Shadow Gambit: The Cursed Crew PS5 review. If Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun and Desperados 3 has shown us anything, it’s that Munich based developer Mimimi Games is really, really good at wrapping around a sophisticated tactical experience around a stealthy core. With the studio’s latest title, Shadow Gambit: The Cursed Crew, the talented German outfit has done it again, manifesting a stupendously entertaining offering that stands shoulder to shoulder with the best in the genre.
Shadow Gambit: The Cursed Crew PS5 Review
Magic, Stealth, Comedy & Undead Pirates Intersect In A True Strategy Gem
Boasting a decidedly more supernatural premise than either Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun or Desperados 3, Shadow Gambit: The Cursed Crew puts players in the bewitched boots of undead privateer, who, in an alternate history take on the Golden Age of Piracy, must travel the width and breadth of the Lost Caribbean to assemble a crew of perished pirates (and a sentient ghost ship, no less) in order to defeat a zealous sect of anti-undead fanatics led by archvillain Ignacia. Right away, the premise of Shadow Gambit: The Cursed Crew feels fresher than it otherwise would, not least because in a neat twist, the undead folks are actually the good guys, whereas the living are, for the most part at least, a bunch of weapons grade jerks.
And it’s here that Mimimi Games third bite at the stealth strategy apple perhaps surprises the most. Given that you’ll be spending a whole heap of time with the titular cursed crew of Shadow Gambit, it’s something of a relief to discover that they’re a charming and charismatic bunch to say the least. Starting with Afia, a ghostly pirate who just happens to have a magical sword eternally stuck in her chest with acerbic wit to match and Suleidy, the happy go-lucky ship’s doctor, through to others such as the comically pompous Pinkus, Shadow Gambit’s motley crew is a resolutely entertaining bunch that you’ll never tire of as you plough through Shadow Gambit’s sprawling single-player campaign.
As alluded to at the top of this review, Shadow Gambit: The Cursed Crew very much follows the same design through line as Mimimi Games previous titles, offering up a third-person perspective, isometric stealth strategy effort that prizes forethought and careful tactics above pretty much everything else. Certainly too, akin to the likes of Desperados 3 and Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun, Shadow Gambit: The Cursed Crew also boasts a wealth of recognisable features and mechanics that players of those two titles will find familiar.
One of these features – and arguably the most important – is the colour graded viewing cone which dictates the line of sight of your enemies. Appearing as green when they don’t sense any danger, yellow when they’re suspicious and then graduating to a red if they spot you, this cone of vision can be mitigated in much the same way as it can be in Mimimi Games previous titles, such as hiding behind cover, within bushes and next to other such objects found in the environment.
Because of this mechanic, Shadow Gambit also shares the core gameplay design of Desperados 3 and Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun that is predicated around distraction and assassination. This means that because confrontation is pretty much off the table, you must instead use ample amounts of guile to sneak around your foes, use distractions to split them up from their friends, murder and hide their bodies and so on. Of course, like the genre entries before it, Shadow Gambit also allows players access to a variety of powerful skills and abilities that are unique to each character. Suleidy for example, can throw a vial which speedily grows a bush in her vicinity for hiding in (and hiding bodies within), while the pompous Pinkus can possess enemies and wander into areas that would normally be inaccessible to anyone else.
And then you have ‘shadow mode’, another mechanic that has made the trip wholesale from Mimimi Games previous sneaky and tactical offerings. Arguably representing the sort of higher level play that armchair generals will need to embrace if they want to survive Shadow Gambit’s later acts, shadow mode allows players to pause the action and coordinate movement, attacks and special abilities between multiple characters to happen all at once. It’s when you pull this off, that Shadow Gambit begins to sink its feel-good hooks into you – and it feels good because it makes you feel clever in a way that other strategy games don’t have in their gift to match.
