Mimimi Games have been teasing their next stealth strategy game for over two years now, and finally, we know what it is. Today, the makers of Desperados 3 and Shadow Tactics: Blades Of The Shogun revealed that the game formerly known as Codename: Sweet Potato (or Süßkartoffel, in their native German) is now called Shadow Gambit: The Cursed Crew, and it's all about undead magical pirates. Sign me the heck up.
I got to see Shadow Gambit in action late last week, and boy howdy it looks super cool. Even better, it's coming to Steam and the Epic Games Store later this year. Read on below to watch its pair of exciting reveal trailers, and find out all about it.
Set in an alternate history of the golden age of piracy, Shadow Gambit takes place in the Lost Caribbean, a mysterious chain of islands that's been subjugated by the nefarious Inquisition Of The Burning Maiden. This devout army doesn't take too kindly to the supernatural, which is bad news for you, a supernatural pirate. To avoid their soul-devouring weaponry and rescue the rest of your undead crew, you'll be sneaking into their fortresses using all manner of magical abilities, stealing their precious Black Pearls to bring your mates back to life, and then hightailing it back to your ghost ship, the Red Marley, to win the day.
Using the same top-down perspective as Desperados 3 and Shadow Tactics: Blades Of The Shogun, Shadow Gambit will no doubt look and feel very familiar to anyone who's played Mimimi's games before. You'll still be taking out enemies, hiding in bushes and dodging enemy sight cones and noise rings in missions, but Shadow Gambit brings a number of new, exciting things to the table that has me itching to try them out for myself.
As hinted at during my chat with Mimimi Games at the end of last year, you can choose which characters you bring ashore with you in Shadow Gambit, and your point of entry, giving you plenty of freedom to approach these maps as you see fit. You'll also be able to return to these islands and approach them from a different angle later on, and tackle missions in any order. It's a lot more freeform, in that sense, but I'm also looking forward to getting to grips with your crew's magical abilities.
"In our previous games that had a more realistic setting, we were super limited in what we could do in terms of the character skills, the mechanics and gameplay, which had to work or be believable and grounded within the realistic settings we had," communications lead Matthias Kraut told me. "But now with Shadow Gambit, we go full fantasy and magic. This means we have ghost ships, a magical world, and cursed pirates with supernatural abilities, which gives us a lot of freedom to design meaningful, crazy mechanics. [...] In terms of overarching player agency, Shadow Gambit [also] provides players with more freedom than we have ever [given them] before, so they can really carve their own path in a non-linear order through the game."
I've only seen three of Shadow Gambit's characters in action so far - Afia, the captain of the Red Marley who can teleport Dishonored-style to stab foes in the back with the cutlass she keeps in her chest; Gaelle, who can launch friends or foes with the enormous canon she carries round on her back; and Mr Mercury, who uses his soul anchor to sink into the ground to either lie in wait for enemies (and his pet fish companion Sir Reginald to distract unknowing guards) - but there will be eight of them to choose from in the final game. They won't be available right from the start, though, as you'll need to revive them with Black Pearls first before you can bring them aboard and make them part of your crew.
Between missions, you'll also be able to hang out with your interesting gang of miscreants, walking the galleys of the Red Marley, engaging them in conversation and undertaking specific character missions with them that reveal more of their back story. Think Mass Effect's Normandy, but on the high seas. Mimimi Games also said you'll need to complete a certain number of these character missions before you can tackle the final end-game of Shadow Gambit, but you won't need to complete them all, and you can pick and choose what order you tackle them in. It really is a lot less linear than Mimimi's previous stealth strategy games, and challenges and story missions will be spread across multiple islands, giving them a more sandbox-style nature than what we've seen before. Of course, Desperados 3 still had a couple of sandbox levels that let you do a bit of social stealth by mingling with the crowds, but Mimimi Games says there will be less of that here, mostly due to the magical setting.
"The characters don't fit the social stealth aspect to be fair," creative director Dominik Abe said during our presentation. "They're cursed, undead pirates, so that's not going to be a big part of the game. It was something we pushed heavily in Desperados 3, but this time we're really focusing more on those crazy skills. Obviously there will be something like disguises, or something similar to that, but we've focused more on shooting characters over fortress walls or - I don't, I'm not able to to spoil everything!" he laughs. "Maybe, for example, create new cover and stuff like this, so we've pushed more on the core stealth aspect [than the social stealth]."
What's particularly interesting to me is how Mimimi have brought the language of quick saving and quick loading right into the fabric of the game itself. You can still do these things, of course, but it's now dressed up as specific powers belonging to your sentient ship, the Red Marley. At any time, you can call upon the Red Marley to reset an encounter and rewind time, or freeze it completely to give you some breathing room. It's the same idea as Desperados 3's Showdown mode - letting you queue up actions and movements while the action's paused so you can set up multiple takedowns simultaneously - but it feels a lot more natural and diegetic than before.
That doesn't mean you're going to be penalized for using it constantly, though - which is good news for avid F5-ers such as myself. "This is the same as in Shadow Tactics and Desperados 3 - it's unlimited," Abe told me. "We think it's a core aspect of those types of games, or a playstyle [of] playing those games. I'm really like a traditional, hardcore stealth player and I'm still want to make this perfect, I don't want any guard to see any other guard [die], so I'm going to optimise my strategy. And for that you really need to reload, and we think that's really liberating to just do that as often as you want, and just experiment and come up with crazy ideas, so there's nothing we want to punish there. This game is still super challenging, and so it's nothing, we think, that takes away from the fun."
Indeed, Abe stresses that you can be as aggressive or stealthy as you like in Shadow Gambit, revealing that characters will have many more avenues to pursue when they get caught compared to their previous games.
"In Desperados, we really focused on the guns there, but this time, the cool thing is that because you have magical abilities, most of your distractions still work during alert [states]," he says. "So if a guard comes towards you, you can still freeze him in time and stab the other guard, for example. You will have some guns, but [they're] limited. It's also less punishing, as you can die and revive a character. This is something that is balanced depending on the difficulty, and it will be harder if you abuse that strategy of running in and dying over and over. But overall, we want to support more [ways to play] once you're discovered, and you'll still have a lot of skills and abilities to overcome that situation. It's a nicer balance, and if you're like my player type, you'll still probably reload and try the perfect stealth run!"
As a fellow serial reloader, I, too, will probably be making very frequent use of the Red Marley's time manipulation powers when Shadow Gambit: The Cursed Crew launches later this year, but the thought of being able to finally blast my way out of a situation legitimately, without alerting every priest in the archipelago to come charging in on their fiery Popemobiles, is very exciting to me. I always felt like I was cheating resorting to guns in Desperados, and the huge amount of noise they made never felt particularly stealthy to me either. Here, though, I'm hopeful I won't need to reach for my F5 key quite so often.
There's still a lot Mimimi are keeping close to their cutlass-skewered chests at this point, of course, but as initial reveals go, there's plenty to get excited about here. I can't wait to find out what Afia and the rest of her cursed crew have in store for us this year, but until Mimimi are ready to show us more, you can keep up to date with this magical new strategy game over on Steam and the Epic Games Store.