Mark of the Ninja Review
God I normally suck at stealth games. They require a patience that I usually lack. It's actually a little sad. Keeping myself perched in one position and waiting is typically so hard for me. Studying patrol routes and waiting for that perfect moment was something that always eluded me. It was never satisfying, I never got the how it could be. Being raised on faster affairs certainly did not ingratiate me to the rigors of stealth gaming; I basically resigned myself to it never being my cup of tea. That is until Klei came along and decided to drop Mark of the Ninja in front of the masses.
This game is really a perfect blend of accessibility and skill required. Klei obviously studied stealth games of ages past when crafting this title. In my forays into stealth titles past, one of the things that always killed me was a sense of uncertainty of the enemy's ability to see you based on where you are. I was not particularly good at Hitman, and any attempts to play stealth in Deus Ex was met with abject failure. Even more modern games like Assassin's Creed would fail me in the stealth department. Klei seemingly took every stealth source they could into account when creating this title.
Mark of the Ninja solves the problem of uncertainty in such an absolute sense. Everything in this game, from basic visibility to noise created is handled with a binary sense of "Trigger", "No Trigger". If you are in stealth, you are in black shade; while being visible is shown in color. Every noise is radiated outward with a circle showing who can hear it, either to your benefit or detriment.
This system of absolute knowledge is the core of every level that makes up this game, which are really puzzles, with several solutions to each that are all tense and actually rewarding. This process of level design is further enhanced by the ability to gain other costumes by completing additional objectives in each level that tend to tailor themselves to how you want to play the game. More stealthy objectives for a suit that masks the sounds of you running, more stylishly violent objectives for a suit that allows you to do your stealth kills effortlessly; no longer requiring a button prompt for your assassinations.
Coupled with each costume gained is the ability to gain new abilities, stealth kill conditions, new items, and to level up those abilities and items. This feeds into each suit gained by changing what sort of items you can carry. These abilities are gained in relatively whatever order you wish as well, based fully on how completely you can solve each level, gaining the currency needed to gain access to these abilities.
The way each level ramps up the difficulty is also completely fair and engaging, taking full advantage of the way information is presented to throw in new and interesting enemies and traps that circumvent or commonly change the basic rules of how you play, while letting you keep complete control if you learn to wait and pick your moment. It is truly a perfect marriage of setting up basic expectations, then turning them on their head as the game goes on. At no point in the game did I feel Klei did not give me the tools needed to get through the level and complete my objectives. Any failure was my fault.
This game is really what Bastion was to me last year. A game made by an Indy company that came by and completely ruled my time while I played it. It is not often I go through a game more than once to unlock everything. However with Mark of the Ninja, I find myself going back into each level that I have not fully completed, making sure I get everything on this new try. It is really one of the strongest game 2012 has to offer, and really anyone would be ill-served to miss it.