Dealspwn Rating: 5/10
The year is 1560. Which, as any fule kno – cough, splutter – is the Sengoku Era, when Feudal Japan was in a violent political mess. Yeah, who says games can’t be educational?
Actually, that’s about it as far as the history lesson goes. It was, as that movie voiceover chap would have it, a time of war and that makes it a very good setting for this hack-and-slash title with a bit of a twist. You are an inexperienced Samurai. There are three factions battling for supremacy: the Fujimori Clan, the Ouka Clan and the villagers. Will you choose sides? Will you play one off against the others for your own gain and greed? Will you be a power of good through the land? Or will you be nasty and kill anyone who crosses your path? Your choices will determine what sort of game you have.
Only, of course, they won’t. Well not fully. For all the claims that Way of the Samurai is an “open world” game, with far-reaching decisions that will change your game, the AI for the billed “cause and effect” angle just isn’t quite up the level needed to make this a truly satisfying experience.
After an impressive start – a cut scene that wouldn’t look out of place in a Jet Li movie or, perhaps more likely, Season Two of Heroes – your Samurai (I called mine Daveymoto, because I’m such a wag) is in bad shape and is found by two passers-by. If you’re vaguely polite here, your Samurai will pass out and come round in a pretty little village called Takatane. If you’re aggressive and pull your sword – you regularly have a choice of flashing the blade or kneeling in submissive apology – you’ll make a startling recovery, terrify your potential rescuers and find yourself running through a gory battlefield... Either way, however, you pretty much end up in the same place: wandering around places trying to work out what the hell is going on.
It’s sort of Fallout 3 with blades, or Far Cry 2 in Ancient Japan: the discovery of what you can do and what your purpose is relies on general wandering and interaction with assorted locals. Unfortunately, unlike the two modern-themed titles, this can take hours of utterly pointless “conversations” (and deeply unfunny jokey banter) and sudden attacks from wandering men who, apparently, just don’t like the look of your face: I died three times (and had to restart the entire game) before I made it through to the fighting tutorial – and then died during that. If the “way of the samurai” is learning patience through highly repetitive acts, then the programmers have hit the nail squarely on the head...
The main cause and effect angle is based around your sword. If you go into situations aggressively, you’ll get an aggressive reaction or locals fleeing in terror. This then scores you “good” and “bad” Samurai points. It’s a lovely idea but the horrible spinning camera work and dumb AI means you can easily find yourself cutting down the villager who’s stupidly wandered between you and your enemy mid fight. Seriously, mate, did you not see the metre long swords in our hands? Knob.
Likewise, the apology angle very rarely works in your favour. More often than not, you’ll be called “pathetic” by some no-mark local or find that trying to appease the sword-wielding nutter coming your way just means they can get half a dozen blows in before you can even stand up and draw your weapon.
In order to survive, you will find yourself running away or finding ways to restore health. This is easy enough as you can either pick up bits of food – although you’ll often get sarcastic comments from the villagers that such behaviour should be beneath a Samurai – or you can sleep. For the most part though, the latter requires yet more repetition as you make your way back through the land back to your house in Takatane. Yawn. Quite literally in this case.
Finally, another frustration: the tasks. In order to appease the villagers and progress, you can choose to complete jobs. These are pretty dull fare – deliver this note, chop these vegetables, find the old woman’s lost underwear (no, really) – but a mostly necessary evil. The problem however is that you can’t stack up the jobs and complete them as and when you find the recipient or the laundry bundle etc. No, you can only handle one job at a time (lady readers, insert your own “female samurai / multitasking” joke here) which makes this element of the game, yes, you guessed it, deeply repetitious.
However, if you can get past the annoyances and frustrations, and get into the deeper game, there is something oddly compelling here. The non-linear nature of the tale, the fact that things aren’t spoonfed; that’s actually quite refreshing. And the fighting, while you can hack-and-slash with moderate success, does require some time and thought. It’s still a bit of a surprise when you die during what was supposed to be a tutorial though. Still, there are a lot of save points and I’d suggest you use them.
- Actually being unashamedly aimed at genre fans isn't necessarily a bad thing
- A fighting system that requires timing and skill - assuming you can be bothered to put the time in.
- A game of some ambition and scale
- As repetitive as repetitive can be
- Some very dodgy AI - which is at least often funnier than the supposed humour to be found here
- Requires a lot of time and effort - and that repetitive nature might see it become a trade-in / drink mat before you get to the real meat
The Short Version: The Way of the Samurai is an ambitious, decent looking genre title and there is, clearly, the germ of something here. The problem is, while fans of this sort of thing will be happily locked in their bedrooms for several days while they investigate the 20+ different endings, it's simply not enough to make it a break out genre title. Fourth time lucky, eh chaps?