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Tenchu: Fatal Shadows: Killer Shadow
Company: Sega

One of the originators of the stealth-action genre, the Tenchu series returns to the PS2 in Tenchu: Fatal Shadows. I recently had a chance to talk with Producer Klayton Vorlick and Product Marketing Manager Ami Blair, both from Sega, and get the scoop on just what fans can expect from the next installment in the series.

Fans of the series will notice that the game has taken a decidedly feminine slant in this outing. The series poster boy, Rikimaru, has been kidnapped and its up to his old partner in crime, Ayame, to find him. Along the way she'll run into Rin, a female ninja with problems of her own. As it turns out, thugs have attacked her village and she's out for revenge. After teaming up with Ayame, the two set out to cut a bloody, yet really quiet, path through ancient Japan.

One of the first big changes in Fatal Shadows is the story. Whereas other past games have usually had strong stories, there was little room for character development. Fatal Shadows aims to change that by giving players glimpses into the lives of the characters. While they shouldn't expect the story to weigh down the action (as in that other stealth game), fans can expect to actually have more of a connection with Ayame and Rin.

Gameplay will remain much the same as the previous Tenchu. Something the developers have been dead set on eliminating from the game is the trial-and-error gameplay usually associated with the genre. Scouting out enemies will play a major part of the game. When entering a new area, players can find high perches of dark corners to tuck themselves in and remain undetected. From these vantage points they can take notes of enemy behavior and adapt their tactics to the situation. While in wait, opportunities to strike will reveal themselves to the player, allowing them to pull off what has been a staple of the series -- the stealth kill.

Before getting into the stealth kills, its important to understand the changes to stealth game play in Fatal Shadows. Enemies will be more aware of their surroundings and won't be easily fooled. All enemies will have a set range of sight, how far depends on their type. For example, archers -- who are eagle eyes -- will have a longer range of vision than a lowly thug. Other elements, like sound, will also play into how well you remain hidden. Once spotted, clumsier ninjas will have to deal with smarter enemy AI who will call friends to their aid and actively pursue you. While adding another level of challenge to the game, the increased awareness can also be used against enemies. After killing an enemy, the next logical step is to hide the body. However, bodies can be used as bait, drawing enemies closer to your hiding spot and giving you a shot at another stealth kill.

Stealth kills have long been a staple of the series, and make an expected return with a few new changes. The ability to double stealth kill is a new addition to the series and, as the name suggests, allows you to take out two enemies at once (as long as they're close to each other). The "normal" stealth kills have also undergone some changes. Provided you can remain unseen, which unlocks normal combat, you can sneak up on enemies and unleash a quick-kill maneuver. By timing your button presses with an on-screen cue, you can extend the move and pull off a higher-level kill. Unleashing high-level kills rewards you with scrolls, which can be used to purchase new moves for your character. The more complex the move, the more scrolls you'll receive.

Each of the girls start off with similar moves. However, as you purchase new moves, they will each grow along their own paths. Though the system doesn't follow a branching path, which offers some customization, there is still enough growth to make you feel like you're getting somewhere and to keep the gameplay fresh. In addition, much of the game is spent switching between the two, staving off stale gameplay moments.

Racking up high-level kills will also factor into rankings received at the end of each level. In addition to stealth kills, rankings will also be based on elements like how many times you're seen during a level, the number of enemies killed as well as other factors. Higher rankings will unlock new items, such as weapons and outfits for the two main characters. The items can then be used in previous levels (which are accessed through a level select system). These items will aid in unlocking new paths through the game. Though the levels will be largely linear, new levels will be unlockable by accomplishing certain goals within a level. For example, meeting one set of goals in level 5 will open up level 6a, while another set of goals will lead to level 6b.

Fatal Shadows' under the hood refinements will be joined by graphical upgrades as well. Character models will sport more details and environments will show off more lighting and special effects. As an added bonus for purists, the game will ship with the original Japanese voice tracks as well as the English translations.

In preparation for the game's February 15 release date, Sega is offering several bonuses which include a pre-order offer. By pre-ordering the game, players can nab a limited edition Tenchu: Fatal Shadows shirt featuring Ayame or Rin. A contest is also planned, featuring a poster signed by the development team.

-Starscream, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ricky Tucker
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