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Tenchu: Fatal Shadows review: Tenchu: Fatal Shadows

Get your ninja freak on in Tenchu: Fatal Shadows. Read our Australian review for this new PS2 stealth action game.

Randolph Ramsay

Randolph Ramsay

Randolph was previously a member of the CNET Australia team and now works for Gamespot.

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4 min read

It's been close to two years since the last Tenchu game, Wrath of Heaven, hit the PS2, but the series is back with Tenchu: Fatal Shadows. Fatal Shadows looks and plays remarkably like its predecessor, which if you're being charitable is a boon for fans who have long waited for more ninja stealth action.

It's been close to two years since the last Tenchu game, Wrath of Heaven, hit the PS2, but the series is back with Tenchu: Fatal Shadows. Fatal Shadows looks and plays remarkably like its predecessor, which if you're being charitable is a boon for fans who have long waited for more ninja stealth action.

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Tenchu: Fatal Shadows

The Good

Good ninja stealth action. Branching paths for players to take as either Ayame or Rin.

The Bad

Clunky camera. Outdated graphics. Too much like the last Tenchu game.

The Bottom Line

Tenchu: Fatal Shadows is at its core a decent gameplay experience that's quite fun to play and is easy to pick up. But when you compare it to newer stealth action titles it feels rather dated and clunky.

If you're not, however, then you could just as easily say that Fatal Shadows is a dated game that fails to live up to the lofty standards set by newer stealth titles like Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory or Metal Gear Solid 3. Not that Tenchu: Fatal Shadows is a dud -- on the contrary, it delivers action fans of the series will lap up. But if you want the latest in stealth gaming, then Sam Fisher or Solid Snake are your best bets.

If you've played Wrath of Heaven then Fatal Shadows will be immediately familiar (if not, there's a comprehensive tutorial you can select that can teach you everything you need to know). Ayame, one of the playable characters in Wrath of Heaven, makes a return in Fatal Shadows, and is joined by another young female ninja known as Rin. Players alternate between playing Ayame and Rin throughout the game, which sees both ninjas trying to find the forces that wiped out young Rin's entire village. Both characters control almost identically, with the only major difference being cosmetic -- Ayame wields two short swords while Rin carries a single katana. The two ninjas do gain some individual special moves as the game progresses, but for the most part you'll feel like you're playing the same character.

The whole hiding in shadows and dancing on rooftops play dynamic still rules, and you'll find that you'll be spending most of the game finding the best ways to sneak up behind guards without being detected. Nearly all of the missions follow a simple template -- get to Point B from Point A, with the route you take being completely up to you. Players are once again given a trusty grappling hook, which can be used to get on rooftops and ledges Spider-man style. The grappling hook will quickly become one your most used items as gaining some height is usually the best way to avoid detection by patrolling guards.

As in past Tenchu games, players are given a detailed map of each area, but it doesn't show where the guards are positioned. Instead, a small on-screen indicator serves as a radar of sorts. Numbers appear on the indicator to represent where guards are -- 1 is far away, 99 is right on top of you. As well as the number, the indicator can tell you the alertness of the guard -- a question mark means they're not aware of your presence, a question mark and an exclamation mark together means they suspect something's up, while two exclamation marks means they're actively looking for you. Ayame and Rin are accomplished killers but are aren't the best at straight-up combat, so two exclamation marks usually means running away.

Not that you have to avoid the guards altogether. The Tenchu stealth kill is back in Fatal Shadows, and once again becomes a vital and visceral aspect of gameplay. To execute a stealth kill, a player needs to sneak up to an unsuspecting guard and press the attack button to perform a flashy one-hit kill manoeuvre. Doing a stealth kill triggers a short cutscene showing Ayame or Rin taking the guard out, but as there are only a few different animations it becomes stale quickly. Each stealth kill also earns you a scroll, which need to be collected to open up new items and special moves.

New to the series is the ability to do a double stealth kill, provided you're close to two guards at the same time. Ayame and Rin can also now pick up and hide bodies if they don't want their dirty work to be noticed by other guards.

Unfortunately, the guards in Fatal Shadows, like in previous Tenchus, are criminally dumb and easy to sneak up on, taking away much of the suspense a stealth game like this should have. As long as you're not in a guard's direct line of sight, you'll be ignored, and you can practically run up to a guard to perform a stealth kill without them noticing your approach. Even if they do spot you, they won't pursue you far -- all it usually takes is grappling to a rooftop or running into another area and they'll quickly forget about you.

The game's camera doesn't exactly add to the suspense either, as it becomes more of a source of frustration due to its inability to accurately track movements. The camera tends to get lost in the action, particularly when trying to peek around corners or when involved in fights.

The graphics in Fatal Shadows look straight out of the Wrath of Heaven -- that is, they may have looked OK two years ago but now can't hold a candle to similar titles. Characters are rendered in fairly low detail, while the environments don't do enough to stand out.

Tenchu: Fatal Shadows is at its core a decent gameplay experience that's quite fun to play and is easy to pick up. But when you compare it to newer stealth action titles it feels rather dated and clunky.

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