Review: Styx: Master of Shadows (PS4)

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Title: Styx: Master of Shadows
Format: PlayStation Network Download (5.5 GB)
Release Date: October 7, 2014
Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
Developer: Cyanide Studio
Original MSRP: $29.99 (US),€29.99 (EU), £24.99 (UK)
ESRB Rating: T
PEGI: 16
Styx: Master of Shadows is also available on Xbox One and PC.
The PlayStation 4 download version was used for this review.
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy.

styx-goblin-picStyx is a Goblin, unlike any other. making this way through the Tower of Akenash, in search of a magical Tree and the source of the Amber – a powerful golden sap. Not to be confused with the American rock band from Chicago also named Styx, with hits including “The Best of Times” and “Babe.”

Gameplay:
Stealth is a huge part of this game, with all the usual trappings that you would expect: sneaking in the shadows, extinguishing torches, assassinating people and moving slowly whilst trying to avoid knocking into objects. All of this happens in the third person view unless you move under furniture or crawl around in small passageways, then it quickly changes to a first person camera.

Similar to a few other stealth games, enemies are alerted to the dead bodies you leave in your wake. Luckily you can pick up the corpses and hide them in the usual places like chests or cupboards. A nice touch is a guard actually noticing the absence of his friend and remarking about it, or re-lighting a torch you’ve previously put out. I accidentally knocked over a wooden stool which alerted people close by so I fled into the darkness and out of the room.

Clones also play a part in this adventure. I say clone but it’s more of a goblin shaped regurgitation from Styx that you can control and use to interact with switches and such. It only lasts a limited time and cannot do much in the early parts of the game but does come in handy when you want to distract a guard. As it has a smaller form than Styx it can squeeze into gaps that its maker cannot, allowing you to venture into other areas, scoping them out and pulling levers to allow Styx a way in. No one likes vomit, especially if it’s goblin shaped and wandering around, so you still have to stay out of sight otherwise the clone will be hunted down and killed.

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Combat plays its part by forcing you into a feeble timing based parry and kill event that I wish wasn’t a part of the game. If seen by an enemy they’ll chase you down and start swinging their weapon at you, if blocked correctly you’ll knock them off-balance and eventually be able to launch a killing attack. I slowly got used to it and became quite effective but it just didn’t feel right in this game. I preferred killing my prey without them being alerted which allowed me to either perform a quick but loud kill, or a very slow muffled execution. Early in the game you find some very useful throwing knives that make the game a lot easier. These are in limited supply but offer one hit kills from a distance with most enemies.

Some areas were giving me a hard time and I kept being caught and killed over and over again. If it weren’t for the multiple routes to my objective I probably would have given up out of pure frustration, especially on the brutal harder difficulties. With large areas to explore and some collectibles to find this is a stealth aficionados dream. Especially when you begin to unlock the various upgrades for Styx making him a silent killing machine.

You are also tasked with side quests which normally involve stealing a valuable object or killing a particular person. Variety in how you approach these or any anything in the game is up to you. Make it look like an ‘accident’ by dropping a chandelier on them, poison their food or drink and even push them off a ledge whilst they’re emptying their bladder. You can attempt to sneak past every enemy or go on a killing spree, the choice is yours. However you have to remember, these aren’t stupid mindless enemies, they’ll check hiding places close to where you were last seen and if they find you, they’ll drag you out kicking and screaming.

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Twenty seconds might not seem like a long time, but it is when you’re waiting for a level to load or restart after dying and going back to a checkpoint. To make it worse, the loading indicator stops spinning at the fifteen second mark which made me think it had frozen the first time. It seems to load the entire level into memory instead of streaming it as you play. You can forgive it a small amount when you see the scale of the levels laid out before you. Full of secret passageways, alternate routes, and a large amount of guards. Traversing these areas effectively without being seen will take some patience, skill, and a small amount of luck. For people who like ‘Joshing’** games this one will take some time as there are plenty of collectibles and hidden rooms to find.

