I’ve been a fan of Mimimi Games since their breakout stealth strategy title, Shadow Tactics, and their efforts to resurrect a sub-genre of stealth games haven’t gone unnoticed. In comes Shadow Gambit: The Cursed Crew, a culmination of their previous efforts, and something truly special cementing the studio as one of the greats with a complex, and imaginative game I’ll continue to sink hours in. Here’s my Shadow Gambit The Cursed Crew Review, and why I think it’s the studio’s best title yet.
Story and Characters
Shadow Gambit follows Afia Manicato, a pirate on a quest to seek out the famed treasure of Captain Mordecai in an effort to stop the tyrannical inquisition led by Inquisitior Ignacia. Her quest brings her to the sentient ghost ship, Marley, and with her, the “Cursed Crew” of Captain Mordecai. While Afia is the main character for the most part, each crew member is given enough time to shine with their fairly detailed crew quests.
Toya, for instance, is the ship’s chef, and a Ninja who takes up an eager fish on deck as his protégé who refers to him as his “Sensei”. As ridiculous as that sounds, this little story had me more invested than the mundane and generic plots of many other games. Each crew member has a past that eventually brought them to Captain Mordecai. Compared to Mimimi’s previous titles, there is a lot more effort put into giving each character more than just a unique personality.
As you slowly resurrect each crew member, they’ll be seen doing different tasks on the ship, which serves as the HUB. You can chat with them, learn about their past, all with full voice acting. Even though the narrative side of things was always interesting in the studio’s previous games, it’s clear that Shadow Gambit wants players to feel more invested in the characters they’re taking on different missions.
By the end, I was invested in most of the characters, and it is quite a feat to make each of them feel integral and interesting. The story itself is fun to follow on its own with a number of interesting beats. However, the highlight is still the crew and the amount of care put into making each feel worthy of their role on the ship.
Gameplay and HUB
Shadow Gambit carries a number of mechanics from their previous titles, and if you’ve played Shadow Tactics, and Desperados 3, you’ll feel right at home. You can activate enemy view cones, place a point on the map to see which enemy can currently see it, queue up multiple attacks using Shadow Mode, and more. The key addition is the ability to select different characters that you can take on a mission.
You’re not bound to a fixed party composition anymore. This means that levels are designed in a way that any combination of your crew can prove worthwhile. The other major difference that I felt was the faster pacing of your espionage tactics. Levels are much larger this time, and you’ll often trek through multiple guard outposts and patrols, hence a faster pace compensates for that.
Each level is essentially a small island that the Inquisition has taken over. You’ll slowly adapt to each enemy type as you progress through the campaign, and learn their strengths and weaknesses relative to your individual characters. You can choose different missions at the Marley, and have more control over what type of mission you want to tackle first.
Knowing your objectives, and the map’s layout can often influence your crew composition, but honestly, I picked who I wanted to bring randomly. It’s fun to challenge yourself and see how different characters complement each other mechanically.
During a mission, you have the option to zoom all the way out to an actual map. I also appreciate how you can essentially play the game from a bird’s eye view. This especially useful, when you’re strategy, involves covering a longer distance.
Patience and planning will get you through each level. Eventually, you’ll start treating each area as a puzzle, rather than a combat encounter. This style of strategic play serves as the crux of Shadow Gambit. Taking in the necessary information about a zone is essential to your survival, and success.
Since this is a fantasy setting, each character has some supernatural ability. You can often execute these from a longer range.
Afia, can blink to different locations, or enemies and execute them. She can also stop the time for a specific enemy for a few seconds. This means that she’s fast on her feet, and can avoid detection as well. She can also climb vines, but at the same time, can’t swim either.
However, there’s a caveat to both abilities to balance things out. If you use blink to execute an enemy, there’s a long animation of her slicing through the opponent. This opens you up for possible detection, and an alarm to go off. Similarly, enemies of higher tiers are barely affected by the time freeze ability, so you’re forced to get creative.
Going through the balancing of each character would take up a lot of time, but another example is Pinkus, who serves as the spy archetype. He doesn’t have any base combat abilities but can disguise himself as an enemy. This means he can roam around without fear of detection and gains access to their combat abilities.
However, Pinkus’ movement radius is limited around the point where you took out the enemy whose disguise you’re currently in. He can’t climb vines or ladders either, which limits his mobility. Additionally, if an alarm is raised, you’ll lose control of Pinkus’ current disguise, and he could actually take you out. So while the abilities of each character are unique and useful, there’s always something you need to take into account before using those.
This is just two characters, and I haven’t even gone through their entire abilities. The ridiculous number of strategies you can come up with by mixing the abilities of different crew members is very impressive.
I still love how amazing Shadow Mode feels where you can stop time, and give each character an order that they’ll execute simultaneously.
It’s a treat seeing a well-thought-out plan executed with so much grace. The number of abilities present in this particular game can lead to some amazing animated sequences.
Quick Save or Else
Quick saving is part of Minimi Games DNA, and you’ll quick save a lot in Shadow Gambit as well. This isn’t “save scumming” or anything of that sort. It’s a way to retry a potential strategy that didn’t pan out. You’re not going back because you’re unhappy with the outcome, you’re going back because you’re likely dead from a mistake.
This is a challenging strategy game at its heart and encourages experimentation. The enemies are very aggressive, and while you can face them head-on, it’s not a recommended strategy as you’ll be waiting for constant alarms to go off.
Presentation and Performance
Shadow Gambit is a visual treat, and each part of the presentation is solid. The character renders are highly detailed, even if they aren’t fully animated during dialogue cutscenes. Their in-game models are beautifully animated, especially for something you’ll see from a distance anyway. Their attacks have unique animations, and even the base stabbing move has a different animation for each character.
The ship, Marley, is full of tiny details you can examine. From the skeleton crew (heh) doing their chores, to crew members engaged in their personal activities. Depending on the mission, you’ll either visit islands either at the day or night, which influences guard behavior.
The deep shadows around different objects, and the excellent use of ambient occlusion creates a very real sense of space. The water looks great too, and I liked how running around in it creates a pretty loud noise.
Despite its excellent visuals, this isn’t a very demanding title. I’m playing the game maxed out at 1440p with my RTX 3060 and 3600X, and easily get around 90-100 FPS in any scene. There are zero stutters with a very smooth frame time graph. The only time you’ll see FPS drops is when you press the F5 key to quick save. One thing I want to point out is that chromatic aberration didn’t turn off even after disabling it in the menu.
UI and Controls
The UI is readable with large informative icons for different abilities and options. All the necessary information has a hotkey, and each icon has the correct label for it. This means you won’t be scrambling to look for the right key to press because it’s always in front of you in clear view in the HUD. Moving the camera around is simple, and you can rotate it as well.
You can easily view your current objective by hitting the B key to bring up the quest menu. Even though I played with a keyboard and mouse, I briefly plugged in my controller to confirm that the game indeed uses a completely different UI for controllers.
Shadow Gambit The Cursed Crew is a lengthy, and extremely rewarding stealth strategy adventure that builds up on everything Mimimi Games have released over the years. Its cast of memorable crew members, each with their own unique abilities is a joy to control and experiment with.
The massive levels are full of detail, and push players to creatively take out targets and complete objectives. Its solid vibrant presentation and wealth of character development will keep you invested in its lovable crew mates as you work your way to toppling the Inquisition one island at a time.
What did you think of our Shadow Gambit The Cursed Crew Review? Share what you think about it in the comments below.
This review is based on the PC version of Shadow Gambit The Cursed Crew. The key was provided by Mimimi Games.