Despite what its aesthetic might suggest, Ronin isn't very much of a stealth game. Sure, there are stealth elements, like being able to climb along ceilings and quietly hang enemies with a rope, but that's actually just supplementary dressing for the primary gameplay, which is to leap around in arcs to kill everyone around you without being shot. I say that the stealth element is supplementary because there are clearly rooms that can't be entered without making a lot of noise, and all the guards have very keen senses. If they hear a pane of glass break, not only will they become suspicious, they'll call in for a lockdown of the whole building.
In Ronin, you play as a mysterious motorcycle helmet wearing assassin, who is armed with a katana. Her goal is to infiltrate a giant corporation and kill its heads, who all betrayed and killed her father. As an added bonus, she's also tasked with stealing information and killing all the guards they've hired to protect them.
The minimalist gameplay is deceptively straightforward. Once you are spotted by a guard, the game goes into a turn-based mode. Your character can leap great lengths to dodge bullets, kick enemies over, or close the distance for a sword strike. Bullet paths can be plainly seen, so it's up to players to figure out the best course to both evade gunfire and eliminate everyone that's trying to kill you. All taken together, Ronin is a sort of dynamic puzzle game that can be very challenging to solve.
Your character can be upgraded with special gear, like a holographic decoy or throwing stars, which are activated once you start a killing streak. On the downside, upgrade points are only earned when all the mission's extra criteria are fulfilled, like killing everyone and never allowing the alarm to be sounded. It might not sound like much, but keeping the alarm from going off can be a difficult task when guards will immediately call for a lockdown if they spot broken glass. Killing someone from behind with a katana is also loud enough to draw attention. So, players are forced to leap into combat so that enemies will be too busy shooting at you to call in a lockdown, further exemplifying how Ronin isn't very stealthy.
The big problem with this sort of all-or-nothing system is that once you've failed a condition, there's no point in fulfilling any of the other optional objectives. I was not skilled enough to prevent guards from calling in a lockdown, and I eventually gave up trying. Since I knew there were no reward for completing the mission, I just went ahead and failed other aspects like killing the civilians who got in my way. Unless you're very skilled at dodging bullets, you could end up stuck with the same handful of abilities throughout the entire campaign.
Perhaps I could forgive some of its faults if the gameplay weren't so frustrating. For a game that relies so heavily on tactical dodging, its jump arc is surprisingly unreliable and difficult to use. Ronin supports the use of a gamepad, but for some reason, the landing point doesn't seem to be accurate. A mouse is more precise, but less intuitive, as you have to move it up and down to adjust the arc instead of simply moving the landing point around.
I wanted to be graceful, creating a sort of ballet of death, but mostly failed, since it's very easy to get boxed in by gunfire. The game also has a nasty habit of not explaining anything to you. For example, I learned the hard way that you can't knock a samurai over, and trying to do so (even on an unsuspecting one) means instant death. Also, just because your jump arc doesn't pass through any firing lines doesn't mean that you won't get shot, since you also have to account for the size of protagonist. It all adds up to a lot of guesswork, which doesn't fit well into a game that requires a high degree of precision.
Ronin has a brilliant concept, but its execution leaves something to be desired. The gameplay demands a level of precision and control that the game doesn't completely deliver. It's too bad, because most other aspects of the game are very enjoyable, from the artwork to the fantastic soundtrack. But there are too many instances where it felt like the controls were working against me, and I found myself screaming at the screen because something seemingly crazy happened - like the one guard who breaks pattern and aims for where I'm going to land instead of where I am. The all-or-nothing rewards system, combined with the unforgiving gameplay, took away much of the incentive to do better. Eventually, I stopped caring whether I did well or not.
This review is based on a PC code provided by the publisher. Ronin is available digitally for $12.99.
- Excellent art style
- Great soundtrack
- Brilliant concept
- Challenging gameplay
- All-or-nothing reward system
- Guards have very keen senses
- Imprecise controls
- Unforgiving difficulty
Steven Wong posted a new article, Ronin Review: Bitter Revenge
WHAT WHAT WHAT?!? Oh. Never mind. This is neither DeNiro + Reno nor Lone Wolf-esque.
Kinda reminds me of Gunpoint or U R Not A Hero with better graphics though. I do NOT welcome our new Elevator Action Clone Overlords.