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Tenchu | Wrath of Heaven | review | game | Lollipop

Tenchu: Wrath of Heaven

(Activision for the PS2)
by Eric Johnson

Ninjas were the real thing, a wild card in an otherwise rigidly-stratified class system; a secret society of dedicated assassins weaned on secrecy who lived and died by their ability to move about unseen and kill from the shadows. In a feudal warrior society obsessed with single combat, they existed behind the scenes, performing tasks for feudal warlords that fell outside of the rigid samurai code. Tenchu: Wrath of Heaven is a fantastic stealth-based ninja game set during 16th Century Japan's sengoku jidai, a period of civil war that racked the island nation for decades. More surreal than the Kurosawa films set during the same time period, Tenchu puts players in the shoes of three ninjas running errands for Lord Ghoda, a daimyo threatened on all sides by rival lords, ronin, corrupt officials, demons, and the undead. Missions, 28 in total, have you acting as courier, killer, and spy in richly-detailed, beautifully-rendered environments. Most of the action involves stalking opponents, which requires patience and skill, utilizing environmental features including rooftops, trees, and shadows, to obscure your movement. Get as close to your target as possible without arousing their suspicion and attack! Get close enough and you'll be rewarded with a gruesome, animated kill. If spotted, run or fight (fighting is fun, thanks to some simple but nicely-refined combat controls). You're tough, but no Wolverine – two opponents are a handful, and three is suicidal, so run if greatly outnumbered. Fleeing allows for setting up another pounce, since all enemies in the game have serious short-term memory problems. Despite this, the game remains immensely challenging (the good type of challenge, not simply frustrating) and engaging throughout. Instead of over-stimulating the player with nonstop action, the stealth elements lull the player into a patient state of predatory, catlike Zen, one which leaves you feeling invigorated rather than burnt out after a few hours of play. You won't get many unabashed and gushing reviews from me, but this game is a real treat, a superb and beautifully-rendered sequel to one of the best and ugliest games the PS1 had to offer. It's distinctive, addictive, stylish, and easily holds its own amongst strong competition from other stealth-based games released for the PS2 in the past six months. Tenchu provides the discriminating gamer with a taste for hunting humans with hours of top-notch entertainment.

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