We may still be enjoying our trips through Rokkotsu Pass in Way of the Samurai, but we lost all sight of that when details of Tenchu 3: Wrath of Heaven emerged from Activision at E3. With fact sheets, screenshots and a list of the game's controls (for some reason) now in our possession, it seems like a good time to talk Tenchu. Are you sitting comfortably? Good, then I'll slit your throat.
Kill and maim, quietly
The new single player game will be a nine-level affair of similar length and complexity to previous games, and developer K2 is promising non-linearity with multiple game endings dependent on decisions made during the course of the game. Mission objectives will consist of espionage, theft and assassinations amongst other things, and although the new fighting engine allows for combo attacks, and a greater range of stealth and jumping attacks, enemy AI will be quite capable of wielding moves from its own repertoire to cause you a few problems. We fully expect this Tenchu to be as difficult as its predecessors.
The biggest initial improvement is to the graphical engine, which has been designed from the ground up to take advantage of the PS2 hardware (this being Tenchu's debut on the current generation of consoles). Detailed lighting and weather effects are promised, along with character animation to die for (get it?). Early screenshots feature nostalgic poses from the Tenchus of old, interspersed with new ideas and lots of colourful scenery. Hopefully the PSone's shortcomings in the departments of draw distance and collision detection will be rectified into the bargain.
The interface shown in the screenshots looks simple enough, and although obviously it's impossible to gauge the quality of the thing in motion, character modelling is of a high quality throughout and our chosen assassin looks mean and ruthless, and eminently frightening as the whites of his eyes glimmer from the shadows…
So far the control system looks versatile (although it's difficult to judge from a diagram and button listing, believe me). Players will be able to move using the left analogue stick, cycling through items using the left and right directional buttons, selecting the grappling hook with up and potions with down. The various shoulder buttons control MGS-style stealth leaning, camera manipulation and lock-on for combat, as well as doubling up with face buttons to execute special moves.
The basic action repertoire consists of jump (X), use (triangle), grab, throw and guard (circle) and attack (square), but side and circle strafing (left or right holding R2), 360 degree slashes (360 degree left analogue rotation plus square) and various somersaults (X plus R1 in different guises) will lend serious depth for those willing to go in search of it. Other useful stealth tricks include a nifty counter (activated by hitting circle when an enemy starts his attack), the ability to play dead (360 degree left stick rotation plus R1) and putting the boot in on a downed enemy (pressing square when nearby).
In other good news, we can expect multiplayer options and levels from this Tenchu, with five (or possibly more) levels taking the shape of co-operative teamplay missions for two players or a Hunter-Hunted deathmatch equivalent, with two ninjas sneaking around trying to outwit one another. Abilities earned during single-player combat can be transferred here to strengthen attacks, we are also told.
Our conclusion? We wouldn't want to be on the receiving end of this clown's wrath! Tenchu 3: Wrath of Heaven is sure to eviscerate the incumbent stealth action market once more when it emerges in spring 2003, but until then the promise of gratuitous violence and a deep, meaningful, non-linear adventure of deadly calm will leave us hot under the collar. Or it might just be the blood gushing forth from an open wound. Did I leave that window open? Arrrgghh!