, I realize killing wasn’t their main duty, but still, I can’t imagine a Ninja going out of his way to avoid killing someone unless it compromised his mission somehow. We’re not talking about Garrett here who refused to kill people out of professional pride or something.

    • Shooop says:

      When they had to be, yeah.

      But they weren’t as often as you’d think. They didn’t have as high quality weapons as their usual rivals the samurai had so getting into fights was something they wanted to avoid.

  8. JackShandy says:

    I actually like the sound of this checkpoint system. Quickloading constantly as soon as you’re detected saps a lot of the fun, panicky improvisation out of stealth games.

    • Spider Jerusalem says:

      except when you’re detected, the thing to do is to softly nuzzle against the nearest weapon so as no not lose the level bonus.

    • qrter says:

      Or you could just use quickload in a way you’d enjoy more – if using it frequently ‘saps fun’, use it less frequently, and then someone else who likes his or her fun to be sapped can still play that way.

      • JackShandy says:

        Game developers should force people to play in the way that’s most fun. If they’ve decided that checkpoints are the most fun way to play the game then they shouldn’t have any other save system.

        • SkittleDiddler says:

          I hope you’re kidding, because you normally don’t come off as one of those video game snobs that insist everyone else “play it one way”.

          • JackShandy says:

            Nope, I’m serious. Forcing you to have fun is basically a game developers job.

            Here’s an example, so that you don’t think I’m a facist. In Deus Ex, the funnest way to play is by experimenting and playing with a lot of different tools and styles of play. The game forces you to do this by making resources very tight, so you can’t go through the game just spamming a single tool.

            By contrast, Dishonoured makes the Blink power infinitely re-usable, so you can use it to get through every problem you meet. You never have to experiment to survive, and Dishonoured is a worse game for it.

          • jrodman says:

            I’d say it’s more sort of “design the game to push you to play a fun way” instead of “force you to play a fun way”. The more common class of error is to include fun mechanics that are less effective than boring mechanics, and then complain that players do not use the fun mechanics.

          • SkittleDiddler says:

            Well, your viewpoint makes total sense now that you’ve gone into detail. You, sir, are no fascist. Or facist.

        • Hidden_7 says:

          Eh, it generally works out the same. I just restart from last checkpoint if I’m spotted. They’re fairly frequent. The only time they really become a problem is when you’re spotted say as you’re running to get into a vent for cover, and actually going into said cover hits a checkpoint, forcing you to start the whole level over again. But that’s only happened a couple of times so far, and the levels are pretty quick if you know what you’re doing. Just taught me to have my finger hovering over that “esc” key when I’m doing anything similarly risky and to develop quick reflexes.

  9. malkav11 says:

    I can’t think of a stealth game (that allows you to choose at all) that doesn’t heavily favor lethal approaches in terms of available tools. Dishonored, Thief, Splinter Cell, the Metal Gear Solid games, Hitman, all have significantly more to work with in terms of killing people, and in some of those games the lethal approach has the additional advantage of permanently removing the enemy, while merely knocking them out allows them to be roused again by other enemies, or simply to wake up on their own after a while.

    • Naum says:

      True, and I’d love to know why that is. Dishonored in particular has a sometimes frustrating habit of teasing me with rewiring, drop-down and all sorts of awesome powers. Why can’t I have just a couple more interesting options to interact with the environment and/or the enemies?

      • Xocrates says:

        If I may posit an hypothesis, I would guess it’s because if you present a “good” and “evil” choice to a player with identical risk/reward more often than not players would pick the “good” option (I remember reading an article about this once, but can’t for the life of me find it).

        Therefore it makes sense from a design perspective to make the choices the player would usually ignore more enticing, while making the ones the player wants to pursue more challenging, encouraging a wider range of play styles.

        • malkav11 says:

          I’ve never understood that mentality, personally. When given moral choices in an RPG framework I go as evil as possible the first time around (unless the good path is rewarded and the evil path penalized, as was often true pre-KOTOR). I save good for a hypothetical future playthrough.

          • fish99 says:

            Pretty sure you would be in the minority there.

          • Xocrates says:

            Rewarding the good path is still pretty common as well, even if only through a happier ending.

          • Grygus says:

            I usually do the opposite; good the first time through, then evil. My reasoning is that the consequences of being good are almost always obvious; to see what being bad does, though, I will probably need more context than you usually have on your first run through, e.g., okay being evil got the sidekick killed, but I will immediately wonder whether it could be that the sidekick dies, no matter what. Being a renegade in Mass Effect is doubly delicious when you know what being a paragon does.

          • malkav11 says:

            I know I am. I just don’t understand it.

          • Xocrates says:

            And I don’t understand what you don’t understand.

