Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows Review

Developer: Red Fly Studio Publisher: Activision Consoles:  PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 Genre: Hack and slash   Release Date: August 28, 2013 Player(s): 1-2 in story mode, 1-4 in arcade Rating: T  

Developer: Red Fly Studio

Publisher: Activision

Consoles:  PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360

Genre: Hack and slash  

Release Date: August 28, 2013

Player(s): 1-2 in story mode, 1-4 in arcade

Rating: T

 

Out of the Shadows' cup is either half empty or half full. Maybe you'll tire of fighting the legions of drop dead simple knuckleheads in the first half of the game, or maybe you'll have just enough time to experiment with the variety of combat options offered. Maybe you'll chuckle when Donatello questions eating pizza you find in the sewers, or maybe you'll groan when he questions it the fifth time. Every plus side has a matching fault--or, depending on your point of view, each negative aspect has a silver lining.

Out of the Shadows offers four missions, each somewhere around half an hour or longer. In each one, the four turtles travel through a given city setting. You'll control one of them (and you can switch between them on the fly) as they beat up goons, stalk through a few lonely corridors between fights, and finally end up in a room with a big bad boss.

 

Out of the Shadows doesn't have the most interesting use of color--many times, the screen will just bathe in one or two colors--but it at least uses interesting colors and loves high contrast. It's cheap but eye-catching.

Out of the Shadows doesn't have the most interesting use of color--many times, the screen will just bathe in one or two colors--but it at least uses interesting colors and loves high contrast. It's cheap but eye-catching.

For instance, the first mission saw me rough up a series of Purple Dragon gang members while I was on the trail of their latest mysterious heist. The passages I took were rendered realistically, but with splashes of color. In the opening area, a giant neon sign lit up a grungy parking lot bright fuschia, and lonely alleyways were draped in deep, dark blue. On one hand, a gaggle of humanoid turtles doesn't belong in a realistic environment. On the other hand, environments are still stylish, whether by popping colors or other flourishes.

 

Unlike the graphics, combat lost its freshness during the second mission. Conveniently, the fighting comes easily; you have one attack button for laying most hits on enemies. Keep hitting, and your combo count will build. Some of your options for variation are defensive; enemies will attack to break your combo, and you can counter or dodge. Others are offensive, allowing you to pull off special moves when you've racked up a sufficient combo. Getting into the combat is just a matter of mashing that attack button, while getting good means experimenting with when to throw in a dodge or special move. You'll also have three AI partners (the turtles you aren't controlling) at any given time, and they aren't shabby brawlers themselves.

Here, Leo and Michaelangelo fight off some boring robot dudes. These guys litter the second mission and slow it down considerably by pairing dull AI with oversized health bars. You'll want to get good at pulling out those special moves.

Here, Leo and Michaelangelo fight off some boring robot dudes. These guys litter the second mission and slow it down considerably by pairing dull AI with oversized health bars. You'll want to get good at pulling out those special moves.

This simple, easy-to-approach combat may be a boon in one sense, but in another, it led to repetition. Enemies were often just tougher versions of the last guy with only a subtle difference in tactics. Fights didn't hold much distinction, as each new one worked with the same strategies as the last.

It's a shame, since the engine works well with controlling large portions of space and skirmishes don't take advantage of it.The dodge move covers several feet of ground and the normal attack will home in on an enemy from a few feet away. For most fights, though, these techniques are conveniences instead of necessities, since enemies themselves don't exercise much range.

(Regrettably, I have to note that enemies can spawn outside of your range, halting your progress and forcing you to wander around until you conclude that you need to start over from the checkpoint.  This only happened to me once on the PC version.)

That said, you do have some variety on your end to experiment with. You can switch between turtles as you please. Each one has a unique blend of range, speed, and power, meaning Raphael can handle tough one-on-one bouts while Donatello sweeps down swaths of weaker foes. Plus, fighting will earn you points to spend on customizing each individual turtle with new moves and powers.

 

What a beautiful rooftop to get stuck on for like five minutes trying to find the way forward.

What a beautiful rooftop to get stuck on for like five minutes trying to find the way forward.

Between each fight, I ran for a good 10 to 60 seconds through the environment. Rather than split up fights with lackluster platforming or inane puzzles, Out of the Shadows binds its fights together with restful jogs. So, in the third mission, I beat up some baddies on a rooftop, then took a moment to enjoy the sky of a new day developing on my way to the next throwdown. The sun appeared more and more the further I ventured across rooftops, lending a sort of catharsis as I leapt from one building to another and scampered up ladders. During these sections, you'll get a good chance to appreciate the graphics.

Granted, that catharsis was thwarted on a few occasions where I got lost. Sometimes, Out of the Shadows puts you on a clear, one-way path. Other times, the way forward isn't discernible. On one particularly memorable rooftop, I was reduced to running up against each ledge to check if I could vault over it.

Also, on that note: the first mission ends on a train. If you're stuck in a train tunnel, find the train and get on it.

You'll also need to play a hacking minigame from time to time in order to unlock the path forward. These easy, short bits are more inoffensive and forgettable than anything.

 

In the background, a jerkwad shoots a pink laser at Leo. Leo himself is focused on tackling the robot in his face.

In the background, a jerkwad shoots a pink laser at Leo. Leo himself is focused on tackling the robot in his face.

Anyway, the combatants in mission three also learned some new tactics, becoming more evasive and requiring me to vary my combos more frequently. This trend continued in the final mission, when it was time to invade Shredder's lair. Marching down dark corridors lit by tubes of blue... science, I bumped into robots in suits, the most interesting enemies of the game. These guys were not only well-versed in melee combat, but they also shot guns or lobbed grenades halfway across the room. These guys made perfect use of the turtles' combat engine, which is catered for navigating large spaces. For instance, the turtles could dodge out of a grenade's blast radius in an instant. Or, I'd have to decide which foe to leave outside of my range, where he could potentially shoot me. Each of my turtle brethren would deal with their own pack of bad guys, too, so space management also meant rushing to a teammate's aid if he was hurting (or if I was looking to sustain a combo and needed some extra faces to strike).

As a result, I was feeling good about the game as I approached its conclusion. It had finally found its niche. But, as always, Out of the Shadows had a weakness to match its strength. After being trounced by the final boss' second phase a few times, I finally found a winning strategy: it spawned in a corner and let me wail on it with impunity.

Pros:

+ Remains loyal to its heart, its brawler gameplay, with very few distractions. 

+ Nifty, if unremarkable, aesthetics. 

+ You can unlock missions for an arcade mode resembling the late 80s/early 90s Turtles games. 

Cons: 

- The combat lacks depth.

- A story that struggles to create intrigue comes to a lackluster conclusion.

- The occasional glitch. 

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At the end of the day, if you're willing to sit down to yet another brawler, Out of the Shadows  will do. In a genre with plenty of exemplary games, Out of the Shadows  treads water. Give it the benefit of the doubt, and you can have a good time; put it under scrutiny, and you might find yourself soured on it.