REVIEW : El Hijo – A Wild West Tale (PC)
If there is one thing we will never forgive at the PC Gaming Show – and more generally at events and fairs – it is its rambling trailers presented in bursts, without any information or data, all thrown into a seasoned cauldron with frames. jumping from one title to another and pressing music. In that chaotic whirlwind of images and sounds it is difficult to memorize a few names and even those capable of attracting a minimum of attention are immediately confined to a corner of memory, buried by other trailers and other titles that obviously will end up in the same way.
The story told by El Hijo begins hastily and without too many frills. After a very quick explanation of the commands and a smattering of stealth mechanics inserted in a rather forced way, the events take a bad turn when the farm run by the mother and son is attacked and burned by a gang of criminals.
In short, the story remains quite smoky, some clues are scattered here and there to better contextualize the assault and unite the bandits to the religious sect but do not expect great twists or cinematic cutscenes, because El Hijo focuses on its gameplay.
As mentioned at the beginning, the work developed by Honig Studios is a stealth game, and it is one of the hard and pure ones. El Hijo and his protagonists completely shy away from violence, there is no way to stun – except in the last levels with harmless fireworks or worse still eliminate the enemies and, therefore, the only way to advance level after level and hugging your mother again means taking advantage of the countless tactical solutions proposed by the various environments explored and continuing without being discovered.
The areas range from the initial monastery rooms to dark dynamite-laden mines, passing courtyards, open deserts, trains and more. If initially these scenarios assume rather linear geometries and guide the players to the discovery of the single mechanics, with the time this straight direction is abandoned and the classic stylistic elements of the sandbox levels are embraced.
The main ally is undoubtedly the darkness, spaces in which you can move more or less free to get around the guards, and then maybe hide inside a jar and wait for the bandit on duty to give us his back.
In short, the levels are real playgrounds to be exploited and explored at will, breaking pots or bottles, throwing down poles to build improvised bridges and escape the monk who was chasing us, until you get to create simple paths on tracks abandoned to quickly escape from a mine.
Next to the possibilities offered by the very good level design, there are then the various tools made available to the two protagonists. In the child’s pockets there is thus space for a sling, an indispensable ally for shattering lamps, a spring-loaded toy that will keep the enemies occupied for sufficient time or, again, purple fruits which, exploding, create a momentary cloud of smoke behind which hide.
Honig Studios has carefully studied the various solutions proposed by the most famous stealth games and, with well-calibrated game design choices, has managed to avoid the most annoying obstacles, one above all the sense of frustration after yet another failure. The guards follow pre-established patterns in which there is always a weak point to exploit, they never indulge in actions impossible to predict and, by pressing a special button, their visual cones are immediately displayed.
In a positive overall picture, however, there is room for some shadow too much, this time not one of our allies. What El Hijo lacks is, first of all, that touch of elegance and refinement seen in the recent Desperados III or Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun, to which is then added an easily circumventable artificial intelligence and, at times, right on the verge of stupidity.
A guard whose lamp breaks exactly under his nose will get up to check what has happened but then will return to sit in his chair staring into the dark, as if that precisely thrown stone had fallen from the sky without any hand to have it. hurled. Worse still when you start moving carts, pulling levers and changing all the other elements of the scenario, oddities that do not shake the stoic opponents.
Due to this AI that is far from brilliant, the challenge level is generally set downwards and, mysteriously, it does not even stick to a normal crescendo, with some levels placed towards the final part much more affordable than the previous ones. The only element of the challenge is the other children scattered around the scenarios, who can be inspired and who in return supply the protagonists’ stocks about the various gadgets. In short, an extra boost for completists, but an addition that slightly varies the judgment on the overall difficulty.
True complexity arises only from commands that are not always quick and that tend to give the worst of themselves in the wrong moments. The most annoying failures arise while you are lurking safely behind a shelter, which unfortunately betrays when you try to climb over it only because the action of the jump mysteriously conflicts with that of lowering. Likewise, aiming with the slingshot can become a titanic task when the crosshair starts to get stuck on objects placed at different heights.