Ahh…the "high" life of an assassin.
Most people associate assassins with names like Martin Luther King, JFK, Julius Caesar and even Ronald Reagan (which reminds me, I obviously need a better sniper scope). Today’s youth, however, probably think of dark attired Japanese martial artists or modern day hitmen. However the etymology of the word ‘assassin’ is shrouded in death and dope. Come. Let me take you to class and school you on the history of this nefarious term.
In the 1000’s, an "assassin" was part of an elite cadre of Muslim fanatics that terrorized Christian Crusaders, Christian sympathizers, and any other group that they felt were a threat to the way of Allah and the Islam faith. You know, kind of like the kid who takes his ball home when you don’t play the way he wants you to, except these kids will kill you and take the ball.
These assassins were promised paradise in exchange for dying in action. Assassins enjoyed an opulent life of many amenities, one of which included the use of hashish (from which their name is derived: hassasin – user of hashish. Look it up!). Oh, to be an assassin in the 11th century. I mean…er…uh…what a terrible thing to have to do.
Leap 900 years forward in time and now we have video games named after these heroes/villains, and some darn good games at that. Tenchu 2 by Activision is one of these games, but is it good?
Tenchu 2 is a third-person, 3D action game set in the time of feudal Japan. Initially you get to choose between 2 characters – Ayame, the quick and agile female ninja wielding 2 long daggers, and the slower yet stronger Rikimaru, who prefers the traditional katana (and who will be referred to as ‘Ricky Martin’ for the remainder of this review). Upon beating the game with both characters, you will also have the option to play as a third male ninja who comes from the same school as Ayame and Ricky Martin. Live la vida loca.
The tale of Tenchu 2 takes place four years prior to the events that happen in the first Tenchu. This is good to know, because you’ll begin to wonder why Ayame and Ricky Martin have such macrocephalic heads, the kind you only see on small children. I guess they’re supposed to be younger. Both Ayame and Ricky Martin have 11 unique missions spanning 12 different stages (the third character has 7 missions). All three characters have intersecting storylines, so it is a good idea to play all of ’em if you want to know the entire tale.
Several of these stages take place during nice sunny days. Maybe I’ve been mentally conditioned by the evils of modern cinema, but it has always been my assumption that assassins are more effective doing their business under the cover of night. Neither Ricky Martin nor Ayame change outfits to better blend in with their surroundings. Isn’t it just a tad bit conspicuous to go traipsing around in broad daylight wearing all black with a little handkerchief covering your nose and mouth? Hey ninja dude, I seeeeee you!
The opening sequence is nicely done, as well as the menu music. While not as impressive as the first Tenchu, it is still a treat. The in-game music is a bit repetitive, but you will get used to it.
The control…let’s see, how to put this delicately? If the Statue of Liberty could be driven like a car, it would be much easier to handle and control than the characters in Tenchu 2. When moving forward, the default movement is "run." Now I don’t have a problem holding a button to walk, sneak or whatever. But I do have a problem with only being able to walk in one direction, straight. To walk in any other direction you must stop, press the D-pad left or right and then resume holding the walk button down and proceed straight again. Not very stealth oriented.
There are a couple new moves, like swimming and the ability to loot and drag bodies. The latter sounds cool, but in reality is pretty much useless. You can’t drag everyone, and it doesn’t seem to matter if you do. The guards apparently have no Sixth Sense, as they don’t see dead people.
Fighting is particularly a problem. There is no automatic targeting, so when you start a combo and happen to miss your opponent, you will continue right on pass them, exposing your nice vulnerable backside. A better-lock on would have done wonders.
This is more annoying than I can express in words, since Activision did such a great job of improving the AI and aggressiveness of your opponents and bosses. They now will actually leap out the way of an incoming shuriken or other projectile. Smart!
What would a ninja game be without silent kills? Oh, wait, I know. It would be Ninja Gaiden, Shinobi or Ninja: Shadow of Darkness. Aside from a trademark shuriken here and there, none of the above actually made you feel like a ninja.
Thankfully, the silent kills have made a return, with 6 or 7 different ways to stealthily dispatch your enemy. This is part of what made the original Tenchu such a great game. Unfortunately, you still can’t control your character during these moves, which remain cinematic sequences. Also, your character likes to do this unnecessary grandstanding and posturing after each silent kill. Who is going to start doing the martial art equivalent of pop-locking right after silently killing someone? Maybe Rerun from "What’s Happening," but not Ricky Martin the Stealth Assassin.
In the last Tenchu, the bosses were fat, slow and just plain obnoxious. This time around, Activision has placed some very skilled and capable bosses at the end of each level. Some of the exchanges between you and these master level martial artists are priceless with a real cinematic quality (providing you finally get your character positioned correctly).
The graphics in Tenchu 2 are less than stellar. Much less. Textures are very pixelated, there are some brutal collision problems, and the character modeling just isn’t as good as the first game. However, this may be due to the addition of a new Mission Editor feature.
The new Mission Editor allows you to build your own missions from scratch, including enemy/object placement and objectives. This does add some replay value to the game. However, I would have much preferred cleaner graphics, tighter control and a more extensive move list.
It’s kind of amazing that Tenchu 2 seems like it came before the first Tenchu. I know that’s what they were going for with the mythos, but the graphics, sound and control of the original are just plain better than the sequel…and I know they weren’t planning on that.
On its own, Tenchu 2 is a decent game, more than can be said for most of the Playstation titles coming out lately. It still has many of the qualities that made the original such a success. It’s just not the sequel I was hoping for. Maybe Tenchu just needs revamping on a next generation console. Could you imagine PS2 Tenchu?