Tenchu 3: Wrath of Heaven
|a game by||K2 LLC|
|Editor Rating:||7.8/10, based on 2 reviews|
|User Rating:||9.3/10 - 6 votes|
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Almost three years have passed since we last got our ninja groove on with the mildly disappointing Tenchu 2, but fledgling developer K2 re-ignites our inner ninjitsu with this third installment on PlayStation 2. Tenchu: Wrath of Heaven successfully builds upon what made the series popular on the original PlayStation, as everything revolves around making you look, feel, and act like a real ninja. The gameplay sticks close to the original game's stealth-assassination groundwork. The two playable characters (with a third unlock-able) come with their own sets of weapons and attacks, but more important, both can deliver some horrific damage with their ever-so-sneaky stealth-kills. Similar to Metal Gear Solid radar, Tenchu's Ki meter allows you to track your enemies' proximity and awareness of your current position. When the enemy ninjas aren't looking, you can go for the immensely gratifying stealth-kill move. Offing foes while remaining unseen makes traversing the game's nine massive levels much easier.
Visually, this chapter easily hangs with other PS2 heavy hitters. Detailed character models and stunning environments impart a realistic, solid feel that the PSi Tenchus seriously lacked. The camera system still isn't perfect, but it's manageable. Apart from the jumpy camera, the lack of difficult bosses stands as the game's major stumbling block. Compared to its predecessors, this is a much less challenging endeavor, but rewarding nonetheless.
Wrath of Heaven is all about one thing--stealth. Start by sneaking around corners or holding onto ledges, then pop up, jump on an enemy's shoulders, and drive a katana through his skull--that should make any ninja wannabe smile. The stealth-kill animations are fantastic, and the incentive of earning additional attacks and special moves for racking up the kills makes the game addictive. Developer K2 has also done a nice job giving a series coming from PSi the necessary graphical facelift--the huge levels and detailed characters look great. Though the camera still causes some frustration, it's much better than the old Tenchu games' clumsy cinematography. My biggest gripe is with the enemy A.I.: In a nutshell, it's pretty stupid. If a guard spots you, most of the time, all you need to do is run away and wait for him to return to his previous position. Plus, the ridiculously easy boss battles require little strategy. In fact, more skilled players may want to bump up the game's difficulty level right from the beginning. I was also hoping for multiplayer modes that felt less like a collection of minigames. Maybe next time. With a few gameplay tweaks and a more compelling story line (everything here is either vague or silly), this could have been a must-have PS2 title. Still, Tenchu fans and gamers looking for some stealthy Metal Gear Solid-style action should give this game a shot.
If nothing else, Wrath of Heaven succeeds where it absolutely must--executing stealth-kills as a ninja is simply exhilarating, and the animations rock. It's enough to make you want to play through the whole game with each character--but don't expect perfection. Locking-on to enemies works OK, but Wrath's overly constrictive camera adds loads of artificial difficulty, balanced out only by often inept enemy A.I. (you can outwit a pursuer simply by turning a corner...even on a oneway path). And there's nothing like being 20 minutes into a level and falling into a pit you can't even see-- pure frustration! Luckily, the solid gameplay and multiplayer thrills win out in the end.
It's tough for Tenchu 3 to remain relevant in the face of recent eye-busting stealth-action gems like MGS2: Substance and the pending PS2 Splinter Cell. Luckily, the most memorable thing about the series--namely, the emphasis on cool, grizzly stealth-kills--is in full effect, and the flowing blood does quite a bit to keep the experience afloat. Sneak-murders aside, the combat controls are still a bit cumbersome, despite improvements made over the previous games. Ditto with the A.I.: Sure, they'll climb up walls and maybe come find you when you run, but they'll stop chasing you after about three rooms. Overall, it's no classic, but the carnage alone makes it worthwhile.
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With Shinobi, Ninja Gaiden and now Tenchu 3 all just around the corner, it's been nothing but ninja on the brains for us lately. Tenchu 3 takes place just after the events of the first game. (Tenchu 2 was actually a prequel to Tenchu 2.) Judging by the time we spent with the game, Tenchu 3 appears to be a true and proper evolution in this popular ninja-simulation series. What is easily most impressive is how the environments aren't just massive, they're also loaded with detail. The levels feel organic, with events unfolding differently depending on how you approached your goals. On the back end, Tenchu 3 also brings more depth to character development. By performing certain tasks, Rikimaru can now acquire new skills and "level-up" as players tiptoe their way through the game. True, Tenchu 3 may not look like much of a leap over the previous games. Just keep in mind that most of the improvements take place where it really pays off: the gameplay.