May 25, 2024
Preview Ahoy! Sharpen yer daggers, there be landlubbers to kill from the shadows in our preview of Shadow Gambit The Cursed Crew.

Mimimi Games and their crying little girl logo is becoming an absolute seal of quality to me. If you are at your best in a stealth strategy situation, their work on Shadow Tactics and Desperados III has probably been some of your favourite experiences this past gen or so. If you haven’t, forget this preview and get playing them now!

Their latest and brand new IP, Shadow Gambit: The Cursed Crew is setting sail onto PC and consoles in August, and Finger Guns have been given the chance for a hands-on preview. Avast!

So, it’s out with some of Mimimi’s roots, so far dealing with stealth in a realistic historical setting, and going full-on supernatural cursed pirates. I for one, think this is nothing short of inspired! I think the closest they’ve ever got to this before was the voodoo enemy control that Isabelle could do in Desperados III. Clearly, it’s been simmering under the surface at the studio, waiting for such a time as they gave themselves free rein to just do whatever they wanted.

And that’s what Shadow Gambit is. It’s Mimimi off the leash. With the safety off. New IP, revised controls, open-style mission structure, supernatural stealth powers, and quicker gameplay. There’s a joyful no-holds-barred feel to it, of just developers doing what they want to an incredible standard and without anyone looking over their shoulder keeping them constrained or introducing live-service-microtransaction-online-PVP-looting.

You play as the titular Cursed Crew (all eight of them I think) of the Red Marley, a sentient ghost ship that can magically hold your memories (more on that in a moment). The Red Marley is a talking ninth member of the crew herself, giving you the bulk of missions at least in the preview, and driving the story forward. It acts as the new hub between islands and missions, full of crew management and practice scenarios, something Mimimi hasn’t done before.

You start with Afia Manicato, a young black Navigator with a sword through her chest that allows her to teleport-kill, and a skeleton arm. She’s on board supposedly to help, but clearly, there’s more to her backstory that will come clear in time. If there’s anything I’m already confident of with Mimimi’s previous output, and my short time with Shadow Gambit, it’s the thorough gut-punch of a narrative. I still remember those moments in Shadow Tactics, and Desperados III, the ones you can never come back from, where the next playthrough is never the same.

They say dead men tell no tales, but with a crew of some eight cursed pirates, the joy is in unearthing their interesting backstories. How did they come to be cursed, and why that particular curse, and what was the terrible tragedy that made it happen? Every character is instilled with these questions from the moment you meet them just due to their abilities and design, and I can’t wait to uncover their mysteries. Think of the very best and most memorable of the cursed Pirates of the Caribbean movies, and you’re getting the right idea.

Even in the short time I was able to play the preview build, a story began to unfold regarding the systematic fanaticism of the ‘Inquisition’, a cult-like authority of religious zealots led by a tyrant called Ignacia. They have the Red Marley captured for research in the first mission, and like 18th Century nazis, have their fingers in every magical item, tome and cursed rite going. Ignacia and the crew quickly find themselves in a race to find the answers to the riddles left by the previous Captain and unearth his treasure before the Inquisition. The early missions I was able to play concerned themselves mainly with recovering your crewmates’ lifeless bodies and then a few cursed items to reanimate and revive them. No one seems to stay dead in the realms of undead pirates.

Now I said the Red Marley can hold your memories. In Shadow Gambit, the mainstay ‘quick save’ function from Shadow Tactics and Desperados III is now a part of the story – the memory magic of your ship. It’s been made faster and more instinctive than ever before. And it’s not a quick save and a normal save, it’s one save function that is just instant. I can’t think of many games where the act of actually saving your progress is worked into the powers of a character in the story, so it feels pretty interesting.

This speed in saving isn’t the only place things are faster. The flow of the gameplay feels faster here than in the past. Whereas in Shadow Tactics and Desperados III you could often wait long periods for the perfect moment, and redo it multiple times, Shadow Gambit quickens the flow, with faster ways to change character, move and react. You can make the most of smaller slimmer opportunities, often just on the fly or via happy accidents. Instead of meticulous planning, some islands can be progressed through quickly, without needing that time input. They’ve taken a small step towards action, but without leaving anything behind.

All the abilities are there, only they’re now supernatural. Teleport-kills never get old giving you more speed and range than a normal reach; distracting a guard with an undead fish; shooting one enemy body to land on another; growing your own hiddy-bushes; clearing up bodies with a magical treasure chest; teleporting over walls; blind-sniping; possession of guards – they’re bonkers and they’re awesome. Long-time fans will recognise repurposed abilities from previous games, but there’s such an enormous amount of new stuff it can’t fail to satisfy.

You can bring three pirates on any mission, mix and match them and tackle the islands in (almost) any order, giving Shadow Gambit a hell of a lot of flexibility too. A mission is completely different with teleport, than it is if you have to abide by gates for example. If the current build is anything to go by, this is the most replayable these games have ever been.

If I had to pick an issue with this version it’s the controls for the camera. Using an Xbox controller via Steam for my impressions, you moved your character with the left joystick and then had zoom and swivel camera functions on the right. However if you wanted to move the camera, you either had to let it auto-follow your character (which gives no early warning of dangers ahead) or hold down a shoulder button to then move the camera without moving your character. It got a bit fiddly to be honest, and I can’t remember if this is different from how Desperados III played on console. I think, given time, I’d get used to it and stop zooming by accident, or moving my character out of hiding when I just wanted to move the camera, but I think it would take a fair few more hours. Perhaps I needed to remap the buttons a little.

In any case, Mimimi Games are on course to outdo everything they’ve done before, to blow their previous games out of the water, and sink them without a trace. Shadow Gambit: The Cursed Crew already plays like a treasure amongst real-time stealth games, and one I can’t wait to uncover fully when it releases later this year. Cursed? Blessed, more like.

Like everything here? Wanna play it for yourself? Then you’re in luck. As part of Steam Next Fest this June 19-26 Mimimi Games are putting up a playable demo! This link marks the spot, me hearties!

And finally, as if all that wasn’t enough, Mimimi have only gone and revealed the game’s release date during the PC Gaming Showcase! Shadow Gambit: The Cursed Crew releases on August 17th, 2023 for PC, PlayStation 5, and Xbox Series S|X. Check out the release date trailer and the Cursed Crew sea shanty.

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