Glass City is a new series in which I talk to you, dear reader, about gaming outside a traditional review format. Why Glass City? Why not? It’s a city… made of glass! Come on, man.
Recently, I was given an ‘older’ game to write about: Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun. The Big Boss didn’t want a traditional review, just some thoughts about the game in general. In case you didn’t know, Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun is an excellent stealth, tactical, real-time strategy game set in the Edo period of Japan. You eventually have five different characters to carefully guide through the map. Always outnumbered, it is your job to sneak past, kill and/or passively take out any enemies who stand in your way.
The game is absolutely beautiful, as well. Not only is each level is a puzzle to solve, but each little, tiny piece toward your next destination is a puzzle all on its own. To move what would realistically be only a few meters takes exceptionally careful planning. You must use the strengths of each team member and coordinate their actions to quietly move from point A to B — all without being spotted long enough to alert the guards. Basically: if they see you, you’re dead. Quick saves and quick loads are not only recommended but unquestionably needed. There is even a timer within Shadow Tactics to remind you to save!
Once I got past the initial ‘training’ as it were, things started getting dicey pretty quickly. The deeper I went in, as you would expect, the more difficult it became. Before I even got to my third guy, I was starting to get stuck.
Since I prefer playing strategic and tactical games (especially wargames), I’m obsessed with the planning required to take out my opponents, regardless of any specific genre of game I am playing. This usually requires a tremendous amount of patience to even be able to start a lot of these games in the first place. Back when there were printed manuals, I would scour them for a multitude of hours before even firing up a game (which required patience in itself because once it’s installed, “I just want to play it right now!”). Even with today’s PDFs, I do the exact same — although obviously the note-taking aspect is quite different. I spend an inordinate amount of time going repeatedly through the rules before finally taking the plunge.
Then, once I have submerged myself into play, it can take days or weeks of (usually) being slaughtered to get used to the nuances of each individual diversion. Failure is inevitable as well as being instrumental in the learning process. Although a lot of battlefronts are similar, each one is different than others in some aspect. These variants are what keep people like me continually pouring money into these various pastimes. I know I’m not alone, otherwise there would never be so many sequels!
Usually, I prefer turn-based strategy. Of course, RTS had its heyday, during which 1) it was harder to find a good TBS and 2) I played what was available — which ended up with me playing a ton of RTS back in the day. Nowadays, real-time with pause is making quite the resurgence. The ability to issue orders while paused is great for me, like a step between TBS and RTS. I have absolutely no problems at all with real-time with pause.
However, for some unknown reason, some aspects of gaming simply do not agree with me — at all. By far one of the biggest perpetrators is stealth. Again, I don’t know why, but stealth in games makes me rage-quit faster than just about anything else. Obviously unfortunate for me, Shadow Tactics is a stealth game. From what I can tell, there is absolutely nothing wrong with the game itself. I know, for a fact, that it is entirely me and my idiosyncrasies.
There is just ‘something’ about trying to move and remain unnoticed, then getting caught, which completely and utterly unhinges me. And I mean rage-inducing, profanity-spewing, hide-the-children lividness which takes me from calm to boil in milliseconds. Not necessarily the first time it happens, but it doesn’t take too many (three? Four?) incidents before I’m ready to bash the monitor with a sledgehammer. Or my fists. Or a fisty, sledgehammery thing.
I’m not just talking about overhead, isometric, top-down viewpoint etc. games, either. Name a genre (even FPS), sit me down in front of it, then let me discover that there is a stealth component. Hell, tell me in advance that there’s a sneaky, stealthy element. It won’t matter either way. After the first few times I get caught, the guard sees me, or I set off the alarm — I’d hope you’d pre-hidden the breakable keepsakes and forewarned the neighbors.
How can a guy who can literally spend months in a single scenario, playing through the ebb and flow of strategic and/or tactical confrontation, become so upset by such an important aspect of games and their history? Which element of stealth torques up someone who can watch tank divisions, space fleets or a squad of mages take a harsh fall due to poor planning, or even sometimes bad luck? It’s really not so different from watching an ambush fail or being surprised by what I thought was a well-planned, cavalry-flanking maneuver run into a huge group of pikemen.
Whatever it is, again, it’s not Shadow Tactics’ fault. From what little of the map I have traversed, it seems to be a great game. I did eventually get my third guy! However, he was neither easy nor quietly obtained. I’ll admit to some unreasonable — and quite illogical — rage-quitting. I’m usually a logical, even-tempered and even stoic guy. To me, though, stealth games are both the gasoline and the match to my otherwise rational mind. So for now, I have to go back and see if I can get the fourth person for my squad — without screaming or fingernailing the paint off of the walls.