            All other things equal, many people will pick the option that they, personally, would pick in the situation presented. And quite frankly assuming they’re well designed choices (which they often aren’t) it allows them to find more things about themselves. By default this means that if they have no reason to be a dick, most people won’t.

            Other people just want to use the freedom of constraints (moral and physical) to do whatever the hell they feel like. This is neither more or less valid than the previous one.

          • malkav11 says:

            Surely most people at one time or another feel like being a dick? If you behave that way in real life, or in a multiplayer game, there are real, lingering consequences to your actions. In a singleplayer game, there aren’t. Makes it a perfect time to get that stuff out of your system.

          • Xocrates says:

            Not arguing about that, certainly, but plenty of games already allow you to be a dick, and many don’t even give you a choice about it. There are many ways to get that stuff out of the system without going out of your way to be evil.

            By contrast, if you’re given a choice in a game there’s various ways to go about it. You can roleplay a specific kind of character and always choose the good/evil option regardless of other considerations, or you can take the the options in consideration and then pick the one that makes more sense for the character you’re playing.
            The trick here is that most people are lazy and role play themselves.

    • fish99 says:

      The best way to play Thief is on expert difficulty where you cannot kill any humans, you have to knock them out. There’s even a level on Thief 2 where getting seen once is an instant fail (because you’re planting some evidence and therefore no one can find out you were there).

      • malkav11 says:

        This is true, but Thief still has more tools for killing than for nonlethal play. Playing on expert all but eliminates over 50% of your available toys.

        • Xocrates says:

          You know, thinking about it I wonder if that’s actually true. Googling it seems to confirm it’s not. Most of Garret’s gear is designed for stealth, not for taking out enemies. The ones that are designed for taking out enemies exists in more or less equivalent states for lethal and non-lethal: You got the blackjack to your sword, the gas arrows for your regular arrows, and the gas mines for the regular mines.

          Admittedly the lethal weapons are easier to find, but given that the rest of your gear is designed to avoid enemies (non-lethaly) it’s hard to argue that Thief favours lethal methods.

          • malkav11 says:

            You’re forgetting the fire arrow. But I guess on closer inspection there’s more of Garrett’s arsenal that’s not directly related to taking out enemies than either lethal or nonlethal items. The nonlethal ones are definitely rarer, though.

          • fish99 says:

            You do get to use the lethal stuff even on expert, because almost every level will have some monsters that you can kill (Thief 1 is roughly 60% humans / 40% monsters), so if you’re saying non-lethal takes away a lot of the fun, I wouldn’t agree. TBH even when I’m not playing on expert I would still opt to knock out 95% of the time, because it’s more fun, more challenging, you’re less likely to be detected, and because it doesn’t really fit the theme to murder 40 innocent guards per mission.

          • malkav11 says:

            Nah, expert and nonlethal are clearly the ways to play Thief, but it does limit your toolbox and I wish the nonlethal range/group options were more readily available.

        • Rusty says:

          I think Xoc is right.

          On a tangentially related topic, I find myself dissatisfied with giving game-mechanic rewards for moral choices (e.g., extra experience in DX:HR for non-lethal takedowns, Dishonored’s increasing-chaos punishment for kills, even Skyrim’s Speech bonus for giving coins to beggars). If I go through Dishonored without killing anyone, part of the payoff is the knowledge that I’ve tried to do the right thing (within the framework of the game world, of course). When the game actively rewards me for doing so, it changes the dynamic from a moral choice to an in-game transaction.

          If anything, it should be the other way around: being a complete bastard often pays off in real life, especially in the short term.

        • Schmitzkater says:

          One of the commenters on the Dishonored verdict actually suggested that the rising and falling Chaos meter is neither reward nor punishment in the gameplay-sense.

          When you kill more people (leading to higher chaos) the game throws even more enemies and obstacles to kill at you and when you stealth your way through (low chaos) you’ll in turn have to face less deadly enemies. I find that a pretty nice way to think about it.

          • Hidden_7 says:

            There’s also the fact that a lot of people find the high chaos version of the final level more exciting, challenging, and climatic. The low chaos version is a fairly reserved affair.

          • KenTWOu says:

            Hidden_7

            So even low chaos version of the final level isn’t exciting/challenging/climatic enough for a stealth player? Another proof that Dishonored isn’t good enough as a stealth game.

      • Solanaceae says:

        I disagree, I think playing on the notch just under expert but playing with no saves is more thrilling. (usually there’s still restrictions on how much bloodshed there can be though…)

        Killing guards with your broadheads isn’t exactly easy, at least at any range past point blank, blackjacking people is much simpler (provided you can get behind them). Generally I’d only use my bow as a last resort (i.e. guard closing in, nowhere to run, need to get him down immediately)

        And like already mentioned it does remove a lot of your fun tools if you play totally non-lethal.

