Styx, the pompous goblin, has previously starred in two computer games, but it is only in the third that he appears to have a shot at true renown. Shards of Darkness, an arcade stealth game, demonstrates style. However, there are several drawbacks, some of which are more substantial than others.
Despite the fact that the last installment was released some years ago, the architects of Styx’s exploits appear to rely on our existing understanding of the hero. They don’t bother introducing the characters and merely give a quick description of their abilities. Only in a cutscene do we learn about the availability of various techniques, such as invisibility, while the tutorial concentrates, rather incomprehensibly, on incessant jumping and climbing. This is not to say that the beginning looks horrible. After a brief visit to a ruined city infested with goblins, we are thrust into a world of flying ships, colorful elf strongholds, and bizarre cults, and our goblin anti-hero will go to any length to obtain the wealth.
The plot is full of daring chases and stunning battles. The majority of it, however, will be viewed through cutscenes, and the real action will consist primarily of creeping and stealing, with the odd killing or battle. Styx performs poorly in combat, and each beaten foe reduces our overall score. Except in exceptional instances, murder is best left to others. Navigating enormous labyrinths of boards while dodging guards’ watchful eyes is an intriguing enough challenge in and of itself. The level design is pretty excellent – the locations are not only rather vast, but also quite extensive in terms of the amount of possible paths and nooks in which to hide. We can get around each map by slipping beneath the roof, searching for tunnels, or bouncing from shadow to shadow between guards, and practically every obstacle has several solutions. The arcade part of the game was really effectively executed. Styx can grip onto practically any uneven ground, enabling limitless climbing and stealth chances. The control scheme was created for a gamepad, and while we should be able to go to the end credits using the keyboard and mouse, the default arrangement of buttons is awkward.
Styx’s array of tricks truly allows you to fly. The player’s tools include clones that can unlock doors, pull levers, distract foes, and invisibility. There are several hiding spots and interactive aspects on the boards that allow you to murder or occupy your opponents. There are many items and side jobs on the boards in addition to the primary mission objective. Most of them fit in nicely with the storyline, and we frequently learn about secrets by listening in on the guards’ colorful commentary on the occurrences. Exploring new places is pure joy, and when we find a safe way to our target, we are ecstatic. At the very least the first time. Almost every destination will be visited twice during the approximately ten-hour excursion, generally in the opposite direction. Although these returns make sense in terms of storyline, they give the appearance that the authors sought to artificially lengthen the game’s time.
One of Shards of Darkness’ primary flaws is its plot. There isn’t time to introduce the key characters, and the narrative of Helledryn, who travels with us, ends suddenly as the heroine is withdrawn from the scene. The elves’ high priestess was punished similarly – the lady responsible for the very grisly scheme suddenly vanished, as we learn from the guards patrolling the streets. Instead of addressing the most significant people, Cyanide provides two boss fights, the appearance of which in the game is at best traditional. These extended arcade parts are meant to provide excitement and offer a respite from continual creeping, but in actuality they appear forced and superfluous. One of the biggest letdowns is the secondary narrative about eliminating the person who assaulted Styx in the last installment. Knowing nothing about Master of Shadows, which was released three years ago, all we know about our target is that he has a very terrible tongue.
The main character himself improves the story’s reception significantly – his snarky comments might bridge certain storyline holes and even make you grin. The frequent breaching of the fourth wall and mocking the player after each death is funny, especially because a lot of work was put into creating brief postmortem movies that extensively reference pop culture. The game’s undeniable advantage is its visual element – Cyanide managed to squeeze a lot out of Unreal Engine 4, which is especially noticeable in regions with multi-point lighting. The cinematic sequences appear much better, adding dynamism and spectacularity to the plot’s essential aspects. There are some mistakes and camera issues that cause the quality of the film’s inserts to change quite a little at points, but the overall impression is really positive, especially when you consider the superb music.
Shards of Darkness creates a big impression in the first few hours of the game, but it loses steam after that and is impossible to recapture its original form. The recycling of levels and a storyline bulging at the seams leave a foul taste that the well-designed boards and very engaging main character cannot erase.