Put simply, there’s no shortage of satisfaction to be had in the sneaky, murderous exploits that Shadow Gambit: The Cursed Crew enables to take part in. Rather than being a linear affair, Shadow Gambit instead allows players a welcome degree of agency as to how they go about their objectives. Sure enough, the goal usually revolves around killing someone, stealing something or gaining Black Pearls and precious Soul Energy to rescue a soon-to-be-eternally-damned crew member to expand your seafaring gang, but how you go about it – the order in which you kill and the places that you’ll explore (and even the location that you’ll start the mission) – are all up to you.
The end result is that by permitting such degrees of player agency and providing eager supernatural privateers with a wealth of means with which to accomplish their ultimate objective, Shadow Gambit presents nothing less than a kaleidoscope of stealth-infused, tactical possibility. It’s an extremely irrestible gameplay loop that is equal parts gripping and rewarding when you finally progress past a group of hard-bitten enemies through flawless strategy and coordination, or reach your objective with without unduly alerting the senses of those who guard it.
Make no mistake either, you will fail – a lot – and so it comes as a welcome relief that while Shadow Gambit doesn’t boast an auto-save, it does permit you to save your progress mid-mission as frequently as you like, making a retry from either seconds or minutes earlier a quick press of the button. It’s worth noting too that the PS5’s still screamingly fast SSD plays a role here, since both saving and reloading your game is almost instantaneous and as such, somewhat mitigates the sting that failure would normally carry in its tail.
Shadow Gambit: The Cursed Crew isn’t lacking on the progression front either. While the charming and surprisingly light-hearted story represents ample incentive for carving a path through Shadow Gambit’s chunky campaign (not least thanks to the superb voice cast and their performances which carry it along), the various skills and abilities that are bespoke to each character can also be upgraded by accumulating Vigour; a substance that is found during missions.
Further afield, if you’re familiar with either Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun or Desperados 3, you will almost certainly recognise the return of the badges in Shadow Gambit: The Cursed Crew. Essentially representing a set of in-game achievements – some of which are tied to Shadow Gambit’s trophies – these badges can be earned for completing all sorts tasks such as hiding a number of bodies, performing a number of simultaneous shadow mode kills and other such things of that ilk. Essentially by having these sorts of incentives, Shadow Gambit does a grand old job of making you want to delve into the deepest recesses of its design and it’s something you’ll want to do because the stealth-strategy shenanigans that sit at the centre of the experience are extraordinarily well-designed.
Clearly then, Shadow Gambit’s tactical stealth gameplay is its main draw, but where Mimimi Games latest offering separates itself from the similar efforts that have come before it, is in how it invests you in the plight of the various undead scallywags and zombified buccaneers who fall under your command. Not only does each crew member have their own extensive back story, which is revealed in turn by dialogue with the other denizens of the ship (and also the ship itself which also serves as the hub area between missions), but there also Crew Tales which can be completed and are essentially side quests of sorts that allow players to spend exclusive time with that particular crew member, filling out their backstory neatly as a result.
Ultimately, the only real flaw (if you can call it that) which Shadow Gambit finds itself afflicted by, is that while it does build upon the studio’s previous games with much better storytelling and an abundance of charm, Mimimi Games latest offering still hews extremely closely to the mechanics of previous titles and perhaps doesn’t change things up quite as radically as some might like. Elsewhere, some tactical veterans might grumble at the necessity to return to islands and places that have been previously visited during the campaign, though really, the quality of the missions, the story and the challenge that lay within each more than makeup for having to return to such familiar surroundings.
Honestly, it feels churlish to chide Shadow Gambit: The Cursed Crew for being too similar to Mimimi Games previous output, not least because this enormously talented studio has a track record of kicking out superb stealth strategy offerings and has once again fashioned a relentlessly engaging tactical stealth effort that is absolutely at the apex of the genre. With Shadow Gambit: The Cursed Crew however, I’m not sure the concept has ever been executed with this degree of charm and that’s something Mimimi Games should be roundly congratulated for.
Shadow Gambit: The Cursed Crew releases for PS5 on August 17th, 2023.
Review code kindly provided by PR.