|Lost Planet (2007)
Available for: Xbox 360
Despite having only played bits and pieces of the previous “Tenchu” games before picking up the latest installment, I was more than familiar with the basic framework of the series. One part hack-and-slash and one part stealth-based, “Tenchu Z” feels a lot like playing as Sam Fischer in feudal Japan, except with a much weaker story and a clunky fighting system that never really grows on you.
In fact, with the exception of cutscenes that introduce the mission at hand, there’s no underlying story or purpose to the game. Simply complete one mission and move on to the next, taking the time to upgrade your ninja with skills/abilities, items and goofy clothing as you see fit. It may not sound like a whole lot of fun (and it isn’t for the most part), but “Tenchu Z” is still a decent rental for those searching the video game aisles for a little summer solstice.
No longer forced to play as the series’ main character, you now take orders from the veteran ninja himself, embarking on all sorts of missions including assassination, package collection, the extermination of entire gangs, and even something as dull and simplistic as crossing a bridge. No, seriously. And while the game promotes utilizing the ninja’s stealth abilities as much as possible, there are no real consequences to just running and gunning through entire missions. Sure, the number of enemy detections is directly tied to the amount of gold you earn for completing the level, but if you’re just going to blaze through the mission anyway, there’s no point in purchasing new abilities or items.
If you are interested in other aspects of the game, however, there’s plenty to keep you entertained. The clothing section alone is incredibly deep and includes everything needed to customize your character to your liking, from new outfits and armor, to the type of silly masks you would only find in a game of Japanese origin. Unfortunately, none of this has much effect on the game itself, unless you’re just trying to keep things fresh, which the title is certainly in desperate need of. While the first hour or two delivers everything you’d expect from a “Tenchu” game, it quickly begins to wear on the player when it becomes quite obvious that, well, that’s all there really is.
A “Splinter Cell”-esque sound meter has been included in the HUD to help the player identify when he’s making too much noise, and enemies can now smell you if you’ve been sneaking around in murky rivers, but that doesn’t change the simple fact that the enemy is dumber than a box of rocks. Next-gen AI should not forget about its target if it runs away, nor should it suddenly become oblivious to its location when it ducks behind a wall. This is elementary programming, and gamers aren’t going to put up with it.
Nor are they going to ignore when a developer slaps on a lazy multiplayer mode that’s no different from the game itself. Okay, so you’re actually racing against the other players to see who can accomplish the mission first, but why not include a co-op mode where you’re actually forced to work as a team? Instead, it’s just a foot race to the finish, with the first place player earning points towards his ranking, and the other three wondering why they just wasted five minutes of their lives. “Tenchu Z” had the makings of a great stealth game, but like so many titles these days, it fell short of its potential. Next time, maybe they’ll throw some pirates into the mix. It certainly couldn’t hurt.