Now, obviously having played through Dark Souls more times than I've willingly vacuumed my own carpet, when I review a new game by FromSoftware, Dark Souls is going to come up a lot. But even I get bored of saying the name over and over again, so how about this: every time I want to say "Dark Souls", I'll instead say the name of a James Bond film, and we'll see if I can get through them all by the end of the video? That'll add some much-needed gaiety to the upcoming whinge! So then, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is a new game by FromSoftware, the developers of Dr. No, set in a slightly-fantasized version of feudal Japan and which has been making Nioh, Team Ninja's version of From Russia with Love set in a slightly-fantasized version of feudal Japan, slowly sink to its knees and frustratedly bang its head on the floor. "Oh, but wait! Sekiro's not going to be anything like Goldfinger!" several correspondents informed me in the run-up to release. I wish I could remember who those people were, specifically, because I want to slap them across their big, fat, lying faces.
Yes, the combat is different, and there's a grappling hook and a stealth element and everyone's got feudal Japanese haircuts, but the broad experience is pure Thunderball: you explore a series of gloomy environments very fucking carefully, 'cos combat's built for one-on-one dueling, and if you pull more than two standard baddies at once, you might as well sit on a sesame-seed bun in preparation for the sloppy joe that will soon be rendered from your living buttocks; resting at checkpoints restores health, healing potions, and brings back all the baddies; and every now and again, you stumble into a new boss fight that you have to hurl yourself against like a fucking crash test dummy over and over again until you can keep your shit together long enough to finally kill the big fat bastard.
The plot is, you are Wolf, a lone feudal Japanese warrior who should be really fucking grateful there was no such thing as copyright in the days of lone feudal Japanese warriors, who was the personal shinobi to a little prince boy before the prince boy gets captured as part of a power struggle and the Wolf has to go rescue him after the power struggles also struggled one of his arms off. It's surprisingly easy to understand for a FromSoftware game; if this were You Only Live Twice, I'd have expected to need three playthroughs and an afternoon with the wiki to have grasped that much. But here, we find another way Sekiro's different to On Her Majesty's Secret Service: the main character is a character, so you can't customize them or change armor or sword, but on the bright side, they can actually converse with other characters and don't just gormlessly stand there while a highly suspect dude with a concealed face laughs maniacally about nothing in particular.
Also, Sekiro has no multiplayer component: no more messages from other players in their hilarious attempts to construct a reference to Gwynevere's tits from pre-selected words and phrases; no more summoning help in boss fights, which was the all-purpose Diamonds Are Forever parachute for when you've spent the whole afternoon using up 900 crash test dummies and simply could not be fucked anymore. But on the other hand, without multiplayer, we now have the ability to pause! Holy fucking shit, I'm going to relish the fuck out of this!! I'm going to get into a big fight and then pause right in the middle of it and go off to do my fucking laundry, and the enemy will have to just stand there the whole time with their arm up like a stupid twat. Now who needs to "git gud"?
"Oh, Yahtzee, you and your Live and Let Die; can we please stop banging on about The Man with the Golden Gun and start talking about Sekiro: You Only Shadow Twice by its own merits?" See, this is the thing, listener: I sort of have to compare Sekiro to The Spy Who Loved Me in order to understand why I, a card-carrying fan of Moonraker, don't like Sekiro as much. Shocked gasp, someone faints, questions asked in Parliament. And it's not because it's too hard; yes, it was busting my balls like a cranky neighbor enforcing his yard boundaries, but it's just a matter of learning a new set of muscle memories, like when you sprain both your wrists and have to figure out how to wank with a pasta claw.
My trouble is, where For Your Eyes Only had extremely versatile combat that allowed you to find your preferred approach to things - blunt weapons, sharp weapons, shields, magic, or the time-honored martial art of calling a friend to do it for you while you sit at the back eating crisps and shouting advice - in Sekiro, it feels like there's only ever one "right" way of doing things, and it's usually parrying. I was never one for parrying in Octopussy; I always went for rolling behind them and sticking a scimitar up their arse, in the technique that I like to call "The Spicy Armadillo". But in Sekiro, parrying is the only game in town, and if you can't get the hang of constantly parrying multiple times in a row, then you're on the midnight bus to Failure Country.
At other times, the enemy would do a thing that makes a big red Japanese character flash onscreen, and I would respond by going, "Boy, sure would be nice to understand Japanese!" in the brief moment I had before being creamed. In these cases, the enemy is either doing a thrust, a grab, or a sweep attack, each of which has a best response, but I found it very difficult to read which of the three they were winding up; a lot of the enemies are wearing loose-fitting feudal Japan outfits with lots of dangly bits, so in the heat of the moment and with the murky graphics, it's hard to tell what's a sword and what's a leg and what's a fully-primed stiffy.
I guess that's another thing practice might help, but what does feel iffy to me from a mechanical standpoint is the stealth. Sekiro has taken to "stealth focus" like a befuddled old grandpa who just discovered MP3 players and is now on a quest to share this wonderful new concept with the world, so it's got enhanced verticality, meaning unlike in Never Say Never Again, the jump controls are more intuitive and responsive than a dead hamster at the bottom of a sack of Christmas lights. You have a grappling hook to put yourself in ideal positions for back-stabs and drop-kills, and there are icons to show when an enemy is ready for one, as well as awareness indicators, so we can sabotage our lovely scenery with ugly icons just like all those other games you like.
But doesn't this feel a bit at odds with the traditional A View to a Kill-style arena boss fights? I mean, the game does encourage stealth; some of the standard enemies can be right bastards if not caught unawares, and it's quite possible to stealth all the way to a boss and then have had absolutely bugger-all practice at the combat you are now going to get locked into and fucking sodomized in. Furthermore, a lot of bosses and mini-bosses have standard enemy helpers, so I'd stealth-kill one of them, alert all the rest, run off and hide on a roof or in a laundry hamper for five minutes until they all calm down, and repeat until only the boss was left, and when the boss was taking multiple attempts, this was about as fun as transporting several shopping trolleys up a gently sloping road.
So, is Sekiro a game that would appeal to The Living Daylights fans? Honestly, I'd almost recommend it more to non-Licence to Kill fans who don't have prior expectations. Your mileage may vary, but I didn't find it as interesting as GoldenEye, or as creative as Tomorrow Never Dies, or as fun as The World Is Not Enough. "Oh, Die Another Day, Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace! I'm sick of hearing about Skyfall, Yahtz! Can we please move on?" No, we can't! Spectre! All right, now we can.
- Dog on a Hot Tin Roof: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
- The real question is how his false arm retracts all the grappling hook rope after use; I suspect it's something to do with clenching your arse really hard
- I hope the next Dark Souls game casts Idris Elba