Format – PC
Version – 1.01
I have an odd relationship with stealth games. Initially misunderstanding them, then falling victim to a number of shitty ones, I’ve only recently begun to appreciate the subtle joy of the stealth kill. Where I would usually blunder in, relying on my combat skill to emerge unscathed, I now enjoy skulking the edges of an enemy group, scouting them. Then, depending on the situation and what mood I’m in, either methodically eliminate each enemy in turn or noisily pounce on one unfortunately soul, gutting him before his mates can stop me, making a bold display of my capabilities. So yeah, I now kind of ‘get’ why people enjoy stealth. A life-long vanguard and brawler has learned the value of being unseen.
Unfortunately, it seems I’m not quite into stealth enough to enjoy Styx. You see, while Assassin’s Creed and the more recent Splinter Cell games have purveyed a slick, modern, Bourne-style form of sneaking, Styx seems to take its cues from the old school, which, when done right, can still be excellent fun for the right person. Alas, Styx fails to do much more than follow a set of strict rules and tell an uninteresting story.
Jumping right into the story, you play Styx, a goblin who seems to be obsessed with a mystical object known as The Heart. Hearing constant voices in his head, he resigns he must steal The Heart and end his suffering. It’s protected by elves, in this lore a sort of mysterious elder race feared by humanity. We, of course, have built a massive wall around The Heart and trapped a bunch of elves in there too, following our normal modus operandi of walling off anything we fear and refuse to understand. The Heart is the source of amber (read: mana) that is used for everything from lighting to gifting magic powers. Styx has amber in his veins, allowing him a range of powers.
If that all sounds interesting, then I apologise. Presented in an initial glut of exposition, it’s really not. The truth is Styx is not a very likeable character and his constant commentary of everything you do is compounded by segments of cut-scene narration that always feel too long. The supporting cast consist mainly of archetypes – bigoted General, blindly loyal Captain, disgruntled ex-soldier – and the writers attempt at Game of Thrones-style mature dialogue comes across like a GCSE student who’s seen a few episodes and thinks he’s George R.R. Martin.
Credit has to be given for choosing a protagonist that is not a typical gruff, white, muscular male and in fact making most of those characters incorrigible wankers. However, Styx is so one-dimensional it fails to matter. I’d rather play a typical white male with a likable, multi-faceted personality, than a grumbling goblin who can’t decide if he’s an age-weathered hard nut or a stand-up amateur.
Styx plays like a lighter version of Thief in third person. Direct combat, while survivable with good timing, is clearly designed as a last resort. Skulking in shadows, using cover and hiding under tables provide vantage points to plan brutal knife kills or silent suffocation on the army of witless goons standing in your way. As you progress, a levelling system of sorts comes into play allowing you to upgrade skills in various area like Stealth and Amber. Amber powers include turning invisible for a short spell and vomiting out a hideous decoy gremlin to fulfil a variety of purposes. There was obviously some potential here for a quirky, almost unique stealth game to emerge, but the level of technical and creative execution falls so far below the required standard, it fails at the first hurdle.
Level design feels scattered, with no clear path or design ethos. Rooms and pathways seem random and lifeless, peppered with dull guards who either stand stock still staring at walls or walk repeated and predictable patterns. Although Amber powers and careful planning help, there seems to be no affordance for using them. It’s never clear which power will result in the most effective outcome, be this a fault of the level design or the powers themselves. Trial and error is clearly the order of the day, but the only purpose it seems to serve is to learn endless patrol patterns.
This lack of direction, compounded by the narrative, is further hindered by twitchy control. Movement is not always accurate enough to make pinpoint maneuvers, often resulting in a fumbled assassination attempt. Being seen isn’t the end of the world if you can get away and hide, but then it’s just a boring wait until the guards magically forget you were ever there and go back to plodding the corridors.
To be fair, there is something to be said for the level of awareness the guards can have. Reminiscent of Metal Gear, if they only catch a fleeting glimpse of your green skin, they’ll half-heartedly go and check. If they see you long enough to identify you, swords are drawn and a more extensive search is conducted.
I’m struggling to find anything that Styx does well that hasn’t already been done to death, improved upon or replaced by something much better. The repetitive layouts and ancient stealth techniques needed to progress through the game feel like a step back when every other stealth franchise – or any franchise with stealth in it – is trying to innovate to keep things fresh. Giving the protagonist special powers to aid covert activities is nothing new – even Sam Fisher can do a super-quick multi-kill thing now – but without said powers having solid purpose and making sense in the universe, they’re pointless. For instance, no explanation is given as to why Styx can turn invisible. No mention of it in the tutorial even. I found it by accident when I was stuck on an early section. Considering it seemed to be the only way to succeed, it probably should have been introduced as an ability at that point.
I’m also finding it hard to think of a reason for Styx to exist. Even when a game doesn’t fill a gaping void in the market, there’s usually a level of playability or enjoyment – often assisted by a few neat gimmicks – that makes it an experience worth playing. If you’re looking for a modern stealth title and have been brought up on the smooth sneaking of Assassins’ Creed and Metal Gear Solid, the jolt of being lumbered with decades-old stealth mechanics could potentially put you right off. Earlier I likened Styx’s gameplay to Thief, but even fans of the grandaddy of stealth would be wise to give it a miss. The execution is so poor on so many levels, Styx feels like a lazy project. Areas where things could have been improved seem to have been left as they are, making the experience feel incomplete and incapable of providing the level of gameplay it purports to.
The Good Stuff
- Nice looking graphics
- Guard awareness
- Semi-interesting protagonist
The Bad Stuff
- Repetitive layouts
- Ancient techniques
- Pointless powers
- Weak story and narrative
- Poor combat
Styx was marketed as a hardcore stealth title where death is inevitable. It claimed to hark back to the ‘golden age of stealth’ where it wasn’t about using flashy leaps and slo-mo combos but slow and steady tactics. While it’s certainly for the hardcore and you will die repeatedly, Styx is about as far away from those classic, skulk-in-the-dark stealth titles as possible. Comparisons have been drawn with Assassins’ Creed and the more recent Shadow of Mordor, but both titles offer a much more rounded and enjoyable package. If you’re looking for a nails-hard pure stealth game and can withstand the myriad of issues that plague Styx’s design, you may find some enjoyment here. Otherwise I can find very little to recommend.
Technical Competency – 5/10
Graphic/Sound Quality – 7/10
Entertainment Value – 5/10
Sound Quality – 7/10
Network Stability – N/A