It looks just like Tenchu, doesn't it? It isn't, though - it's Shinobido, the new game from the creators of the criminally underrated Way Of The Samurai series. But the bad news is, by switching from samurai to ninjas, something's been lost. The complex, technical combat has been replaced by simple sneaking and slashing and the varied, open-ended mission objectives with something a whole lot less satisfying to play.
The story is a classic amnesiac scenario. You play as Gou (or The Crow as he's known), a ninja who has no idea why he's fighting or who he is. Your goal is to piece together your past and find out how you lost your memory. You do this by earning the trust of various parties across Japan by performing, among others, assassination and thievery missions for them. They send you scrolls via carrier pigeon to your base, which you read and then choose whether or not you feel up to the mission. Like Way Of The Samurai, each mission has a difficulty rating, so if you've just started the game stick to the one and two-star tasks or you'll get your ass handed to you. In a bun.
As we said before, it's very similar to Tenchu, right down to the way it plays. You can fire shurikens from first-person, use a grappling hook to climb rooftops and stealth kills are pulled off via a single button. Hold u and you'll enter sneak mode. Creep towards a guard when his back is turned and, when your sword glints, press w to slit his throat. If you jump at the same time you'll wrap your legs around his head and break his neck. It's nowhere near as satisfying as Tenchu's kills, though, because factors from that game - like how much pressure you apply to the attack button and direction - don't come into it. It's upsettingly basic. They will satiate your bloodlust, though - many gallons of the red stuff are spilled.
But killing isn't always the answer. In some missions you have to avoid all contact with enemies and just scout out the area and in others you have to escape from a guarded area with a heavy item, or sneak in and steal something. But that's about as varied as it gets - and the recovery missions are absolutely infuriating. Trying to cart a large box around on your shoulder while avoiding enemies is needlessly difficult and not being able to climb rooftops with the thing renders most of your ninja skills obsolete.
THE THICK OF IT
The quality of the steal-thing is also affected by the poor enemy AI. They're thick and don't behave consistently, which makes things feel a little hit and- miss. We've been playing Metal Gear recently (yes, again) and compared to that, it's like something a first-year programming student would come up with - OK, but not good enough in the long run. They're also too easily spooked, although you would be too if you were guarding a castle that's a target for a deadly ninja.
As you'd expect, The Crow is an athletic chap with some nifty acrobatic moves. He's no Prince of Persia, but he can run up walls, flip around and leap between buildings effortlessly. You also have access to shedloads of cool ninja equipment, from basic shurikens and grappling hooks to poisoned rice (lay it down, wait for a guard to start munching away and slip past when he dies) and traps like caltrops (spikes that pierce a dozy sentry's feet) that have been lifted directly from Tenchu. Hey, since everything in the games are based on real historical fact, it's not really stealing, is it? Although the long-dead warriors of feudal Japan might have something to say about it.
In all, Shinobido is totally underwhelming. Good ideas like the mission creator (see 'Ninja Gardening') are obscured by the lazy controls and tedious mission objectives. If you're after historical steal-thing, seek out Tenchu 3. You can get it pre-owned for about a tenner now and it's miles better than this.
An unremarkable game that does absolutely nothing new. The mission editor is a nice touch, but it's a shame the attached game is so... blah.