Going into PAX East 2012, there was a list of games that were on my “must see” list. Certainly, those all managed to meet my expectations. However, there was one game in particular that wasn’t anywhere on my radar, but managed to jump out from the shadows and stab me in the part of my brain that controls fanboy levels of excitement.
I had the chance to speak with Nels Anderson, who gave me a guided tour of Klei’s new stealth platformer, Mark of the Ninja. Not only did I learn about the studio’s post-Shank plans, but about Klei’s design philosophy. If you had any doubts about this studio being one of the special ones, I’m about to put that all to rest.
Take one look at Mark of the Ninja, and you will have no doubt that this is a Klei title. Animator Aaron Bouthillier, winner of a Canadian Game Development Talent Award for his work on the original Shank, is leaving his mark on this new title. In fact, most of the animators at Klei come from a 2D background, which shows through both during cutscenes and game play. The rich backgrounds are courtesy of Lead Environment Artist Megan Shaw, who Anderson mentioned continues to further her experience and skill set in traditional art forms.
When you begin, you’ll be introduced to your character and his female companion, Ora. The tutorial level does a fantastic job of easing players into the game without being boring or forced. As a stealth game, you’ll need to stick to shadows and remain silent. There is no HUD-based light gem or sound meter; everything is displayed in the environment.
When exposed by the light, you’ll see the full detail of your ninja’s attire. In shadow, a more muted outline will be shown. When anything makes sound, you’ll see a ripple emit from the source. Your default movement is a stealthy creep, but toggle into a run and each step will emit a wave. Should that reach the ears of a foe, he will be alerted to your presence.
You can knock out lights Splinter Cell style with darts to help cloak you, but should an enemy get close, no amount of darkness will protect you from a hail of gunfire. Sometimes, you’ll need to resort to grates and air ducts to sneak up on enemies. You can press yourself against doors to sense what’s behind them. In ideal circumstances, this will give you the chance to trigger a stealth kill.
As an example, if you are in a ground-level air duct, you can stealth kill a nearby enemy. If accomplished properly via a random directional press along with the kill button (displayed after you initiate the strike), you’ll be completely silent and, at the same time, drag the corpse out of site. Enemies can stumble upon your handiwork, which will also trigger an alert sequence.
In true Klei form, these kills are bloody and satisfying. After securing the grappling hook, your options for murder increase, even allowing you to dangle like Spider-Man, before slicing and dicing. Mark of the Ninja is as nuanced as Shank and Shank 2 were overt. By going into targeting mode, the game will actually pause. You won’t ever have to try and time dart strikes or other projectile attacks. Instead, you can mark up to three enemies and watch the damage unfold.
In each level, there will be a number of secondary objectives. These include rescuing hostages, ringing alarm gongs and collecting scrolls.
One thing is for sure; if you haven’t heard of Klei, you will this summer when Mark of the Ninja comes out. It’s coming to Xbox 360 exclusively through a publishing relationship with Microsoft (instead of EA Partners). You haven’t seen this one coming, but like a ninja, you will know when it strikes.