This future set stealth-action game has no shortage of style, but unreliable combat controls and all too apparent glitches prevent it from being a complete hit.
When played strictly as a stealth game, Tokyo 42 is a total blast. As a killer for hire in the stylish, high-contrast high rise setting of future Tokyo, I delighted in silently slashing guards with my katana blade on my way to take out a mob boss in the top floor of a beautifully ornate temple or plant a series of explosives along a tangle of factory pipelines. Unfortunately, once my cover was blown and the shooting started, Tokyo 42 became a wildly inconsistent experience thanks to targeting controls that miss when they seem like they should hit and AI that hits when it seems like it should miss. And in a game where you can be killed with only one shot, you really need the controls to work for you rather than against you.
It’s a vision of Tokyo presented as a tilt-shifted toytown that’s gloriously chunky to behold,
Tokyo 42 wears its many gaming and pop-culture inspirations on its battered trench coat sleeve. It combines the isometric viewpoint of the classic Syndicate series and the open-world mission structure of Grand Theft Auto, setting the action on the rooftops of a Blade Runner-inspired near-future cityscape littered with numerous action movie nods, including a hotel named after Die Hard’s Nakatomi Plaza. The environment itself is certainly one of Tokyo 42’s biggest strengths; it’s a vision of Tokyo presented as a tilt-shifted toytown that’s gloriously chunky to behold and fun to explore thanks to the ability to swivel the camera on a horizontal axis to reveal secrets or alternate routes to your target.
At the opening of the story you’re framed for a murder must set about clearing your name by, well, actually becoming an assassin and killing hundreds of people. It’s a moral paradox explained away by everyone in the city being on ‘NanoMeds’ that bring them back to life, but the plot isn’t meant to be taken too seriously. That fact is made clear early on by your first kill contract being the boss of a minigolf empire (a mission that serves as both a tutorial for the pistol weapon and the setup for one character’s punchline, “I told you to cap off a golf tycoon and you put a hole in one”). Tokyo 42 definitely shares some of the black humour of Io Interactive’s Hitman series by having you execute a yoga instructor mid-downward dog at one point, and hunt down another target named Wallace who’s blending into a crowded marketplace while wearing a familiar red-and-white striped beanie and shirt.
Furthering comparisons with the nefarious exploits of Agent 47, disguise is also an important part of Tokyo 42’s subterfuge, albeit in a more simplified manner – duck out of the line of sight of a roused guard and you can use a rechargable ability to instantly alter your appearance and throw them off the scent. Enemies don’t react to the bodies of their freshly fallen comrades, so Tokyo 42’s stealth system is admittedly a pretty simple one, but it’s also completely fair and reliable. The successful infiltration of enemy compounds relies purely on studying patrol patterns, picking optimal paths, and staying out of sight.
Spray and Pray
It’s when the guns come out that things get overly complicated. The targeting system is flawed seemingly as a direct result of the landscape itself; Tokyo 42 takes place on an uneven 3D topography but its targeting operates on a flat 2D plane, meaning you can shoot in the direction you want but the bullet trajectory height is always calculated for you automatically (and indicated onscreen by a vertical line dropping down to the closest floor below the reticle). On countless occasions my bullets would sail over their intended targets despite the reticle being zoned in on their head, possibly because the auto-aim system thought I was aiming at someone on the balcony above. It’s a problem that’s exacerbated by moving targets, and pushed to frustrating heights during the latter half of the 12-hour main campaign when surrounded by larger hordes of enemies and the more powerful bosses. It’s also pretty cumbersome that you typically have to step back from cover in order to throw a grenade, lest you throw it straight into cover and blow yourself up.
This unreliability also extends to individual tools of Tokyo 42’s arsenal. Contrary to the video game status quo, Tokyo 42’s sniper rifle is a surprisingly unreliable option for stealth. Its loud report may be more realistic than the typically silenced rifles of other games, but it’s at odds with the unrealistically slow movement of Tokyo 42’s projectiles. As a result, the majority of the time I attempted to snipe an enemy from concealment they’d hear the shot as soon as I pulled the trigger, turn to look in the exact direction it came from and calmly sidestep out of the way to return fire before my bullet was even remotely close to striking them.
I also grew tired of Tokyo 42’s Nemesis system, which randomly releases a rival hitman to hunt you down. It’s a neat idea in theory, and a handy way to make extra money if you manage to get the drop on them and take them out before they can get you. But more often than not these rival hitmen would arrive at annoyingly inopportune moments; I’d have meticulously worked my way through an enemy guardpost under the cover of stealth, and would be about to take out the last man standing when a Nemesis would suddenly arrive and blow me up with a grenade lobbed from somewhere offscreen.
My frustration inherent to the fundamental control issues and inconsistent AI were only compounded by the regular glitches I experienced during my playthrough. I was frequently shot through walls. I couldn’t complete a particular parkour mission because my character refused to pick up the first pill-shaped checkpoint marker and thus was unable to trigger the next. Enemy targets often became trapped in doorways that were impenetrable to my bullets, forcing me to throw myself off the roof and fall to my death in order to restart the checkpoint. That is, aside from that one time I jumped off a roof and got stuck bouncing up and down on an invisible trampoline, forcing me to quit the mission entirely.
There are also a few comparatively minor quibbles, such as the inability to see how much ammo you already have for any given weapon when you’re in the shop interface, or the fact that the main character has a tendency to run right over the handrail when you’re bounding down a flight of stairs suspended in midair. But these smaller issues work in concert to drag down the experience as a whole.
Fortunately Tokyo 42’s multiplayer mode fares a little better. It still suffers from the targeting inconsistencies of the main game, but at least it’s a handicap that’s shared by all players so it’s a more even playing field as a result. Having said that, with only five small arenas to play in and just the one tweakable deathmatch mode, it’s an experience with a fairly short tail.