Quick Game Review | Shadowy Contracts - ambitious stealth-based RPG
The idea of a stealth-centric RPG is nothing new, but gamers around the world love sneaking and hunting targets from the shadows in games like Skyrim, Deus Ex, and Thief. The gameplay style is quite popular with a large market, so why not try to make your own? Enter Shadowy Contracts, a new title developed by ExiledThunder Productions (Mark Nasr) that is currently in Steam Early Access.
Genre, Style, and Technology
Shadowy Contracts is a third-person action RPG. Players take the role of a generic citizen in the kingdom of King Arthur. Times are tough, and the player has recently joined a guild of assassins to earn gold. The game is broken up into separate contracts (read: missions), each of which has a main goal to complete.
In return, the guild will pay our "hero" a preset amount of gold, which the player can then use to buy items (like potions), purchase weapons, or hire mercenaries to help them with their next contract.
The game offers some rudimentary character customization, including the selection of three different races: giant, human, and dwarf. Giants are strong, Dwarves are stealthy, and humans split the difference. Players can also change the appearance of their character, although these changes are aesthetic and don't affect gameplay that much. Most are also difficult to see considering the viewpoint of the player for the majority of the game.
There are a few graphical options that can be tweaked in the menus. Minimum specs to run the game are fairly low (Ryzen 3 or Core i3 CPU, 4 GB RAM, Nvidia GeForce GTX 560). Recommended hardware is middle-of-the-road for 2019 (Ryzen 5 or Core i5 CPU, 8 GB RAM, Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060).
Shadowy Contracts is built on the Unity engine. As a result, models and environments look fairly detailed on max settings. We did notice some graphical bugs and collision errors, but considering the game is in Early Access, this is to be expected.
The key thing to remember when it comes to gameplay is that Shadowy Contracts was only recently released in Early Access. That said, gameplay feels unfinished, but there is still a lot to enjoy.
The crux of the game takes place in small, self-contained villages briefly described by a contract pop-up that appears at the beginning of each level. Players control their character from a third-person "behind the back" view and can walk, run, sneak, jump, and roll around the environment.
The ultimate goal of each contract is to eliminate one or more targets, but it's up to the player to determine the best approach. The contracts that we played involved targets that were inside of houses. These targets could be eliminated by either confronting them in face-to-face combat or by sneaking behind them and dispatching them in a single unnoticed strike.
Combat feels floaty. Attack animations take quite a bit of time to complete their flourishes, and no actions can be taken until the animation is completed. That means players will be left fully vulnerable during an attack until the character has completed swinging his sword, which led to some frustrating situations.
Additionally, there's not a good way to tell if a target or other NPC can see the player. When the player comes into sight of an NPC, there is a meter that fills up in about 1.5 seconds; once this meter is filled, the player's cover is blown. Contrast this with Hitman's detection system; if a player does something suspicious in that game, a similar meter fills up but takes several seconds. This gives the player plenty of reaction time. In Shadowy Contracts, once the player is spotted by someone (even when simply standing still), there is virtually no time to react or sneak back into the shadows.
As such, the gameplay boils down to wandering through a town until a target sees the player, then engaging in a hack-and-slash fight to the death. If two or more NPCs spot the player, combat is almost impossible to win. Upon death, the player is unceremoniously dumped back to the title screen where they can replay the current contract, load a saved game, or quit altogether.
If the player emerges from battle victorious, they can loot the corpse of the loser and find items. These range from clothes to weapons to items. The inventory management is fairly rudimentary and includes a general storage system and a hot bar of items that can be equipped by scrolling through or hitting the corresponding number key.
Upon completing a contract, the player will be given some gold and experience. A skill tree pops up that allows the player to level their character in certain areas, such as combat or defense. There appears to be a magic system that becomes accessible as the game progresses, although we did not reach this point during our play session.
Shadowy Contracts is an ambitious title that tries to take the action RPG formula and base it solely around stealth. We've seen similar gameplay in titles like Hitman and the Elder Scrolls series, so the game feels familiar. However, since it is so early in development, it's hard to pin down what exactly stands out.
We're excited to see what Mark Nasr can do with the genre, as the skeleton of a competent and fun stealth RPG is here, but the game needs a good amount of work to be fully fleshed out.
Shadowy Contracts can be found on Steam for US $12.99. The game is in Early Access.