PlayStation Network gets a new puzzle game download that requires the platform prowess of Mario and the sneaking skills of Solid Snake.
Despite how illogical and silly most console names end up being game publishers tend to be much more sensible about titling their products. We don’t want to think about how much money the marketing teams behind such safe, unthreatening names as Watch Dogs, Titanfall, and Destiny were paid, but while these names might not necessarily attract anyone they’re unlikely to put them off either.
Which is more than can be said of a game called Stealth Bastard – and that’s not a dig at stealth gameplay not being to everyone’s taste.
Of course indie developers don’t tend to employ branding execs, but even so British company Curve Studios has obviously realised that a name change was needed if the game was to be released on consoles. But now that it’s got one everyone can enjoy the excellent mix of 2D platforming, puzzle-solving, and stealth – and with the added confidence of being able to say its name out loud in public.
There’s no real storyline in Stealth Inc. but the context is made perfectly clear without any need for complex cut scenes or voiceovers. You’re a clone, one of an apparently infinite number being run through a series of macabre tests – like a more bloodthirsty version of Portal.
But ultimately the only person that’s learning anything from the tests is you the player, as you practise the wide range of skills necessary to complete the game’s gleefully difficult array of levels. Apart from the occasional boss battle the goal of each level is simply to hack a computer terminal and open the door to the exit. But blocking your way is an array of maze-like platforms and air ducts, most monitored by CCTV cameras.
If a camera spots you it will, at best, shut all internal doors (potentially crushing you inside them) and at worst turn on an instant death laser to burn off more than just your tattoos. However, the cameras can be bypassed if you’re hidden by darkness and many of the puzzles revolve around moving obstacles to create shadows.
The stealth elements are cleverly thought out but the 2D visuals don’t always portray the interaction of light with the objects around you in a very convincing way. The whole game is extremely abstract of course, but it’s sometimes difficult to grasp where the shadows are meant to be coming from.
Like any good puzzler though you soon begin to learn its own peculiar logic and as new elements such as robot guards are introduced you begin to appreciate just how clever the level design is. From cameras that react to sound rather than vision to the introduction of a second clone who you end up sacrificing as callously as the puzzle’s creators would destroy you, the game is seldom short of new ideas.
Your successes and failures are both mocked by comments projected onto the wall, as an unseen observer jokes about you making a ‘common mistake’ or a gives a guarded compliment that you’re ‘starting to show potential’.
Despite the constant series of deaths and the fact there’s only really one solution for each stage the game never really frustrates, since you restart instantly just a few steps behind whatever killed in. What does irritate though is that each stage has to be completed in sequence, and so if you get stuck on one level there’s really nothing else to do until you beat it.
Stealth Inc. is a little on the expensive side for a PlayStation Network download but it’s a cross-play title, which means you get both the PlayStation 3 and PS Vita versions for the same price. There’s also a wide range of unlockables – including extra characters and special equipment such as a Total Recall style hologram – and a level editor.
None of the individual components are original or unusual in themselves but the combination of skills needed to beat the game is almost unique. Dying is rarely much of an inconvenience in video games but in Stealth Inc. it’s all part of the learning process.
In Short: A clever mix of puzzle, stealth, and action that manages to avoid most frustrations thanks to a constant stream of new ideas and a knowing sense of humour.
Pros: Excellent level design, tight controls, and plenty of variety – including some particularly challenging boss battles. Plenty of unlockables and even a level editor.
Cons: The simulation of light and shadow often doesn’t seem to make much sense. Linear progression means getting stuck on one level locks out the rest of the game.