Review: Mark of the Ninja
The story follows a Ninja who returns to find his dojo has been attacked by an unknown enemy. He sets off to find the culprit and serve some justice. The game is split over a dozen fairly lengthy levels which sees you travelling through a variety of locations such as city rooftops, sewers and mysterious castles.
Stealth is the key and while direct combat is possible it can be tricky as you are only armed with a sword, enemies have guns so you are at a massive disadvantage. Using alternative routes such as darkness, air ducts and ceilings you can often totally bypass an enemy. If you need to get a little closer you can hide in doorways and furniture such as pots and dust bins. As a last resort, if an enemy needs to be taken out you can sneak close by to them and perform a stealth kill. A quick button combination follows and if you get it right you get a quiet kill, fail and you run the risk of creating noise and alerting nearby guards.
Noise plays an important part of the game. By default you move your character in stealth mode, running causes noise and this among other events can bring attention to an area. Firing a dart at a light source for example will break the light, it will give you cover of darkness, but it also causes noise. Noise is cleverly shown as a sound wave rippling through the screen. You can however use this to your advantage to distract guards to make them look the other way or for them to move to the source and investigate while you sneak past. It works amazingly well and with some careful planning it is allegedly possible to complete the game without ever having to kill a guard.
The visuals also play just as an important part of the game as the sound. Your character can only see enemies in his line of sight. You can peek through air duct vents to give a better view of the area but only in the general direction you are facing. Once back in cover, your view of the guards slowly diminishes in an outlined red haze. If they are moving you can see their footsteps, so if a guard is patrolling an area you can wait for him to pass close to your hiding spot, perform the kill and hide the body – all while remaining hidden.
As the game progresses you gain new skills and weapons. Skills include new techniques of killing guards such as the Batman inspired ‘Bats Prey’ which sees you swoop down from above on top of the enemy and kill him. These are great fun to watch, the surrounding area darkens and highlights the kill with a satisfying animation, as well as offering new methods to kill which were not possible before. Tools and weapons come in a few varieties such as smoke bombs and my personal favourite the ‘Hisomu Terror Dart’. When fired at a guard it sends them into a panic and he will start firing at random, killing anything in his path and eventually turning his gun on himself. There is also a nod to Metal Gear Solid with a cardboard box to unlock. The unlockables are not just a bonus to give the game a sense of progression, they all have different uses and choosing the right one at the right time can make a difficult area much easier to complete.
The level design is varied and there are often alternative routes to explore which may offer an advantage in clearing the area. Guards are not the only obstacle to bypass, laser sensors can often be disabled by firing a dart at the control box or using a smoke bomb to temporarily provide cover. You can use a time stopping ability to line up a sequence of shots to take them out. The ability works very well and feels second nature. Other obstacles such as movement sensors can not be disabled and rely on staying motionless to get past and later levels see puzzle-like ‘move object to correct position’ challenges. The obstacles are never impossible to get past, they just require some patience and thought.
The main story will take around eight hours to complete your first run through. A New Game Plus option is unlocked and allows you to play the game again at an harder difficulty such as one hit kills from guards and you lose some sight from behind which changes the game a great deal, but by then you will be experienced enough to take on the challenge. There are also challenge rooms which can be found hidden on levels if you missed them first time round and are puzzle like in gameplay terms. There is plenty to do the second time round and it is one of few games I immediately restarted after completing it.
For their first attempt at a stealth game Klei Entertainment have got it spot on. As some of you may know I am not a big fan of stealth games as they often get it wrong. Everything works exactly how it should in Mark of the Ninja and it sucked me in and converted me. Splinter Cell and Metal Gear Solid developers take note, this is how you create a stealth game! A must buy!
Perfect controls and a reliable cover system make the challenge of being stealthy a joy to play. Stealth game developers take note!
Scenery design looks great and even better when using the line of sight system
Sound is used with good effect which becomes part of the game experience, not just something to listen to