        You’ll get boatloads of tension from playing with no saving though ;)

    • Shooop says:

      I think Dishonored has a very happy medium.

      MGS is the very worst offender because literally only two weapons in most of the games are non-lethal. And they practically hand you all kinds of neat weapons for no real reason other than taunting you. It’s horrible design, through and through.

      Dishonored has blink, yellow-ray vision, and possession which make it easy to isolate people and choke them out or avoid them entirely. I think slowing and stopping time would work for this as well. The gadgets are mostly lethal, but I don’t find any of them as interesting and fun as the powers.

  10. MistyMike says:

    The only reservation I have is that the levels appear to be mostly linear obstacle courses, and my favourite stealth games mostly opt for free-roaming arenas. Still, I’m getting this. Once I’m done with Xcom. And Dishonored. And maybe some more Torchlight 2. And some more FTL. Damn.

  11. Cinnamon says:

    My favourite ninja fact is that they never wore the black costumes. Like any spy they blended in by wearing things that would not make them stand out in a crowd. The black costume was only used in theatre.

    • Squirrelfanatic says:

      And during the night.

      • Cinnamon says:

        Sorry, but if a ninja ever did wear black for action at night it wasn’t something they were known for. But they apparently did wear navy blue.

        And I hate to break it to everyone but robbers don’t carry large sacks with “swag” written on them either.

    • Shooop says:

      Here’s’ some more fun trivia: The black costume got started in theater like you said – because stage hands wore it to not distract the audience too much while they worked on the sets during plays.

      Someone eventually figured it would be a great surprise to have an actor dress as one of the stage hands because no one would expect them to “kill” a character in the play. It was obviously very effective.

  12. phenom_x8 says:

    30++ comments and no one mentioned Tenchu??? Guys, I know its a console game, but look at how advanced it was at it’s time. Their authenticity towards ninja gear and attitude are the best till today, Tried the second series if you want to, it’s the prequel of the first one and even much more complex than their third (and fourth) series. Its contains almost every element what the modern stealth game should be,for example: multi approaches to defeat your opponent (kill them stealthily that will result in awesome varied cutscene, kill them with poisoned onigiri/rice ball carefully placed at their patrol route,kill them directly although you will be beaten up badly due to this approach, just past them away to reach your objective,etc.) open vast landscape with multi tiered level taken into consideration, hide the body aof your enemy, level editor, multiplayer co-op or versus, and many awesome gear (i think its works like magic in Dishonored).
    Oh, I miss that day when I tried to be the Master in Tenchu, there’s no other game beats it in term of replayability in each of its level (not yet tried dishonored though, my copy arrived two days later). Is there no one miss this game ??(and I’m not fans of its third series due to its reduced complexity)

    • Totally heterosexual says:

      I like tenchu.

      :)

    • Hulk Handsome says:

      It actually WAS mentioned previously!

      I tried playing the original Tenchu a while back, but couldn’t get past the terrible draw distance and dated controls. I then tried a newer Tenchu (on the Wii) and it took out all the stuff I DID like about the original. It was just a bad game.

      I’ll probably give the original game another shot sometime. It had a lot going for it. It’s just so… old.

      • phenom_x8 says:

        No..no..no..no, like I’ve been said before, never take the original Tenchu (for PSONE) or the third and fourth (for PS2). They are,like you’ve said, just a bad game. The second game (Tenchu 2, the birth of the stealth assassin,PsOne) are definitely a must and the best series among the others. It has much more complex mechanic than the other series, like the ability to sheath your sword to make you move much more faster and easier so its much more realistic and authentic (I dont know why the later series remove this ability), more varied and vast playground (building,boats, rice field, cave, hills, village,etc) that each have its own way way to handle, more options to hide yourself (duck, hug the wall, dive in a pond with bamboo straw to make you breath,etc) , varied enemies (including wild bear, dogs, cats,tiger,etc) are all present in its second installment. If you played the PS2 and wii version, I assured they all just a regression than the 2nd one.

  13. RaffyS says:

    It’s nice to see this game getting some recognition now that it’s out on PC. I was a bit hesitant over the 2D aspect at first but this is quite frankly one of the best stealth games I’ve played since Chaos Theory. Do not miss.

  14. karthink says:

    I just finished it. This is easily the best 2D stealth game I’ve ever played.

    Like all good stealth games, it’s built upon multiple interacting systems, and the holy grail, emergence, makes itself visible every now and again. I once strung up a mook from a perch and attracted the attention of some other guards in the process. One of them, terrified at the sight of the hanging corpse, began shooting up the room, killed everyone else and brought down a chandelier on himself. Room cleared.

  15. Solanaceae says:

    I don’t like platformers at all but this more like sidescroller Thief (minus the open maps?). Might pick it up sometime. Wish there was a demo for it.

