In feudal Japan, there weren't any exploding car chases, loud sub-machine guns, sniper rifles, or even rocket launchers. If you needed someone 'taken care of' you would call for some stealthy ninjas. You play one of these stealthy ninjas in the latest addition to the Tenchu series, Tenchu Z.
Before entering the game, players are allowed to customize their character in terms of clothes, face, hair, and attributes. The attributes are pretty basic: vitality, strength, and agility. Wanting to be as ninja-like as possible, I boosted my agility stats at the cost of my vitality, which meant I better make damn sure to keep myself hidden. Tenchu Z also lets you customize the appearance of your partner ninja. I chose to make mine wear a pink outfit with a goofy smile.
The game then starts off with a short tutorial that covers your basic moves: crouching on the floor, using the grappling hook, hiding underwater, and oh yeah, sneaking up behind your enemies and stabbing them through the chest. After the tutorial, the story unfolds through many small missions. You know the drill, kill so and so, try not to make too much noise.
If you've played the Xbox incarnations of this series, you'll feel right at home. Instead of running into a room with swords swinging, it's smarter to keep to the shadows and spring up behind your enemies to deal a fatal blow. If they spot you first, they might call for more reinforcements, which is not for a lone ninja. This is where Stealth Kills come in. When an enemy is within range, you can press a button to execute a stealth kill, which is like a fancy fatality. Since prancing through doors is against the ninja code, the game provides several ways to catch your enemy off guard: you can hop from rooftop to rooftop thanks to the grappling hook, silently swim through the water, crawl under houses and of course, hide in the shadows, and even grab them through paper doors.
Despite all this ninja goodness, playing Tenchu Z feels shallow. The enemy AI is extremely forgiving — there were times where an enemy would spot me and call for help only to go back to wandering the halls as soon as I ducked behind another corner. The graphics sadly look like something that might be on the Xbox, not the Xbox 360. Textures are simple, environments are sparse, and characters look stiff and plastic-like. Stealth Kills are nice and all, but the way characters move seem to lack any feeling. Even the purchase of new abilities doesn't help the game.
When combat is inevitable, the game becomes less than fun. It's difficult to tell if you've hit someone with your sword or not and mashing down the attack button feels futile. I know the game encourages being stealthy, but that doesn't mean that face-to-face combat should feel so chunky. Aiming with the reticule to launch the grappling hook or throw a shuriken feels pretty slapped together — the controls just don't feel that fine tuned in first person aiming mode.
Tenchu Z just doesn't feel like a next-gen game. Being a sneaky ninja and slashing throats left and right is fun and all, but after the fourth or fifth mission, the game just feels empty. Maybe it's because the AI is so dumb that I feel sorry for my enemies, but killing people just isn't satisfying in this game. Fans of the series may enjoy this latest installment, but everyone else might be left wondering why security guards are so stupid in feudal Japan.