Tenchu - Wrath Of Heaven

Tenchu - Wrath Of Heaven Reviewed on PS2

The original Tenchu: Stealth Assassins, was one of my absolute favourite games on PS1, and so naturally, I was champing at the bit to see the latest incarnation of the franchise. Tenchu was a pioneering title in the stealth/adventure/action game genre, and I think what appealed most and set it apart from others, was the cunning and sheer pleasure from making an unseen, unheard kill. So, how does the PS2 title measure up?

Are you sitting comfortably? Good, then I'll slice your head off and be gone into the night before you even know it.

One of the first things that I noticed, and I really hate to start any review with a negative, was that the plot is a bit too similar to the first Tenchu game. Example, old level 1 "Punish the evil merchant", new level 1, "Punish the evil merchant" . Old level 3 "go into the caves". New Level 3, (no wait, don't tell me) "go into the caves". I mean come ON guys! Did you actually feel you could get away with this? That no one who bought the original would buy this one too?

In all seriousness, this really is inexcusable. We're led to believe that the game is set a year after the original, yet our first mission is almost identical to the one where the whole saga began. This theme of unoriginal plot continues throughout the game in slightly more subtle ways, but not enough for me not to recognise them. Sorry, but I feel for a supposedly entirely new adventure, it's a bit slack to not even bother thinking up a new story!!

Anyway, gripe over, this aside, the game really is pure class. The movement is smooth, and aside from the odd occasion where you find the camera out of position and you're slashing at thin air (press L1 to re-centre the cam) you feel really immersed in your surroundings. This is aided in no small way by the excellent and detailed graphics ( a bit dark on occasion, but it's all very atmospheric!) and a highly authentic soundtrack.

You take the role of either of the two original characters, and a special hidden third ninja, giving the games 25 levels even more longevity. You have to take part in a series of stealth, assassination and reconnaissance missions, which make up the overall plot of the game. It's all fairly straightforward, good Vs evil in medieval Japan stuff. The game has a steady learning curve and the added bonus of being able to restart the game after you're killed, meaning that you can hone your skills on the first level as many times as you like.

At the end of each level, you are rated as to how you performed, ninja styley. You get marks knocked off for every time you're spotted and for every innocent Geisha girl or peasant you wittingly/unwittingly off and of course you're given additional marks for your fighting efficiency and for how many stealth kills you perform. You can go back to any level at any time to try to achieve the Grand Master rank on each level (strangely, I kept getting labelled a thug! I can't think why!).

There is an added bonus to performing stealth kills, these can only be performed if your victim is blissfully unaware of your presence, not only do you get the satisfaction of leaping doen from a rooftop and plunging your blade (all very phallic, I know!) through the top of someone's head as you back flip off their shoulders (I kid you not!), Or appearing from nowhere and slitting someone's throat and watch as their blood squirts onto the ground! (not a game to be played just after a big lunch!). But if you do enough of these in one level and you attain special attack combos, which really help to set the game apart from a one-button-bashing frenzy that the original at times, was. There are enough different types of kills, which one you perform being determined by your angle of attack, to keep you interested.

Tenchu - Wrath Of Heaven Reviewed on PS2 @ www.contactmusic.com
Tenchu - Wrath Of Heaven Reviewed on PS2 @ www.contactmusic.com
Tenchu - Wrath Of Heaven Reviewed on PS2 @ www.contactmusic.com
Tenchu - Wrath Of Heaven Reviewed on PS2 @ www.contactmusic.com
Tenchu - Wrath Of Heaven Reviewed on PS2 @ www.contactmusic.com

The game has in a lot of ways gone back to the simplicity of the original, many felt that the second incarnation overcomplicated itself with things such as the ability to hide dead bodies. These have been removed from the latest game and whilst I like the uncomplicated nature of the new game, I do feel that some of the realism of the second game has been lost, I mean, you're not much of a guard if the sight of a decapitated corpse on your rounds doesn't make you at least slightly wary!

The inclusion of a two player mode really sets Tenchu apart from other games in this genre, there is a versus mode whereby you and a fellow ninja or another selected character from the game, creep around a specially designed arena with the goal of making sushi out of one another. All good fun, but let down slightly only by the non inclusion of stealth kills in this mode, so it tends to degenerate of two minutes creeping around and two more of wildly slashing at each other when you find your opponent! The option of having stealth kills on or not would have made this better.

Where the two player mode really comes into it's own is in the cooperation mode where you and a mate take part in unique missions as part of "team ninja", and this really is cool!

In all Tenchu: Wrath of Heaven is a good, solid follow up of the original two games that really uses the capabilities of the PS2 very well. It is only stopped from being a great game by the lack of originality and the sense of déjà vu that I would like to think comes from my super-skilled ninja ESP, but in reality comes from the fact that I really have been here before!

8 out of 10