I have to admit that I have been ‘Joshing’ this little rough diamond and I’ve been playing it for many hours but feel that I’ve only scratched the surface. I could and probably should have raced through to completion, missing all of the collectibles and just gone for the main objectives. I am reviewing it after all, but I’m just having too much fun. Everything that bothered me in the beginning of this game has either gotten better or faded away. For every bad thing in this game, there are five things it does so very well.

Controls can be frustrating at times with some a cheap deaths caused by Styx not bothering to grab onto a hook or jumping off in a different direction and completely missing the huge ledge only inches away. I must be spoiled with the climbing mechanics of other well known titles. I wouldn’t mind so much if it didn’t take ages to reload the level.

To get a better understanding of how large these areas are I should mention that you get a medal for completing the first level in under thirty-two minutes! Thankfully you can save at any point, which is a must in this game. It has an autosave but I find that too spread out for my liking.

Remote Play works very well with this game given its slow methodical play style and the only difference being a couple of buttons have been moved onto the front touch screen corners. Sadly the on-screen text is quite small even on the TV so when playing on the PS Vita it becomes difficult to clearly read.

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Visuals:
Graphically Styx: Master of Shadows is a good looking game for the most part. It doesn’t push the PlayStation 4 by any means but has its moments of excellence which are sadly marred by a few issues. When you pan the camera some textures take a half second to load-in which causes a brief flash of blue. Rag-doll physics are both good and bad, with the latter being a byproduct of a dated Unreal engine.

When a non-player character (NPC) is talking close to the camera I’m often reminded of a goldfish as the lipsynching is awful. Lighting often casts a horrible shadow on a face allowing them to live up to the Unreal graphic engine’s name.

Styx himself looks good with a smooth animation set and a fair amount of detail. Huge sprawling levels with flags blowing in the breeze, the occasional airship flying by in the background of one level and some excellent realistic lighting all make up for the criticisms I mentioned before. A big part of this game is the use of darkness and light, Styx needs the darkness to effectively traverse the large sprawling environments without being detected but unlike some other stealth games this one has a sense of realism. Enemies can still see in the shadows, just not as clearly or as far.

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Audio:
Music is solid throughout the game and suits the atmosphere perfectly. It helps build tension when needed and is of a high quality. Sound effects are also great, especially the gruesome snap of a victim’s neck or the patter of your characters tiny feet on the stone floor.

Voice work is both hit and miss. Styx narrates his progress through the story and comments on many things in the game with often crude and vulgar language, which is fine considering his role in this adventure. I even grew to like his profanity riddled quips and comments. With some outrageous one liners and remarks you won’t forget, most of which I cannot write in this review apart from this one, “This damn headache won’t go away, It’s pounding away like a new whore’s bed on payday!

Styx: Master of Shadows and many other games like it often miss its mark when it comes the NPC’s repeating the same lines over and over. You’ll notice it due to the slower pace of this game as you’ll often be hidden in the darkness watching your prey and studying their routines.

Online/Multiplayer:
This game is single player only.

Conclusion:
Styx: Master of Shadows surprised me as it isn’t the most polished game I’ve played, on first look it seems unappealing and I could have easily written it off. Only when you creep further into the world of Styx do you find a brilliantly executed and addictive stealth game that will surely become a fan favorite to all that give it a chance.

The sheer size and freedom of choice this game allows is well worth the money. Throw in a vulgar but likable goblin with a penchant for murder and theft and you’ve got a real gem here. Styx: Master of Shadows is easily the best game of its genre and has now set the bar for all others to try to reach.

Score:
9.0

* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Share functionality on the PlayStation 4.

** Joshing a game refers to PS Nation Co-Host Josh Langford’s penchant for exploring every little corner of a game world while playing, piling on hours of exploration to what would otherwise be a much shorter game.

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