We’ve cast our shared eye over Styx: Master of Shadows before (I’m scheduled for another five minutes with the eye before Adam takes it to look at a football), our collective mouth muttering that an open-level stealth game sounds nice but its heritage makes us sceptical (I’ve got 15 minutes with the mouth before Graham needs to “holler at a lad”). See, it’s a spin-off from Of Orcs & Men, a game which paired stealth bits with action stuff, only our Jim found the stealth “terrible.”
But that was then, this is now, and this game isn’t trying to do two things at once. What happens when Cyanide Studio focus on stealth? Have a gander in 13 of minutes of gameplay footage.
Without a giant orc pal to stomp in and start clobbering men when stealth goes wrong this time, Styx needs to be better. As well as the climbing and choking and jumping and crouching and crouching and crouching one excepts from a stealth game, he’s got a fair few tricks. These include snuffing out torches with hurled sand, vomiting into water supplies, (very) briefly highlighting people with a special vision mode, and summoning, in the words of the narrator, a “wretched clone.”
The clone seems key. A separate goblin you can switch back and forth between, he can scout ahead, distract enemies by leaping upon them, hide in chests as a trap to snatch passing guards, and explode in a cloud of obscuring smoke. So that’s why human cloning is so controversial.
It doesn’t look hugely difficult, and the guards do still suffer some of the hearing difficulties Jim disliked in Orcs & Men, though these demos are never played on super-tough settings.
I did also enjoy how Styx’s smaller stature means he can squeeze into unexpected places. He kept ducking under or into furniture and fittings I would not expect a video game to allow, surprising me and making me reconsider a space I’d normally mentally map with a glance. Video games teach us to understand virtual spaces as a human standing six feet tall. And in first-person games, with our eyeballs pulled out their sockets then balanced on top of our head and our hands scrunched up in front of our face too.