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Tenchu: Return from Darkness

Platform(s): Xbox
Genre: Action
Publisher: Activision
Developer: K2
Release Date: March 8, 2004 (US), March 19, 2004 (EU)


Xbox Review - 'Tenchu: Return from Darkness'

by Agustin on April 12, 2004 @ 1:00 a.m. PDT

Set in the late 1570s, one year after the original Tenchu, Tenchu: Return from Darkness allows players to assume the role of the ninjas Rikimaru, Ayame or the mysterious Tesshu as they battle the evil Tenrai and his six lords of darkness. As silent assassins, players must use cunning, strategy, deadly stealth and an arsenal of weapons to overcome dangerous missions and defend the Japanese countryside from Tenrai's armies.

Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Activision
Developer: K2
Release Date: March 8, 2004

Buy 'TENCHU: Return from Darkness': Xbox

The Xbox receives another upgraded Playstation 2 port with the release of Tenchu: Return From Darkness. The game is essentially the same game as Tenchu: Wrath of Heaven, which hit the PS2 about a year ago. It is the third entry in the fan-favorite Tenchu series, and follows the parameters established by the previous games, such as the stylized kills, and stealth-driven gameplay. Oddly enough, with a year to work with, many of the problems present in the original version were not fixed. Players will still have to deal with constant camera troubles and shoddy AI. These problems do nearly ruin the experience at times, but they do not completely diminish any sense of quality that Return From Darkness has besides them. In fact, if you’re not expecting an AAA experience from this game, you might have a lot of fun with this one.

Tenchu: Return From Darkness is, as with the two previous games in the series, a stealth-based game with some platforming and action elements thrown in the mix. There are three playable characters in all, each having their own unique take on the game. You won’t be playing through the game over with another character only to realize that the differences are purely cosmetic; Return From Darkness features an overlapping narrative that makes for major changes in the way the game plays from each perspective, giving the player a unique experience with each play through.

Looking at the game from a level design perspective, it is a solid effort. There are various creative elements that serve to help or hinder players, such as cats that alert the guards, and items that improve your stealth abilities. Also, the trademark stealth kills are back for this edition, and they are better than ever. These attacks are executed by sneaking up behind an enemy and pressing the attack button. Your character will perform an extremely stylish attack and kill the enemy in one hit. Not only are these amusing to watch, but there are benefits, to boot: performing at least ten stealth kills in a single stage unlocks new items for you to use.

Return From Darkness is full of great concepts, but once they are all put into action they falter quite a bit. As with most third person games, the camera is a problem. The quality of Tenchu’s camera is far below average. Sure, while simply running around the camera is just fine. It is what one would expect from your standard third person action game. The problem is, once you get into stealth mode, the camera becomes extremely stiff and locks in on the x-axis. The white button can be used to free-look, but your character is immobilized while doing this. By taking a look around, you are leaving yourself exposed to being discovered by your enemies.

This leads us to the issue of the enemy AI. It is horrifically flawed, especially for a game in the stealth genre, where AI is an (if not the most) important factor. The opponents in Return From Darkness take a swift dive from overly intelligent to extremely dumb. When they are close to your character, they are almost too smart, catching a glimpse of you even when you’re in places where it seems convincing that they would not be able to see you. When it comes to actually finding you, they seem to have absolutely no direction at all. This carries over to engaging enemies in battle. One would think that sneaking up behind an enemy with the intent to slit their throat would be an exciting experience; not so with Return From Darkness. Stealth kills are a piece of cake to pull off, and while they are pretty, they don’t make for much of a breathtaking experience.

Battling is another flawed aspect of the game. The camera and controls are as awkward as they are in stealth mode. Perhaps even a bit worse. The most annoying “feature” is the lack of mobility while blocking. When fighting more than one enemy, this nearly renders the block function useless, and will allow your enemies to take advantage of easy openings. To make things worse, once an enemy hits you, you’re open to the rest of the combo they unleash upon you, as the hits come so quickly that there is not ample time to defend yourself. This makes fighting groups of enemies an unnecessarily difficult task.

The big upgrade for the Xbox version of the latest Tenchu title that received the most attention was the new Live component. Co-op and deathmatch modes are available. The Co-op mode is definitely the flagship feature, and it makes for a great deal of fun. These are the kinds of games where voice chat really shines; working together with a friend to make your way through a state is a great experience. The deathmatch modes are really more of an extra than a full-blown feature. Tenchu’s battle mechanics don’t lend themselves to a good competitive deathmatch. You might spend a few minutes messing around with this portion of the game, but it’s nothing worth getting into. I am glad they included the mode, don’t get me wrong – I am just much more impressed with the amount of fun there is to be had with the co-op mode. If you can’t get over the faults of the game that I’ve already established, then you will not enjoy the Live functionality one bit. If playing through a flawed-but-fun game online with a friend sounds good to you, then give Return From Darkness a try.

The Xbox version of Tenchu is clearly improved over the PS2 version graphics-wise, but there isn’t anything substantial. The textures are improved, the lighting is clearer, and the added stages have improved geometry. It’s nowhere near the quality of the current line of AAA titles on the Xbox, but it’s still good, and certainly above average by today’s standards.

The music selection is a bit silly to me. It reminds me of something you’d see in a B ninja flick before a videogame. Normally I’d love that sort of thing, but this game takes itself much too seriously for it to have any place here. You likely won’t find yourself reaching for the mute button, but you might roll your eyes a few times. The sound effects are nice enough, though. The effects are a little exaggerated, but this is a ninja game. What more do you need?

Tenchu is a mélange of disappointment and elation. The gameplay, graphics, and overall experience all present a grabbag of experiences, some good, some bad. This game is one of the prime examples of how a quality title can be brought from AAA status straight down into the deepest mediocrity. The online mode helps it, and the quality of the level design will keep many gamers playing, but it’s still not as good as it could have been. Hopefully the next Tenchu game will turn this all around.

Score : 7.0/10

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