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Shadow Gambit: The Cursed Crew Review

An anchor in time

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Game developers must crave variety just as much as gamers. Despite this, many end up making sequel after sequel, with little room for creativity. This even happens to studios that have proven themselves leaders in their genre. Mimimi Productions have practically become the torchbearers of the stealth-strategy genre (aka real-time tactics) but have somehow avoided the sequel trap over the years. First they took us to feudal Japan, in Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun, to guide Samurai through perfectly placed viewcones from the isometric perspective. Then they tackled a franchise that was once a leader in the genre, with the carefully timed revolver mayhem of Desperados III. Shadow Gambit: The Cursed Crew is another tonal shift, focusing on the golden age of piracy with a paranormal twist. It features a ghost ship with a soul, undead pirates with supernatural abilities, and sprawling colorful islands to sneak through. Fundamentally, it is the most robust game from Mimimi due to extensive player choice and cool abilities, but it lets itself down with repetition.

Shadow Gambit: The Cursed Crew

Afia Manicato is looking for Captain Mordechai’s hidden treasure, and her first port of call is his old pirate ship, the Red Marley. The ship is actually alive, crewless, and being tortured by the Inquisition to locate the same treasure, prompting the undead (and cursed) Afia to remove the cutlass from her chest and use it on the guards. After she frees the Red Marley, they come to an arrangement: she will help search for the dead Captain’s treasure and they’ll share the spoils. But to locate the treasure, Afia needs to revive seven of Marley’s crew by exploring islands swarming with Inquisition guards. With each new crew member, the ship can unlock another piece of the puzzle.

The Red Marley is no ordinary ship. Aside from being sentient, it has the ability to capture and revisit memories. In the gaming world, this is known as saving and loading, but it is actually cleverly interwoven into the narrative and becomes a major plot point, with the main antagonist being aware of the power. The Red Marley will remind players to preserve a memory and crew members will voice their excitement when they get to try again. All saving is manual, to make it an active part of the game, but for those experienced in the genre, storing memories will come naturally.

The ship is also a way station between missions and a place to meet the crew. Afia can revive her seven teammates in any order, and the game helpfully describes their abilities so players can access their ideal setup early. The revived then enter the Marley’s cosmic void-like hold to play through great tutorials and fun challenge rooms, before being deployed ashore. Between every mission, character lore can be expanded by doing optional crew tales. These are varied but are generally basic fetch quests with lots of talking. One has the blind sniper investigating poisoning of the Marley’s literal skeleton crew, and another features the ship’s doctor attempting to cure a ghostly parasite. They try to be funny but are mostly just quirky. And because they are often just two characters talking, they lack player engagement. Only one crew tale can be completed per visit, which is silly because it seems impossible to complete all until after the campaign, when the mission replay feature is unlocked.

Shadow Gambit: The Cursed Crew

Missions are great because they offer way more choice than any previous game from Mimimi. Usually, there are a handful of islands to pick from and several missions on each. Any of the revived crew can be selected for a mission, and the team size is usually three. To encourage the use of all crew members, there is an experience bonus that stacks each time they are benched, and this unlocks handy crew perks. Near the end, a bunch of “Captain’s test” missions need to be completed for individual characters of your choice. Like the crew tales, these explore their back-story (e.g. completing a sea shanty or doing a treasure hunt) but are more enjoyable because they take place on the islands for typical stealth-strategy gameplay.

The islands are large and colorful stealth playgrounds. All feature wonderful detail, with waterfalls, cliff-side shanty towns, forts, idyllic beaches, jetties, and oddly-perched shipwrecks, paired with some cool pirate tunes. Each island has multiple starting points to pick from, and there are several supernatural exits that can be opened on demand—these can be tackled first, for a quicker return to the Marley once the job is done. Missions take roughly an hour to complete and typically focus on one major area (out of about three) that is packed with guards. Less populated navigation channels snake between the objectives and are usually the best way to travel across the map. Objectives are very simple, with only a few steps to undertake as you infiltrate. Guard positions are exact and ruthless, with viewcones covering each other like unstable dominoes, so the islands can take time to pry apart safely.

