- Puzzles are for the most part, genius
- Clever mix of ideas
- Story progression is handled well, introducing new ideas each stage
- Good presentation and soundtrack
- It’s not called Stealth Bastard anymore
- No share options for Level Editor
While Stealth Inc: A Clone in the Dark may have lost it’s slightly more controversial title since it launched on Steam last December (Stealth Bastard: Tactical Espionage Arsehole to give it its full name), Curve Studios have now brought the stealthy platform puzzler to PSN and thankfully it’s quite clear from the off that none of the quality has been lost in transition.
It’s quite hard to describe what Stealth Inc actually is, as throughout my playthrough, I was constantly reminded of a variety of different games. Cosmetically it’s a 2D Splinter Cell, our leading “Clone” even has the signature night-vision goggles rested on his bonce. At its very basic level it in fact does share a lot with Sam Fisher’s espionage-tinged outings, hiding in shadows makes you invisible to the numerous drones scouting each level. The eye wear in question lights up to indicate whether you’re hidden or in plain sight, crouching behind blocks and calculating your next move are the key tools from getting point-to-point.
It comes into its own by doing nothing else remotely similar to your usual stealth game. The Clone can’t kill, the only damage you’ll do is collateral as a result of a box being dropped to solve a sticky situation. Despite the premise, Stealth Inc. is first and foremost a puzzle game and one that’s takes pride in making you stop, think, scratch your head and work out what the bloomin’ hell you’re supposed to be doing.
At first it’s deceiving; I’ll admit that during the first stage (consisting of 8 levels plus 2 bonus ones), I was wondering whether the whole hide and seek concept could really hold out for the promised 80 levels. In reality it probably wouldn’t, but thankfully the story progression is handled beautifully, with a completely distinct feel in each one. Stage one simply sees you hiding in the shadows, dodging a few drones, shifting a few boxes, and generally taking a nice little stroll in the park.
Before you know it, you’re having to trigger light beams, tread carefully across sound-emitting floor pads, and make temporary green light grids appear to use at platforms to get to the goal. The way each new theme is introduced is brilliantly done, there’s always just the right amount of one thing before it’s put into the background and something completely fresh is introduced. The objective is always the same; simply get from the start to the exit. The trouble is that the door is locked tight, normally needing several terminals to hacked (littered across the level) in order for it to open.
Stealth Inc feels like it borrows tiny elements from other games but uses them in a way in which it’s put its own spin on them. I needn’t tell you what ominous blue portal puzzles reminded me of, but the focus is rarely on physics and just a matter of planning, preparation and fast reactions. The way enemies are used to solve puzzles has a hint of Braid (albeit without the time-warping element), you’re often needed to manipulate their stomping ground in order for them to walk over switches that clear your path. Think of them as your own little herd of sheep. A little herd of sheep that will kill you should they cast their eyes upon you.
While casual players can stroll through the majority of levels at their own pace, the more devoted can strive for the S Ranks on each. They require levels of speed, reactions and perfection that most human beings dare dream of, and only making use of skill-inducing equipment can you put a good run together. Oddly, alternate suits and equipment are dished out on a per stage basis, so while a camouflage suit is unlocked after stage one, you’ll need to unlock it again on every level. Still, I guess the logic here is that you’re playing the game as it’s supposed to be played, without any cheaty game-breakers used from the off.
While there are a good number of levels (not even including another 20 available as DLC), the more devoted can get stuck into the Level Editor. This is probably the only area of the game I felt was a little bit underwhelming. The editor itself is fine; you can drop in your switches, bots and beams with no hassle and have a working level in no time at all. The problem comes with the lack of share options; you can make the best level ever but only you’ll be able to play it. It feels a bit like conducting a symphony in an abandoned warehouse.
What’s consistent throughout though is the quality of the presentation. Visually it doesn’t strain every part of the PS3 or Vita’s innards, but the deceivingly cutesy style coupled with cartoon gore make for a tight, stylized package. That’s accompanied by a pumping electro soundtrack that suits the constant on-edge feeling you get while tip-toeing around the various drones and obstacles in your path.
Stealth Inc has come out of nowhere to be up there with my favourite PSN games of the year. The puzzles are more often than not genius, and the way the gameplay is constantly switched-up means that you never get to the stage where you feel like you’ve had enough. While the Level Editor is something that could’ve been expanded upon, the story and the challenge it presents on its own is enough a reason enough to give it a go if you’re looking for a new kind of puzzle game. My biggest complaint is that it isn’t called Stealth Bastard anymore (thanks, Sony), which sums up the amount that the game does wrong in a nutshell.