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Styx: Master of Shadows: A stealthy adventure built for old-school Thief fans

Hayden Dingman | Oct. 8, 2014
This ultra-hard stealth game kind of feels like it came out ten years ago, but in a good way.

And to make things worse, if you're one of those people (like myself) who just has to snag every collectible in a game then Styx: Master of Shadows is going to break you. It took me two hours to finish what I later realized was considered the Prologue. Two. Hours. There are seven chapters in Styx, each of which is broken into three or four gigantic sub-levels. Each sub-level has ten collectible tokens scattered around the most inconvenient, inaccessible, well-guarded parts of the map--they're less "mandatory" areas and more puzzle boxes designed just to challenge the people who want those tokens.

While you could conceivably finish some of these chapters in as little as half an hour (according to the game's own internal achievements), it's unlikely without some practice or luck or both. The only downside is that quite a few environments are reused in the second half of the game, leaving the back half feeling a lot less fresh than the first half.

The game gives you a few advantages, all of which center around the aforementioned "amber." You can turn invisible briefly, highlight hidden items in the environment with Amber Vision, or create a clone of yourself. That last skill turns out to be crucial, as your clone can distract guards away from your position or activate levers you can't reach.

The problem is that using your skills ends up feeling a bit like cheating, even though it's not. You're rarely encouraged to use your powers, except when the game forces you to--and then it just feels annoying to be forced. The game has a bad habit of being very open, and then throwing you into a chokepoint halfway through the level where the only way past is to turn invisible or sacrifice a clone to the guards. But why is there a chokepoint in the first place? It feels anathema to the game's "go anywhere" philosophy.

There are also some issues that relegate this to B-game status. Pathfinding is particularly broken. There are a lot of instances where you'll watch two guards approach each other, then walk into each other, then do a weird diagonal walk-dance until they magically unhook and continue on their patrol routes. Another obnoxious bug: If you quicksave next to a sleeping guard, when you reload the guard will nearly always wake up and spot you immediately.

And the controls are finicky, with Styx sometimes grabbing onto a ledge when you meant for him to fall to the floor but then not grabbing the ledge when you just walked off a cliff, or not grabbing onto a balcony after a jump unless you jump exactly right. Even after hours of playing, I didn't feel like I could 100 percent judge whether it was possible for me to make a jump or not, which is life or death in a stealth game.

 

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