  16. Crainey says:

    I would recommend this game to anybody, except my brother, who only plays Call of Duty. This game does what it is trying to do almost flawlessly, the animations are super smooth, story elements seem good and gameplay is immaculate.

    It handles the whole ninja business in a way that makes it fun, but not impossible, and yet punishing at the same time. It is very much a 2D platformer game but that doesn’t limit it, it still feels very open with a lot of vertical gameplay. If you are one for achievements and challenges (unlike me, I just want to complete the damn thing!) you’ll enjoy this game. You get a tally of points based on how you performed during the level, with collectibles and challenges such as lethal to non-lethal, avoiding detection and such. Buy it.

    This game didn’t sell very well on console and is a very respectable PC Port (Though the controls and simple anyway), it’s a shame as its a spectacular game with resounding reviews.

  17. crinkles esq. says:

    The Steam trailer definitely makes it seem focused almost exclusively on “lethal” stealth, which isn’t really stealth, it’s just short-term survivability. The vibe I get is more a cross between the console games Metal Gear Solid and Ninja Gaiden. Metal Gear Solid had the same choice between lethal and non-lethal stealth. You could choose to fight, but you’d still better get the drop on a soldier or the alarms would go off.

    This choice between lethal and non-lethal always seems to come up. But the fact that the player is often given a choice shows a weakness in game narrative. For instance, historically a ninja didn’t just go through life as a murderous shadow slicing through humanity; they followed the bidding of their clan or paying customer.

    Now I can’t say I know how much the narrative drives the missions in this game, or how varied the mission types are, since I haven’t played it. But imagine this type of game with more varied, story-driven missions:
    1) Infiltrate the Tokugawa clan castle and gather intelligence, including force size, morale, and battle plans
    2) Assassinate the Warlord Ito, but make it seem like the Fuji clan did it
    3) Kidnap a princess without any indication of your presence being left
    4) Your clan is laying siege to a castle. Infiltrate the castle, cause any mayhem you see fit, and escape.

    The point is, the ninja was a tool of the masters they served, and his or her missions had well-defined objectives. Stealth in a game should exist because the narrative drives it, not because “this is a stealth game”. I know some people may not care about narrative, but at least having a structure for why you need to do A or B thing helps refine the gameplay elements for the developer, and IMO lends more immersion to the experience.

    Having said all that, this game looks quite great. I love the MGS series & the older Ninja Gaidens, and this seems a perfect intersection of MGS’s action-stealth with Ninja Gaiden’s poetry-in-motion. I’m definitely putting it on my list.

    By the way, it’s a shame this is not being ported to the Mac — I think it would sell very well on that platform due to the gameplay finesse and beautiful visual style.

    • GoodMorningSir says:

      I ghosted my way through the first time.
      I am killing everybody (including the dogs) on my second way.

      For authenticity:
      you fight people with guns.
      Later people with laserguns.

  18. Phantoon says:

    Makes me excited for Gunpoint, honestly.

  19. noodlecake says:

    This is probably the most intuitive and fun stealth game I have ever played. A much tighter experience than dishonoured which I felt was slightly flawed. I found it quite difficult to deal with a lot of situations. All my solutions felt really slapdash and dodgy even with tons of reloads. I never felt like a master assassin… I definitely felt like a bad ass in Mark of The Ninja. Fantastic game. 10/10

  20. Lemming says:

    I notice this is published by MS…does that mean it’s GFWL?

  21. wodin says:

    Amazing game and the best Stealth game I’ve played..I was going to say in recent years..but I will say ever..

  22. VanishedDecoy says:

    Game looks quite good, but after playing the demo on Xbox Live, I feel that I’m going to get pretty ticked off by NPCs not noticing things like doors being carelessly left open and missing guards. Dishonored had these problems as well and it was extremely immersion breaking.

  23. scottyjx says:

    Nathan, I’m late to the party, but how did you go about your non-lethal playthrough? Did you use the silent running outfit or the one with the blink-like ability? I’ve been using the latter (with caltrops as a non-lethal distraction), and a couple of rooms and a bad checkpoint aside, I haven’t had any moments that inspired rage. Also, great review. Keep up the great work.

  24. FRIENDLYUNIT says:

    “See, Mark of the Ninja doesn’t actually have a non-lethal counterpart for good old-fashioned sneak-up-and-eviscerate tactics, so options on that front are quite limited to begin with. Drop in a couple incredibly well-positioned enemies and a few insta-death lasers, and you’ve got a recipe for rage.”

    Yeah, it does. The gas-bombs you mention later. And that’s just the one I’ve unlocked so far in the game.

    It’s just that the elimiating-guards-but-not-killing-them middle option isnt as much of an option. It’s more polarised – either you go about slaugthering and terrorising or you go for the get up close to get the undetected bounus then sneak(/silent run) away option.

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