Best Stealth 2023: Shadow Gambit – The Cursed Crew

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(Image credit: Future)

Going out with a bang, Mimimi's final game, Shadow Gambit, was our favourite stealth game of the year. For more awards, head to our Game of the Year 2023 page.

Phil Savage, UK Editor-in-Chief: Since 2016, Mimimi Games has been single handedly keeping the stealth tactics genre alive. Its first game, Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun, spent years in our Top 100 off the strength of its clever cast of characters—all of them adding fun tactical twists to the job of sneaking silently through a huge, hostile map. Its second, Desperados 3, did justice to one of the major games of the genre's early '00s heyday.

This year, it released Shadow Gambit: The Cursed Crew, and it's easily the studio's best work. Previous games had some quirky abilities, sure, but this time you're in charge of a band of undead pirates with a full suite of magical powers—every character widening the possibility space of how you approach the challenge ahead.

The basic structure is the same, but finely honed. You'll crouch in bushes, checking guard patrols and sightlines and slowly engineering your way through. More than character abilities, the best tools for the job are your quicksave key and the ability to synchronise actions to take out multiple guards in one absurdly satisfying keystroke. It's slow and methodical stuff, and absolute catnip for stealth fans.

Unfortunately, Shadow Gambit is also the studio's last game. Shortly after the release of Shadow Gambit, it announced that it was closing up shop. But what a game to go out on—the perfect expression of the formula it's been working on for the last decade. A true statement that there's still life in an old, mostly forgotten genre.

Fraser Brown, Online Editor: In Desperados 3, I was never happier than when I was controlling Isabelle Moreau. Instead of being a gunslinger, she used occult powers to control enemies and critters alike, making her the team's most creative problem solver. In Shadow Gambit, Mimimi completely embraces the liberating impact of supernatural shenanigans, giving us control over a whole team with abilities just as playful and powerful as Isabelle's. The result is the strangest and most flexible game in the studio's catalogue.

Teleporting duelists, cannoneers who can hook friends and enemies alike and drag them around the map, a magical fish that distracts enemies—every single character brings something weird and wonderful to the table, blessing each mission with so much playfulness and experimental potential. That Mimimi is no more, after releasing such a joyful stealth tactics romp, is one of the biggest disappointments of 2023. But at least it got to go out on such a wonderful high point.

(Image credit: Mimimi Games)

Lauren Morton, Associate Editor: I'll own up to the fact that I haven't actually played Shadow Gambit yet, but since we're sort of memorializing Mimimi's work in total I've got to say this is some of the best stealth work out there right now. On the axis of stealth simulation to stealth puzzle, Mimimi's games lean to the latter with intricately built stages filled with overlapping guard view cones, restricted areas, and environmental hazards. They build wonderfully non-linear puzzles that give you pick of your path through all those obstacles, offering just as much reward for players who bust in loud with a high kill count as those who pull off seamless, silent infiltrations.

It's a damn shame this is Mimimi's last game, so I'm glad they at least got to show us their range. From ninjas to cowboys to pirates, they really gave us all the usual suspects.

Jody Macgregor, Weekend Editor: Ninjas and cowboys are cool and all, but undead pirates are absolutely my jam. I was always going to enjoy Shadow Gambit because of that, but it turned out to be an even better undead pirate dream cruise than I was expecting.

Your crew are all ridiculously over-the-top, from the Cannoness—who carries around a cannon, of course, and loads corpses into it with an amazing foonk sound—to the treasure hunter who distracts enemies by leaving his shiny golden skull where they'll see it. The pirates' quirks are expressed through stealth powers, but also between missions in side stories you work through, chapter by chapter. The ship's doctor, for instance, who incidentally is a botanist half made of plants, spends her downtime curing your ship's skeleton crew of the surprising number of ailments they suffer from, including "soul scurvy." Seeing how her story unfolds is as gripping as the larger plot about confronting the undead-hating Inquisition, because every part of Shadow Gambit is just dripping with personality. Also brine. But mostly personality.

Phil Savage

Phil has been writing for PC Gamer for nearly a decade, starting out as a freelance writer covering everything from free games to MMOs. He eventually joined full-time as a news writer, before moving to the magazine to review immersive sims, RPGs and Hitman games. Now he leads PC Gamer's UK team, but still sometimes finds the time to write about his ongoing obsessions with Destiny 2, GTA Online and Apex Legends. When he's not levelling up battle passes, he's checking out the latest tactics game or dipping back into Guild Wars 2. He's largely responsible for the whole Tub Geralt thing, but still isn't sorry.

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