Developer Cyanide’s first attempt at doing a stealth game was marred by numerous issues. With the latest installment, Styx: Shards of Darkness, it has managed to overcome several of those issues, while introducing a few new ones along the way. The game is played from the third person perspective and involves players traversing open-ended environments across a total of nine missions. There is, however, one little caveat here – you can’t be spotted. Of course, it wouldn’t be a stealth game, otherwise.
You assume the role of Styx, a creature belonging to a goblin-like race labeled as The Green Plague by the ruling empire. As the name suggest, the powers that be treat Styx’s race as an epidemic and wish to eradicate it. For this purpose, the empire has established an organization known as C.A.R.N.A.G.E. However, the leader of this organization, Helledryn, decides to strike a deal with Styx instead. As per their agreement, the latter is to board an airship and steal a scepter for the former.
Quite possibly the biggest improvement over the original is with respect to the narrative structure, and how it manages to uphold an otherwise generic storyline and make it engaging. Much of the credit for this goes to the protagonist, Styx, who is given a likeable personality. He makes witty remarks throughout his journey, often breaking the fourth wall by poking jokes at you or about the development team. It all adds up towards making Styx stand out among a cast of relatively generic characters.
The game’s open-ended environments are sprawling with members of C.A.R.N.A.G.E., and your job is to see Styx through to his objectives without being seen by them. Getting spotted means imminent death, although even his is presented in light, humorous fashion. You’ll be met with a death screen showing the protagonist passing a remark or two about your skills before the game reloads to a previous checkpoint. Speaking of which, a major frustration with the original was the lack of a quick save feature, resulting in you losing much of your earlier progress upon getting spotted. Fortunately, this has been addressed in the sequel, with the quick save function conveniently mapped to the right d-pad.
Returning mechanics have also fleshed out for the sequel. Amber Vision, which is essentially this game’s equivalent of the Batman Arkham series’ Detective mode, highlights objected that can be interacted with as well as the line of sight of enemies. Styx also has the ability become a latent threat to his enemies by poisoning their food while they aren’t looking. The resulting dead body can then be hidden away in chests. Other special moves include the ability to become invisibility for a few seconds, the ability to use sand to put out torches from a safe distance, as well as a doppelganger-like ability where you can create a clone to distract enemies.
When it comes to stealth games, enemy AI is an integral component of the experience. Unfortunately, the AI in Styx: Shards of Darkness is a hit or miss, often resulting in buggy enemy behavior that results in them breaking routine or getting trapped on environmental objects. During my time with the game, I was able to exploit the weakness of the AI easily by using my powers. However it is extremely hard to create a perfect AI for a stealth game and the only one that came close to it was Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. The AI here in Styx: Shards of Darkness is serviceable at best, which is not that bad. The issue is that it is also prone to glitches which can have an effect on the overall experience.
Platforming in Styx: Shards of Darkness works much like it does in the Uncharted series. There are key hand holds that you can interact with in order to climb to higher places. However, traversing between these hand holds isn’t quite as precise as in the Uncharted games, and you’ll often find yourself falling to your death due to missing a subsequent ledge during a jump. The ability to see the interact-able section on the screen as a set of glowing points is a welcome addition since there can be some confusion due to the level design where the player is left wondering where he should head next in order to progress through the level.
Rounding off the list of features is a post-mission rating system that rewards you with skill points based on how quickly you cleared a mission and how few alerts were triggered by you. You’ll get to use the aforementioned skill points to enhance your abilities. A series of crafting options are also available for items that can aid you through Styx’s journey. Moreover, the entire game can also be experienced in two player online coop, giving you a reason to do another playthrough with a friend.
All in all, the game improves upon its predecessor in just about every way, but still feels like it needs a few more coats of polish in order to become a deeper and more thought-out stealth experience.
Styx: Shards of Darkness Review (PS4)
Game Reviewed on: PS4
Game description: Styx: Shards of Darkness is a stealth video game developed by French developer Cyanide and published by Focus Home Interactive. The game was released worldwide on 14 March 2017 for Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.
Styx: Shards of Darkness improves upon its predecessor in nearly every way, but still leaves room for a deeper, more thought-out stealth experience.