From Sea of Thieves to Assassin’s Creed Black Flag and the sadly delayed, but still promising-looking Skull and Bones, we’re seeing a lot more pirates in games lately. Nevertheless, we wouldn’t typically think of pirates alongside terms like ‘stealth’ and ‘tactics.’ Strategy game Shadow Gambit The Cursed Crew, set to launch on Steam and Epic Games Store in 2023, is set to change that, combining the swashbuckling aesthetic of our favourite pirate hits with the thoughtful planning of XCOM and the swift execution of the Hitman trilogy.
Playing from a top-down perspective, in Shadow Gambit you control a small crew of cursed pirates sailing an alternate version of maritime era South America. With swords sticking out their chests, flesh missing from their arms, and a range of fantastical abilities, the eponymous Cursed Crew have a pronounced Pirates of the Caribbean vibe. But Shadow Gambit is no straightforward action-adventure – developed by Mimimi, the studio behind Desperadoes 3 and Shadow Tactics, this is a thoughtful, timing-and-execution-driven strategy game.
Confronted by a series of enemy bases, your job is to infiltrate, plunder all the treasure, then stealthily get back out. Each member of your crew has a unique ability. Afia, the apparent captain, can pull the aforementioned cutlass out of her chest and use it to instantly zip over to enemies and stab them in the back. Mr Mercury, the ship’s caretaker, can burrow underground to avoid passing patrols, or use his pet fish to distract sentries before skulking past them.
And then there’s Gaelle le Bris, an undead gunner who carries an old ship’s cannon, and can use it to launch her teammates into otherwise inaccessible areas. She can also do the same with enemies – if there’s a guard in the way, Gaelle can dump him in the cannon from behind and fire him out of the way somewhere without triggering an alarm.
There are eight characters in total, and they’re each used in conjunction with Shadow Gambit’s time manipulation system. Under certain conditions, you can freeze time while you plan your next move or instantly rewind if you’ve made an error and blown your cover. The result is an intuitive mix of sneaking, planning, and quasi-turn-based combat, as you manoeuvre each crewmember into position before strategising and springing your trap.
In the meantime, you might want to try some of the other best pirate games, or maybe the best stealth games on PC. Alternatively, take a look at the most promising upcoming games you can expect this year.