Tenchu: Time of the Assassins
In the history of computer games there has been an obvious evolution of brainlessly emptying every clip of every weapon that lies behind the keys 1 through 9 to perform a tactical reconnaissance of the environment and neutralize your enemies as swiftly and stealthy as possible. It is in that evolution that the alpha-male Duke Nukem has lost his place in the spotlights to girlish men like Raiden or tactical assault teams like Rainbow Six. However, it were not just Solid Snake and Agent 47 who created a way for stealth action games to be successful on the various consoles, part of the credit should go to Tenchu.
After appearances on the PS1 and PS2, the samurai warriors have fought themselves a way to the handheld with Tenchu: Time of the Assassins to cut the throats of Japanese warlords and kingpins. According to the storyline, it is definitely necessary, but the big question is if the Samurai himself gets any joy out of it.
You can choose out of a fine selection of samurai; at the start three of them are playable, the rest can be unlocked while you make progress. The warriors all have their own storyline and apart from the ‘campaign’, there are many single missions to be completed. Also making an appearance is the mission and scenario builder that allows you to create and share your custom missions with your friends. This mission builder has many options – but do not expect any miracles – and is a big wildcard for a game that falls short on a lot of other aspects.
First to go down are the graphics; with a draw distance limited to a couple of feet and enemies appearing out of the big black emptiness surrounding you, there aren’t many occasions to act like a stealth infiltrator. If the camera wants to cooperate you will be able to perform a couple of stealth kills but the main part of the game will have you cussing at the handheld due to the incomprehensible choice of camera angles.
The short draw distance and the rather uninspiring level design with a small catalogue of textures do not provide an intense gameplay experience or any fun. The flawed controls, combined with the camera and the disappointing level design do a great job messing this game up: I mean, how are you supposed to wander around heavily guarded (hmm) environments without risking detection or death when you can’t even have your character running in the right direction. Apart from that, the various levels do look very much alike and most surroundings are just plain ugly. Empty, not anti-aliased and way too dark is what enters my mind when I think about Tenchu on the PSP…
This is a real shame, because once again, this is a game that showed a lot of potential. The gameplay is still very much the same and if it wasn’t for the technical flaws; you would have a blast running or sneaking around the place performing one phenomenal stealth action after another while collecting various potions and weapons, using rocks as a diversion manoeuvre and using your grapple hook to fly from rooftop to rooftop. And I must admitted, you still feel an adrenaline rush when you slowly sneak upon a guard and perform an impressive kill by slicing his throat and disembowelling him at the same time. but that just isn’t enough to make this game a top title on the PSP.
Although Tenchu: Time of the Assassins had enough potential to become a great game, it fails heavily on technical aspects that make this game virtually unplayable. It is one of the ugliest looking games on the PSP and it is too bad that the graphics, sound and level design cannot do the gameplay any justice. Instead of offering many missions, the developers should have used the available disk space to enhance both graphics and sound. I hope its successor learns from the mistakes of this one, because I am still looking forward to a good Tenchu game on the handheld