Tenchu: Wrath of Heaven
Game Info
Stealth Action
Official Website
ESRB Rating
Blood and Gore, Intense Violence
The Good

• Great ninja-oriented stealth
• Lots of missions and multiple guard layouts
• Online and multiplayer modes are a nice extra
• Excellent music

The Bad

• Enemy AI is dated
• Camera is still fidgety
• Graphics are showing their age


There are games where you play as a ninja and then there are games where you play at being a ninja. While the recently release of Ninja Gaiden may allow players to kill a lot of people as the ninja Ryu, Tenchu: Return From Darkness is all about being a ninja. For those not familiar, Return From Darkness is an enhanced port of the original PS2 Tenchu: Wrath of Heaven. While Return From Darkness serves as a true sequel to the first Tenchu (the second one was a prequel), you'll find the story is pretty light on coherrence, and it really only serves to give you an excuse to kill one group of enemies or another. If you never played the first couple games, don't worry as you won't really need to know the backstory to get into this one. All you need to know is that you get to play as either brawny, grizzled Rikimaru or the younger, more spry Ayame in two separate campaigns (a third character, Tesshu, is unlockable and has a shorter campaign).

When you start up the single player campaign, you'll be taken along a series of levels which give you a certain task, often making the player go to a place in the level to progress. Mission goals include sneaking into a location to kill a certain target, or locating an item, rescue missions or just getting to the end of a stage. Even a simple assasination mission may require you to not kill the guards until your target is dead. Each location has three guard layouts, which will give hardened players reason to play the levels multiple times. And, most missions will give the player boss fights to deal with, forcing you at least fight it out with someone.

Getting to your goal, though, it a large part of the adventure. In Tenchu, the player must move silently and hide from the line of sight of guards, waiting for the opportunity to strike at the guards and perform stealth kills. Stealth kills are single-hit kills that kill enemies who aren't aware of your presence. Pull off enough of them in a level and you unlock special abilities and moves for the ninja your playing as. As you hide and wait for your opportunity to strike, pay attention to the Ki Meter, which will show how close your target is to you and whether or not they're aware of your presence. If you miss your chance to strike and your opponent sees you, expect to have to fight them or run for cover (which is not as easy as one might think). Of course, you don't have to kill everyone or in fact anyone if you're good enough, but then you're missing out on the dramatic and bloody death animations of your enemies.

Controls for the Xbox version are pretty much the same as the PS2 version. You control the character with the Left Analog stick and the camera with the Right. You have the ability to jump, crouch, hug up against a wall, attack with your sword or any weapon you might pick up during the stage. The Right Trigger both centers the camera behind you and also serves as a lcok-on during combat. You also have the ability to block and the Y Button uses your equipped item, which is selected by using the D-Pad. The array of items you can use will easily supplement the main gameplay and give players options in how they play the game. Being able to use poisoned darts, grenades, spells and even traps can make the excellent stealth gameplay even more fun and involving. New to the Xbox version is the ability to drag enemy bodies, but to be honest, there's only a few rare times where you'll actually care to do this. Most guards or enemies never seem to cross the same locations, so if you leave a dead body lying around, they're not going to get seen.

At the end of each level, you're given a score based on your performance and if you do well, you can unlock special items. Most of the items are pretty inticing, like being able to temporarily look like an enemy or to call a dog to attack an enemy. Completionists are definitely going to want to replay the levels to get the best grade, so as to unlock everything in the game.

To go along with the single player campaign ar both multiplayer and online play, via Xbox Live. Multiplayer modes include co-op and deathmatch. To be honest, the co-op mode proves to be the most fun as you and a friend can try to perform double-team stealth kills while working towards your objectives. The versus mode proves only to be a nice diversion as the combat in the game isn't much more than hitting the attack button, blocking occasionally and strafing to get around an opponent's attacks.

Visually, the game is by and large the same as the original, featuring large locations packed with a lot of style and detail which capture the era well. Character models are pretty good, especially the main characters and bosses, who manage to both have a certain sense of style to them while maintaining a fine level of detail and animation to them. Some of the lesser NPCs, though, show some age as they prove to be less detailed and have some less believable animations. The Xbox version does benefit from some extra polish, but the fact that the game is a port of a PS2 game that came out in early 2003 shows in some blurry textures and the lack of more dynamic lighting and visual effects. With that said, though, the game still does look pretty good. When you're playing the game, you definitely won't be drawn away from the gameplay by the way the game looks.

The audio portion of the game is quite excellent and features solid voice acting, music and sound effects. The soundtrack to the game is a fine mix of traditional oriental themes with electronic elements to make an odd hybrid that just seems to work within the frame of the game. With the exception of repetitive NPC lines, voice acting is pretty solid and doesn't detract from the game. For purists, the option to switch the Japanese is also available. Sound effect-wise, players are given the full range of believable sounds that help draw you into the world.

One of my biggest complaints about not only this game but the Tenchu series is that the in-game camera STILL is pretty iffy and proves to make the game more challenging that it already can be. Often the camera just makes seeing around corners a difficult chore. And, if you sneak up on a ledge, the camera will move above you, which is fine when looking down, but not when you need to jump across. Also, when fighting multiple enemies, expect to get hit with a couple cheap shots because of the camera. But, that's only if you're sloppy enough to get seen, because, to be honest, the enemy AI is starting to show its age. After playing the likes of Metal Gear Solid Twin Snakes and Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow, the AI for Return From Darkness feels archaic and predictable. Most enemies follow a set pattern and wont investigate something unless its in their direct line of sight or you're too stupid to back away when they become suspiscious. Hell, you can fall off a building behind them and they'll act like nothing's up.

If you're a fan of the stealth genre and haven't played the original PS2 version, go out and get this title. There's more than enough game between the single player and multiplayer modes to make up for any shortcomings the game might have.

- - Vane

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