Klei Entertainment, producer of the Shank series and Eets, returns to action platforming with a distinct twist in Mark of the Ninja. A quick run with the developers at Microsoft's "Best of E3 2012" party showed off the game's progress after 18 months of development. We saw how it handles stealth action, taking inspiration from — as well as being an inspiration to — to the bigger boys in the genre.
You are cast as a ninja. You're one of a marked clan that is being attacked by an unknown armed military force for reasons not yet explained. Naturally, you fight back — or maybe not. After all, a ninja is just as likely to slip past unnoticed as to kill.
The core gameplay is vertical two-dimensional stealth. Your character has a high jump, a knack for wall climbing, the ability to use a hook to grab some points, and two weapons in the demo — a sword and a bottomless stack of throwing knives. Your opponents have guns capable of dropping you in seconds given half a chance, sending you back to the last checkpoint. Naturally, you need to watch out and avoid them to survive by either using stealth kills or bypassing them entirely.
The guards do not have the best field of vision but are reasonably smart. If they spot you, they attempt to evade you with surprising effectiveness, and they go straight for their guns to try and drop you rapidly. Generally, if you are noticed and do not get out of their line of fire quickly, they will succeed. It is possible, however, especially from up close, to take them down.
Instead, the order of the day focuses on using trickery to bypass and slay the guards. Notably, the game puts one major roadblock in your planning. If your character cannot see things, you often can't, either, so you're on a footing that's not much better than your prey. This forces you to take risks as you try to figure out where — or where not — to strike. Fortunately, your throwing knives can sound gongs, knock out lights, and otherwise provide distractions to enable you to reach objectives and progress. You can choose to do so either with or without eliminating those in your path. Notably, the game provides a special reward for clearing a mission with zero kills.
On top of this, the game provides at least two sets of collectibles. Seals represent challenge objectives to complete, while scrolls are hidden in levels and expand the game's lore. Presumably, the full version will have a number of these to pursue.
With Mark of the Ninja, Microsoft has found some indie cred that's a worthy expansion to its downloadables lineup. There is certainly a lot of potential here, so it remains to be seen if the game can hold up its promise.
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