Styx: Master of Shadows ReviewPrice: £24.99
Developer: Cyanide Studios
Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
In a world where truth mattered in titles, Styx: Master of Shadows would instead be named Styx: Master of Vertical Space. For all this game hints at creeping through the darkness like Thief’s expert filcher Garrett, Styx’s real talent is the ability to get one (floor) up on the guards whose watchful eyes he must evade. Master of Shadows is very much a game about looking down on one’s opponent, watching from a dizzyingly high balcony or clinging to rotting rafters, waiting for the opportune moment to shift or to strike. This doesn’t make Styx a brilliant stealth game, but it does make it an interesting one, and sometimes that is sufficient.
Styx is a sort-of sequel to the RPG of Orcs and Men, which was developed by Spiders. Not actual spiders, fascinating as that would be. No, a game company called Spiders, which only makes slightly more sense. For whatever reason, Spiders are not involved with the sequel, which is instead in the hands of Cyanide. Not actual Cyanide…ok I’ll stop. Styx focuses in on one of the Orcs from the previous game, who has apparently become a master Thief in the meantime.
Styx's story begins in medias res, or, to be more accurate, in medias mess, because watching Cyanide attempt Tarantino’s favourite trick is rather like the moment a Literature student discovers James Joyce’s Ulysses and attempts to write in the same style. I had absolutely no idea what Styx was trying to do or why he was trying to do it. Something about being addicted to a substance called amber, and trying to steal a tree, and elves that can read minds, and having headache-induced amnesia (ah, that old chestnut) and about seven other plot threads which the game tries to introduce simultaneously, all while starting in the middle. It’s a tangled, impenetrable tale, a Gordian plot, if you will.
All you really need to know is that Styx is set in a city built on top of a giant tree, because this is the main facilitator of both the narrative and the game's systems. It’s an excuse for Cyanide to build some wonderfully cubic environments, where the architects dispensed with the idea of individual bricks and instead mortared entire castles together. Navigating these spaces is jolly good fun, scaling vaulted palaces and towering libraries by leaping about the conveniently placed handholds, using high vantage points to watch guards’ patrol paths and determine the best route for either avoiding them or threading between them.
The viability of the former approach particularly impressed me. At least half the time the designers offer a pathway that enables you to entirely circumvent enemy patrols. Sometimes this is a case of clawing your way to the ceiling, and leaping between the supporting beams. Other times a mushroom strewn ventilation duct will prove the best thoroughfare. Styx can also crawl beneath tables, writing desks and other low-cover which all provide temporary obfuscation from hostile eyes.