Ninja Gaiden 3 Chapter Two Hands-On Impressions -- Stealth Served Extra DarkBy Miguel Concepcion - Posted Dec 09, 2011
Team Ninja wants you to appreciate Ryu Hayabusa like a specialty coffee. While he has always been a relatively dark hero, the studio is eager to upgrade that perception and portray Hayabusa in Ninja Gaiden III as extra dark, robust, and very revealing. It's a timely exploration into his motivations and consequences as a killer, something that series like Metal Gear Solid and Uncharted touched upon in the past.
For Ryu's latest outing, Team Ninja has symbolized this shift in tone with a promotional image of Ryu revealing the lower half of his face; it’s not poignant or surprising, but we get the point. In the game itself, the baggage of the lives he's taken is related to his right arm which is now slightly disfigured and corrupted. It's an intriguing plot point, although there was little opportunity to explore it further once I actually dove into this latest hands-on session.
Resuming right where Chapter 1 ended, we find Ryu traveling from London to Dubai, following a lead to a refinery. The jet-setting map screen, the desert setting, and seeing Ryu in a jeep with a female colleague briefly calls to mind Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception. Yet when you actually control Ryu in this sandy locale, it resumes being Ninja Gaiden. Before doing so, you're given another taste of the series' knack for amusing 'anything goes' plot developments. Ayane appears out of nowhere to give Ryu a sword, then leaving promptly in a mist of sand. If you wonder how she made it to Dubai, you're thinking too hard.
The muscle memories of toughing it out in the first two games made me more than prepared for all the ninjas hiding around corners and in the sand, at least in this Normal difficulty setting. Finally having a bow with lock-on made dealing with ranged enemies almost too easy, and I even used that weapon to take out the nearby enemies riding on sandmobiles. For better or worse, the rest of the stage was standard issue Ninja Gaiden: alternating sections of six to eight enemy ninja battles and level exploration with wall running and bouncing upward vertical shafts. At one point I fell through a weak floor that I could've avoided with a wall run. I wasn't disappointed with this minor setback, because this meant I'd be able to fight more ninjas and earn more experience.
Understandably, the visuals do not make the same leap Ninja Gaiden II had over the original game. There are still numerous bugs to work out, such as the choppiness in Ryu's new flying squirrel jump attack. The removal of limb dismemberment is mildly disappointing, but at least the game keeps up the same pace from past installments.
There's a kind of "join the club" lack of surprise when you hear of an established IP making the move to multiplayer in 2011. What is surprising is how well Ninja Gaiden 3's take on this mode is coming along, matching the fluidity of the single-player game. In the context of a near-chaotic Team Deathmatch-style of play, it certainly doesn't hurt to have a look that differentiates yourself from the rest of the players, which is why this mode lets you customize and accessorize an outfit. If you're unfamiliar with melee weapon-based fighting outside of Soul Calibur, Team Ninja has things covered by putting you in a virtual playing field to try out moves before the actual match starts. I'd like to think this orientation area might be optional when it's a match made up of nothing but experienced players who would find this feature redundant.
How you kill efficiently and stylistically is factored in the scoring and there’s a pleasing degree of depth when it comes to actual kills. At times, you’ll have to rapidly press a button to finish slicing through an enemy. You also have the opportunity to kill yourself honorably or take an enemy with you as you die. There's actually very little difference in gameplay between single and multiplayer controls.
At least in the context of this hands-on session with other media guests, maintaining a solid mix of quick attacks, strong attacks, and jumps was more than enough to help me hold my own in battle, and in fact resulted in me winning one of the matches. If knowing those basics are enough to get by, there's frightening potential in what can transpire when players actually make the most of the entire move set. Like NG3's story, you also have access to a lock-on bow and the flying squirrel attack. Mixing it up further with a well-timed a ninpo fireball helps in making this multiplayer mode worth paying attention to. We’ll keep an eye out when Ninja Gaiden III ships March 2012.