Platforms: Xbox One (tested), PC, PS4
Developer: SMAC Games
Publisher: Mode 7
Release Date: Out Now (PS4 in July)
Tokyo 42's action takes place in bustling, brightly-coloured cityscapes laid out like delicate dioramas, but the neon-lit sights disguise a seedy criminal underworld.
Civilians move freely, swarming over the world like ants on an errant doughnut, forming crowds to navigate and when the bullets start flying, cover to soak up enemy fire.
It's okay though, death isn't as permanent in the world of SMAC Games' stylishly old-school, Syndicate-inspired thriller. 'NanoMeds' make death impermanent... "generally speaking"... a handy excuse for the lead character to jump into a world of assassination and organised crime.
The unnamed protagonist has been framed for murder, and with the help an exposition-spouting friend called Tycho, this setup will get them get closer to the truth as a deeper conspiracy slowly takes shape.
Murdering people to clear your name of murder might strike as odd... because it is. And coupled with the NanoMeds plot addendum Tokyo 42's story doesn't exactly get off to the strongest of starts. Eventually it finds a comfortable, if not gripping gear, as new characters - more charming than Tycho with his bad jokes and punchable face - are introduced.
In terms of how it plays Tokyo 42 gets off to a much smoother start, introducing a set of interesting mechanics gently without overwhelming players early on. It begins in the protagonist's apartment, with the player quickly discovering they've been framed and fleeing the police closing in.
A starter area then introduces the terminals that dish out main and side contracts, all of which reward players with money and an enhanced reputation within the world of assassins, which in turn grants access to new contracts and better items. The game also sets up how portals for faster travel work, electricity pads needed to charge the ability to change outfits and shops.
Contract missions might order the player to take out individuals or entire groups, and the means of doing so may be specific. Players might be tasked with killing a heavily-guarded sniper at close range, playing two groups in a stand-off against each other or taking out an entire gang while riding a motorcycle.
The game is at its best though when the player is being pursued rather than directly engaging enemies themselves. The best moments come when, having killed a target, the player must flee to collect their reward. One shot kills ramp up the tension and the zoomed-out viewpoint gives players ample view of where to go, how to possibly lose an enemy and where an advantage or hiding spot might be found.
At the core of the game's action are dual stealth and gunplay mechanics. The former relying on slow movement and quiet weapons, anything else drawing the attention of all and sundry. Buildings are laid out with plentiful overhangs and ledges to provide a light platforming element, if players want to avoid a more direct confrontation up staircases or elevators.
The best bet for quiet approach play is evasive movement and the katana, but as with the use of the majority weapons, with the twin-stick shooter set-up, accuracy with a controller is often tougher than it ought to be.
Perhaps with the guns this is by design, to make shoot-outs more dynamic and unpredictable, and on PC the issue may well be less profound with a mouse and keyboard, but when it comes to melee weapons killing an unaware target should be simple when the player is directly next to them - and often it's not. Even if it is intentional with ranged weapons, it's still frustrating, particularly when it becomes apparent players can't easily shoot at targets above or below them but enemies can.
At times, Tokyo 42's action can be thrilling, clearly inspired by the earliest Grand Theft Auto games and, to name a more modern example, Hotline Miami. Gunfights turn into one-hit bullet hell-style encounters with cover and its particularly good when moving through the world quickly, jumping from building to building and landing on rooftops like it's a Jason Bourne arcade game.
That said, this quick traversal across this futuristic Tokyo does reveal a problem with the way players view the world.
Everything is seen from an isometric viewpoint, but one players can change by rotating through eight incremental angles. The act of moving the camera isn't a problem itself, but how far the camera is zoomed out does provide challenges. As mentioned, the wider angles gives players a good idea of where they are and where they can go in the world, but judging jumps and obstacles is often difficult and the ability to zoom in closer to the action would be welcome.
Multiplayer mixes the core stealth and action elements of the single player. Limiting the action to two to four players and taking place on much smaller maps, it removes a need for frantic camera angle changes and the struggle of taking on large groups. Lobby hosts get to set the type of game played - limited to deathmatch for now - and customise the number of kills needed to win and the number of civilians wandering around each map. This is crucial as, to stand a chance of winning, players need to blend in with the crowds as they look for their opponents doing the same.
The cat-and-mouse play is helped by a literal cat, called a 'trackacat', which tracks down and highlights opponents, forcing them to break from the slow-moving animations of the NPCs. The methodical pace of multiplayer certainly makes it a unique proposition, one fans of the single player will certainly relish.
Tokyo 42 has been sold on the strong, vivid visual design of its world, but how player's view it is at the root of the game's biggest faults when it comes to play. The isometric angles and transitions between them often hinder smooth movement and a player's understanding of where they are in the world.
When the game comes together as intended, it serves up inventive missions with the thrills to match its obvious influences, but those moments are broken up too frequently by frustrating design choices.