Why is nobody talking about this game? That’s the lingering question everytime Cyanide Studio releases a new title. These guys may not have the absurd budget of most AAA developers, but their works always radiate with personality and great gameplay mechanics. Styx: Master of Shadows is the latest gem in a long line of overlooked Cyanide releases and it’s about time more gamers start paying attention. Styx combines elements of Dishonored, Hitman, Mark of the Ninja and Splinter Cell into a superb stealth adventure that every genre fan needs in their collection. What else? It’s only $29.99! It’s half the price and twice the quality and value of most things released these days. While it still suffers from a few technical hiccups here and there, Styx: Master of Shadows puts the recent Thief remake to shame. Tenchu and Shinobido fans pay attention! Styx is old-school stealth action at its finest, boasting massive levels and endless ways of reaching objectives. Styx: Master of Shadows looks good, it plays well, it’s challenging...it’s got it all.
"Styx combines elements of Dishonored, Hitman, Mark of the Ninja and Splinter Cell into a superb stealth adventure that every genre fan needs in their collection."
If you’re one of the five people on the planet who played the highly underrated Of Orcs and Men, you’ll be happy to know that Cyanide Studio has decided to expand its established universe. Styx: Master of Shadows serves as a prequel, focusing on the stealthy foul-mouthed goblin who’s on a mission to steal the heart of a World-Tree in order to better understand his origins. The entire story takes place in the terrifying Tower of Akenash, a massive architectural monstrosity with Escher-like floors and limitless killing possibilities. While the narrative isn’t particularly intriguing, the satirical dialogue and overall tone keep the story interesting enough to not get in the way of gameplay.
I wasn’t kidding when I said Styx: Master of Shadows combines elements of other titles in the genre. A little bit of Sam Fisher here, a little bit of Agent 47 there...it’s like the greatest hits of stealth games, and I mean that in the best way possible. Cyanide Studio isn’t trying to reinvent the wheel here, instead they pay homage to some of the best franchises in gaming. But to call the gameplay a mere replica of older titles would be unfair. Styx tweaks and refines traditional stealth mechanics and brings back the freedom of experimentation seen in the legendary Thief II. While certainly not as groundbreaking, the ability to tackle objectives and assassinate enemies without any handholding is refreshing.
"The tower’s verticality provides what seems limitless creative assassination and traversal opportunities, with enemies occupying every inch of the building."
Where Styx: Master of Shadows truly shines is in its level design and challenging enemies. I can’t stress just how large and open the world feels, despite being confined to a single tower. The tower’s verticality provides what seems limitless creative assassination and traversal opportunities, with enemies occupying every inch of the building. While Styx’s attacks are deadly from behind, he’s completely useless when confronted directly. He can parry attacks, but they require pixel-perfect timing and he can survive only a few hits. This is a good thing, however, because the game enforces a slow, methodical approach. Being stealthy means having to oftentimes avoid confrontation altogether, as the slightest sound attracts every nearby guard.
"Styx: Master of Shadows is pretty to look at, with superbly designed levels, beautiful lighting and excellent animation."
Styx is equipped with a few nifty special moves that are imperative for survival. He can become temporarily invisible, which is incredibly useful for sneaking in open spaces. He’s got Batman-style X-ray vision (here it’s called amber-vision) that lets him highlight enemies and objects of interest. He can even summon a clone, which he takes control of to squeeze through tight spaces, open doors and even serve as a distraction for guards. Each ability uses Amber, so the special skills can’t be exploited and need to be used sparingly. In between missions, Styx has access to an underground hideout where he can upgrade further skills, like quieter movement, the ability to assassinate from a high ledge, and so on. Considering how challenging some of the later levels become, every upgrade feels substantial and gives players a sense of empowerment.
"The enemies are tough, the levels are beautiful and large encouraging exploratory gameplay, and Styx controls flawlessly."
Styx: Master of Shadows is pretty to look at, with superbly designed levels, beautiful lighting and excellent animation. Unfortunately, the gorgeous visuals are marred by odd technical problems. When panning the camera, there are weird split-second flickers/flashes that are particularly distracting in dark areas. Brief flashes are also present during cinematics when the scenes switch, making it look like the entire image is popping into place. It’s an odd bug, but I’m sure it’s something that's fixable with a patch. Graphical anomalies aside, the save system is far more troublesome. The game auto-saves only when major objectives are completed, which means players can easily lose up to 20 minutes if dying in a challenging area. Manual saving is allowed anywhere, but it’s annoying having to access the menu screen every five minutes just to ensure most progress hasn’t been lost.
A few complaints aside, Styx: Master of Shadows is a fantastic experience. The enemies are tough, the levels are beautiful and large encouraging exploratory gameplay, and Styx controls flawlessly. Cyanide Studio is a fantastic developer, one that deserve more credit and media attention. Anyone with even the slightest interest in stealth gaming should play through Styx: Master of Shadows at least once. It’s one of the finest downloadable titles this year, and deserves a spot among the best releases in the genre.
Review by: Tin Salamunic | Reviewed on: Playstation 4