You’d be forgiven for letting Shadow Gambit: The Cursed Crew fly under your radar. An isometric real-time tactical stealth game developed by Mimimi Games, the folks behind Desperados III and Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun, it’s certainly not commanded the most attention since its release last week but it’s one that’s absolutely worth a look-in.
Shadow Gambit takes place in a supernatural version of the Golden Age of Piracy, across a mysterious chain of tropical islands known as the Lost Carribean. Aboard the Red Marley, a sentient ghost-ship that talks, you play as Afia Manicato, an undead pirate tasked with reviving the lost souls of your crew using the magic of the legendary Black Pearls.
Led by the disembodied soul of the ship’s spectral skipper, Captain Mordecai, you hop from island to island in search of lost treasure. In pursuit of the Captain’s fortune, you’ll have to face the Inquisition of the Burning Maiden, who have taken over the region with deadly force. Using your arsenal of unique magical abilities and combat skills to infiltrate enemy fortresses and outsmart armies, you progress through the game by recovering ancient relics, reviving crew members and uncovering clues to lead you ever closer to Mordecai’s stash.
The overarching narrative provides context for your main missions though there is a range of side quests, challenges, and character-related stories to follow in between. After selecting a mission at the map table, it’s time to choose your crew members. New crew members unlock as you progress, and each of them has a set of distinct abilities you can use to reach your goals. Next is picking a spot to dock your ship. This is a crucial decision because each mission takes place on an open region map with multiple ways to approach and plot your path to the exit.
Once you have anchored the Red Marley, the adventure begins. From the dock, you can choose any number of paths, interact with the environment, use your character’s skillset and loadout and take advantage of specific enemy weaknesses to overcome the Inquisition’s settlement. Missions primarily focused on stealth and strategy, but the sheer number of options available means that each island is a playground open for the player to experiment with.
A core aspect of experimenting in Shadow Gambit is the game’s “memory” mechanic. With a quick button click, Captain Mordecai takes a spectral snap-shot of your current state and saves it as a memory. If your plan of attack goes to shit, if you’re suddenly spotted or if you make another fatal error, you can quickly reload a memory and try again. As somebody who does not have a lot of experience with the stealth genre, I really appreciated this feature. It meant that I could test out interesting but risky strategies without tanking the progress I had already made.
Despite my lack of experience with “stealth strategy,” I still found the Shadow Gambit’s core gameplay easy enough to grasp. The control scheme seemed somewhat clumsy at first, but after conquering my first mission, I found that switching between characters, skills and making sure to capture memories at just the right time came naturally to me. If you don’t take to new mechanics and control schemes easily, a rich tutorial system is in place to help you master the basics and learn more advanced techniques. Captain Mordecai will conjure an optional tutorial level and challenge room for new character abilities and universal mechanics. Here, you can learn the ropes, refine your skills against simple enemies and put them to the test with frequent tips from the Captain along the way.
Successful completion of missions is a very rewarding experience. Though I think the game could benefit from some additional loot, I still felt notably satisfied each time I ticked a goal off of my to-do list. Depending on your difficult settings and your familiarity with the stealth genre Shadow Gambit: The Cursed Crew will provide you with at least 30+ hours of gameplay with plenty of replayability so that you can test out new paths and new tactics for each mission.
I don’t think I would have felt quite as invested in my performance at the end of each mission if I hadn’t been so enamoured by the game world of Shadow Gambit: The Cursed Crew, however. While not groundbreaking nor breathtaking by any stretch of the imagination, Shadow Gambit: The Cursed Crew is a stunning game with a very charming art style that generates a rich and encompassing fantasy world that feels spooky and magical but oddly grounded at the same time.
Despite characters such as Suleidy, the half-plant ship doctor, or Quentin, the headless treasure hunter being so boldly bizarre, the characters’ exceptional voice acting, in-depth backstories, and quirky personalities made them feel authentic and compelling. However, I would have liked to have seen more diversity and detail in the Inquisition. The game hints at some interesting lore but never quite provides enough detail. Ultimately, the Inquisition felt fairly lifeless and repetitive. There are several different enemy models with different attributes, titles and roles, but the majority of enemies are visually similar and lack personality. The contrast, I found, was particularly obvious because of the level of effort put into the dialogue and lore attributed to the crew of the Marley Red.
Overall I had a great time with Shadow Gambit: The Cursed Crew and will definitely be more inclined to pick up other stealth-strategy titles in the future. I had no performance issues with the game during my playthrough on the Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S, either. Each mission is decently replayable, particularly if you want to achieve a better result or lower completion time. Still, I don’t think I’m in a hurry replay the entire game – at least not for a while.
If you are, like me, pretty green when it comes to stealth strategy games, Shadow Gambit: The Cursed Crew is an excellent introduction to the genre that may even convince you to dive into some of Mimimi Games’ other titles. If you’re a seasoned stealth master, the generous number of difficulty options are sure to offer you an appropriate level of challenge in the somewhat spooky but seriously fun, colourful and often comedic world of the Lost Carribean.
Shadow Gambit: The Cursed Crew is available now on PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X|S and PC. You can also download a free demo of the game for PC right here.
With mildly eldritch themes, eccentric characters and tongue-in-cheek humour reminiscent of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, Shadow Gambit: The Cursed Crew has a little something for every type of player. It's not perfect, but Shadow Gambit is just plain fun, and if it can convince a gung-ho, guns blazing player like me to give patience a stealth a go, I think a lot of other gamers out there would do well to dip their toes into these waters.
Rich, detailed and visually stunning game world
Compelling narrative with well-written and performed dialogue and a colourful cast of characters
Gameplay is simple to understand but challenging to master
Enemy units can lack depth and feel somewhat repetitive