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The RPS Advent Calendar 2023, December 18th

Is a ghost ship a ship full of ghosts, or is the ship itself a ghost?

A close up of Horace the Endless Bear looking at a big pile of presents with his name on, next to a plate of cookies with a glass of milk. It's the 2023 RPS Advent Calendar!
Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun

We've reached another day on our Advent Calendar, shipmates! Yo ho ho and a bottle of stealth!

Arrr, me hearties, it's Shadow Gambit:The Cursed Crew!

A female pirate leads a poetry jam inside a pirate ship  in Shadow Gambit: The Cursed Crew
Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun/Mimimi Games

Katharine: It's almost criminal that Shadow Gambit is to be Mimimi Games' last outing, but hey, what a corker to go out on, eh? In this stealth strategy game about a motley crew of undead pirates fighting for their freedom against the tyrannical Inquisition, you still stalk, stab and very possibly shoot your way to victory, undoing the dastardly plots of your foes one unsuspecting corpse at a time.

It helps that you've got such a fun bunch of (literally) rotten ne'er-do-wells to help you with your quest, too, from the teleporting Afia whose cutlass resides handily in her chest, to blind sharpshooter Teresa, the cannon-wielding Gaelle, skeleton sushi chef Toya, ghostly body-snatcher Pinkus and many more. The exact order in which you enjoy their lethal exploits depends on who you choose to revive first, however, giving you unprecedented freedom in a Mimimi game in how you approach your quarry.

The same goes for its open-ended island maps, too, which are a riotous blend of eye-catching tropical flora, dashed shipwreck debris and high-security outposts where supernatural treasures are guarded day and night by low-level acolytes, diligent commissaries captains, and powerful prognositcar priests. Sure, you'll visit these islands multiple times over the course of your 30-odd hour voyage in this magical archipelago, but each mission brings with it a different challenge, letting you pick your entry point (and exit) to the island, and with your objectives often taking you to different pockets of the map from where you were before. Throw in day and night-time missions, and each island is constantly being cast in a new light, encouraging you to switch up your tactics and think outside the box.

Zagan stands next to a stunned guard on top of a tower in Shadow Gambit: The Cursed Crew
Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun/Mimimi Games

It's not just masterful stealth missions that Shadow Gambit excels at, though. Throughout your adventure, you'll gradually unlock side stories for each crew member that mostly take place within the confines of your talking magical ship and home base, The Red Marley. They're quite throwaway little tales compared to the main missions, but these colourful interludes are so winningly daft that you can't help but eat them up. When I began playing Shadow Gambit, I did not expect to teach a strung-up fish to be a student assassin by the end of it, for example, nor did I ever think that I'd be leading a skeleton poetry jam in the ethereal belly of The Red Marley's Tardis-like innards, but there you are.

Really, though, it's the way Shadow Gambit incorporates and plays with its own mechanical systems on a narrative level that makes this the undisputed pinnacle of Mimimi's short-lived catalogue of games. Quick-saving and quick-loading have long been part of a Mimimi game's DNA, but Shadow Gambit is the first to really go to town with that concept and make it a key (and brilliantly conceived) plot device. I was prevented from telling you exactly what that was when I wrote my review back in August, but even now, I feel this is something you should experience with as little foreknowledge as possible. Just go and play it - honestly, you won't be disappointed, and be sure to pick up its two just-released expansions while you're there as well. They're proper good, they are, and a fitting swan song to this tactical, stealthy masterpiece.

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Shadow Gambit: The Cursed Crew

PS5, Xbox Series X/S, PC

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