Something that's a little unique to Mark of the Ninja is an aspect of terrifying your opponents. Certain items or actions, like leaving a body strung up in view, can frighten foes enough to even start blindly firing on their fellow soldiers, which is a great distraction to sneak on past. Using fear to deal with enemies is something that we haven't really seen elsewhere very often and brings an interesting new dynamic to Mark of the Ninja's stealth.
At the center of the experience is how Mark of the Ninja handles difficulty. The game is as challenging or easy as you want to make it, as each level is littered with hidden collectibles and optional challenges. This optional content might take the form of a specific puzzle room to bypass lasers with guard bodies or a special objective in a level, like getting a point undetected. You're also rated at the end of each area based on how many of the options you've completed and how you dispatched or bypassed the guards. It's rather simple to cut a bloody swath through the level, systematically stealth executing everyone, but a true ninja master doesn't need to leave a single mark on the guards while moving through the whole level unseen. This varied approach gives you a lot of incentive to replay levels and challenge yourself in new ways. There's a grim satisfaction at thinking, "Yeah, I could have killed you, but I'm letting you go ... this time" as you dangle out of view above some unsuspecting guard.
The game is only slightly marred by the controls being a little dodgy at times. The main issue is how many context sensitive actions the same buttons govern, which can sometimes send you jumping off a ledge if you're not careful. Some of this ought to be expected by the simple nature of the game itself, it's supposed to tug at a need to be both quick and accurate to avoid detection, but it can get frustrating when a body and a hiding spot occupy the same area and the same key is used to interact with both. Also, at least one of the keybindings was just awkward for the standard WASD layout. Thankfully you can disregard the screen prompts and either use another button for the same action or simply remap the key in the options menu.
Bottomline: Rather than pushing off being sneaky to sections or merely offering it as an option, Mark of the Ninja is a return to form for the stealth genre where bypassing an opponent is just as thrilling as killing them.
Recommendation: Mark of the Ninja is a must have for those who'd rather slink through the shadows instead of going in guns blazing.
This review is based on the PC version of the game.
Game: Mark of the Ninja
Genre: Stealth platformer
Developer: Klei Entertainment
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Platform(s): PC, Xbox360
Available from: Steam