Platforms: PlayStation 3/PlayStation Vita (Stealth Bastard available on PC/Linux/Android/OS X) Developer/Publisher: Curve Studios Genre: 2D Stealth-Based Platformer Platform Played: PlayStation Vita
Electronic beats rise around me, reminiscent of a night on the town. This club is different though. The wall up ahead is coated with blood, one stain forming a single world – “why?” I cautiously move ahead, experiencing the intense feeling of being watched. Several cameras are perched high up on the building, the goggles on my head stay green, telling me I am out of sight. What is this place? Why am I here? Where is the exit?
Up ahead is a computer console. The shadows remain my home, but the computer is within the light. My foot reluctantly steps into the light, causing my goggles to beam red. Before I can react, I am killed in a flash of light. Almost simultaneously, like the world is mocking my own rookie mistake, texts begin to form on the blood stained wall – “Am I making this too hard on you?”
This is the world of Stealth Inc. A Clone in the Dark: a world where the intense environments aren’t afraid to mock your idiotic mistakes.
Curve Studios is the development team behind Stealth Inc. (better known as Stealth Bastard on PC), which is a stealth-based 2D platformer. We take control of an unnamed clone that must undergo a series of tests. These tests are the levels throughout the game. Little is revealed regarding the testing facility itself, as the narrative is almost completely left to the side; gameplay is king. Though the narrative is all but absent from the game, we are given a surprisingly memorable ending. Without spoiling anything, the conclusion definitely left an interesting twist in my mind, taking everything I thought I knew about Stealth Inc. and throwing that out the window. It was an ending I wasn’t expecting, and since narrative was lacking, the ending was impressive.
Stealth Inc. includes 64 levels spread out over 8 different sections. Players can unlock 16 more levels by receiving S ranks on previous stages, or by finding collectibles; it definitely gave me a reason to keep playing after the final credits rolled. Visually, Stealth Inc. sticks to a similar colour palette and design throughout each of the 8 sections. Even though this means that these sections have similar visuals, it actually makes sense that the same facility would look alike. The visuals offer a crisp look, appealing and complementing the game’s intense atmosphere. Impressively, the game lacks any sort of loading times between deaths, or levels. This is appreciated since you will die a lot (like, seriously) and the friendly checkpoint system kept frustration at a bare minimum.
When you first start Stealth Inc. you will notice right away that Curve Studios has not eased you into their stealth-based platforming. They ramp up the difficulty fairly quickly, and I actually found the start of the game to feature some of the harder sections, as you learn the fundamental rules of the game. Curve has made incredibly precise controls that allow for fine-touches to jumps and movements, leaving you to blame yourself for any death you encounter along the way. Your main gadget to help progress through each stage are your stealth goggles, which brilliantly help you determine if you are in full view of enemies with simple colour coded visual ques. If your goggles are red, prepare to die. Each level is a thinking man’s puzzles; I found it was always best to check out all my avenues to success, before attempting to solve the puzzle at hand. Curve Studios does a great job at making you secure and intelligent, before ripping the rug beneath your feet with new gameplay mechanics.
Variation in Stealth Inc. comes in the form of these new mechanics as you progress through each section of the game. You will constantly be introduced to new types of dangers that you must outsmart to get to your goal, such as pressure plates, teleportation fields, enemy robots, and many more. What makes Stealth Inc. great is how it allows you to gradually understand these new mechanics before ramping up the difficulty. Completing each challenging puzzle as your advance is made rewarding because you feel like you have outsmarted the game. However, the game will constantly belittle you if you happen to die from making silly mistakes: pieces of texts will appear on the environment pointing out your amateur manoeuvres. This mechanic constantly made me want to improve my previous effort, to prove the game wrong. It incentivised in a strong way, making the satisfactory of victory that much sweeter.
Stealth Inc. also provides a great atmosphere; there is intensity to each level as you sneak your way around, hoping to survive a few more seconds. The atmosphere is complemented by an incredible electronic soundtrack that provides a futuristic vibe during levels. It felt like the environment, the audio, and visuals all worked in one cohesive package that made the entire experience a pleasure. Never have I died so many times trying to solve a puzzle, yet I never found myself frustrated or on the verge of rage quitting. The atmosphere and the great audio make the experience pleasurable, even if you are struggling to conquer the latest challenging level.
After completing each level you will be graded on the number of times you were spotted, how long you took to complete that level, and how many times have you died. Stealth Inc. also includes online leaderboards, allowing you to compare your ratings with your friends and other players around the world. The only issue I had with this was the fact that the game continuously expected an internet connection. Playing mostly on Vita, I was in and out of the game most of the time. Yet each time I would come back and start up the next level, the game would try and reconnect to the internet, stopping the experience. This happened constantly, and could be quite annoying for someone playing their handheld out in the wild. Players won’t find this issue on their PlayStation 3 and as the game has Cross-Buy/Cross-Play functionality, it’s really up to you to decide if this is a deal breaker on which system to use.
Stealth Inc. also includes its own level editor, where you can create your own levels using the same gameplay mechanics you encounter. Creating levels is easy, as you have quick access to the items you can use. However, problems arise due to lack of information. The items you can use are not explained well, as you only get a small image of that particular item and its name, meaning that it is hard to find the correct item you may be looking for. The other issue is that these levels cannot be shared online, meaning that if you don’t have the talent to create levels, this feature is all but useless. If, however, you can create levels, these stages will be restricted to your personal consoles. Stealth Inc. would greatly benefit from a LittleBigPlanet style sharing system, but it is nice to at least have the option there for players that want to use it.
Stealth Inc. A Clone in the Dark is a challenging platformer that will not only appeal to platforming fans, but also stealth enthusiasts. Picture a brilliantly constructed Metal Gear Solid puzzle game. If that sounds appealing to you, then A Clone in the Dark might be up your alley. It has every inch of polished quality you expect from a great title, plus interesting mechanics that constantly make the experience fresh and difficult. You will die a lot, but you will be too busy enjoying the experience and the game’s impressive soundtrack to even care.
Curve Studios has developed an amazing title, one that will challenge even the very best of players.
+ Incredible electronic soundtrack
+ Precise controls
+ Challenging levels
+ New gameplay mechanics keep experience fresh
– You cannot share levels online
– (Vita) Constant WIFI notifications may intrude