Navigating the islands is made easier because of the crew’s terrific abilities. While all eight crewmembers have a melee takedown and pistol (with limited ammo), their best skills are unique and supernatural. The anchor-laden shipwright can dive into the ground, as though it were water, and emerge under a guard to take them down. The ship’s doctor can throw seeds to grow her own shrubs, to provide cover and hide cadavers. Even the cook has a special totem that he can teleport to instantly, for slicing and dicing. There is good synergy too, with several characters able to assist allies directly; the cannoness can literally suck up friends into her cannon and shoot them onto rooftops, and the headless treasure hunter can reel them in with his fishing rod.

Shadow Gambit: The Cursed Crew

Stealth is excellent because it is process-driven. It is still primarily about tracing viewcones and exploiting blind spots or vulnerable targets. Some guards require dual attackers and this usually means they’re dealt with last, or very carefully. There is good crossover between the crew, so you can recreate similar teams with different characters. Two are quick killers, able to take down targets between sweeping viewcones. A few specialize in hiding bodies, which is beneficial near looping patrols. Others make useful distractions, to lure guards out of sight. While characters can get quite far on their own, there are still many opportunities when you should pause the game and prepare a devilish plan that three characters can execute simultaneously. Getting the timing right can require a bit of fine-tuning, but a successful plan is tremendously satisfying to pull off.

Less enjoyable is the forced repetition during the 30-hour long campaign. Unlike previous games from Mimimi, some levels will be revisited four times. While each mission tries to focus on a different area of the level, there is still too much overlap. All guard positions and patrols are exactly the same, with only the immediate area around objectives changing slightly. Unless you go out of your way, you will eliminate the same targets, in basically the same way, enough times to take some wind out of the game’s sails. Strategy only changes when missions take place at night because it is easier to sneak about. Far more alterations were needed to keep it fresh, maybe with different weather, geometry shifts, or patrol adjustments. Even allowing players to undertake several missions at once would have decreased repetition by exposing more of an island during a single trip.

There are minor gameplay benefits from revisiting the islands. Since the team’s composition changes, new tactical opportunities arise and others vanish. At the very least, players will have learnt from past attempts, able to more quickly eliminate weak links or shimmy through patrols with fewer mistakes. Mimimi’s previous games had big levels with alternate routes that were usually only seen during a replay, which is probably why there was a conscious effort to expose nearly everything in a single playthrough this time. But for players that like to retry levels, to unlock the optional badges (sadly only visible after the campaign), they might be less inclined because they have already seen enough.

Shadow Gambit: The Cursed Crew

Even with the repetition, Shadow Gambit: The Cursed Crew is a great stealth experience and a must play for fans of previous games from Mimimi. With a tonal shift to pirates and cool supernatural abilities, the basic strategy gameplay from their previous titles is revitalized. Sneaking through patrols and pulling off flawless plans is addicting. The sentient ship, with its ability to store memories, becomes a central part of the narrative in a smart way. Crew tales and special character missions expose quirky personalities, even if some tasks are not engaging. If Mimimi find a way to lessen the tedium of revisiting levels, then the framework of The Cursed Crew should be used in future endeavors, wherever the currents take them next.

Our ratings for Shadow Gambit: The Cursed Crew on PC out of 100 (Ratings FAQ)
The islands are vibrant and expansive, while the ship and her crew are nicely detailed. Great pirate tunes and good voiceovers round out a very slick package.
The stealth gameplay is fine-tuned with brilliant abilities. Picking a way through patrols is satisfying. But revisiting islands can be a drag because they do not change enough.
Single Player
The hunt for the treasure is a simple framework that involves reviving peculiar crew members, and the ship’s ability to store memories is smartly interwoven into the narrative.
(Show PC Specs)
CPU: AMD Ryzen 5 3600
OS: Windows 10 Pro 64-bit
PC Specs

Technically sound, although some loads back to the Marley took a while after long play sessions.
With a great supernatural pirate theme and excellent character synergy, Shadow Gambit: The Cursed Crew is another outstanding stealth strategy game from Mimimi, though revisiting the mostly unchanged islands throws a small cloud over the otherwise vibrant treasure hunt.
Shadow Gambit: The Cursed Crew
Shadow Gambit: The Cursed Crew box art Platform:
Our Review of Shadow Gambit: The Cursed Crew
The Verdict:
Game Ranking
Shadow Gambit: The Cursed Crew is ranked #343 out of 1911 total reviewed games. It is ranked #9 out of 72 games reviewed in 2023.
343. Shadow Gambit: The Cursed Crew
344. Sea of Stars
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Released: December 2016
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