Stealth Inc. A Clone In The Dark doesn’t quite have the same ring to it as Stealth Bastard, but Curve Studio’s trade-in of the original eye-catching name for a rather dull sounding play on Infogrames’ once popular survival horror title, certainly hasn’t affected the enjoyable mix of platforming and puzzle-solving that made it so popular as a freemium title.
Available as part of the cross-buy initiative (available on PS3 and PS Vita for the price of one), it’s actually a big shame that the name was dropped because the words ‘Stealth Bastard’ actually sum up the game pretty well. You see, Stealth Inc. is not an easy game to master; in fact – and here’s our chance to swear and get away with it – it’s a real bastard.
Players control a robotic clone through a variety of test chambers/obstacle courses filled with deadly traps in order to get from ‘A’ to’ B’. Retro-style graphics (a frequently used description for ‘created on a budget’ and ‘arty’ in the world of indie titles) make it look dated but clever level design and good use of light and dark to force tactical play ensures there’s plenty of fun to be had out of this addictive 2d platfomer.
Gameplay consists of increasingly difficult stages comprising of short levels or test chambers that can take less than a minute to complete should you work out the exit strategy quickly. Each chamber is a timed challenge and the quicker you reach the exit the better the rank you gain and the higher up the global online leaderboard you rise. Through there’s no real narrative to speak of, Stealth Inc. has a spy theme as you attempt to avoid the glare from CCTV cameras, dodge lasers and hack terminals to escape each level while in control of a robotic, goggle-wearing clone.
The spy concept translates into stealth play which has given Curve the perfect excuse to make excellent use of light and shadow. Consequently, players spend plenty of time sneaking through the shadows and trying to stay in the dark to progress through levels undetected. Step in the light and you get fried by lasers. Consequently, death is inevitable and frequent, and as levels become more intricate and dotted with traps the challenge gets tougher. As a result, come the end of stage two, you’ll either be banging your head up the wall and searching frantically online for a video walkthrough, or you’ll revel in the challenge and just won’t want to let it beat you.
The toe-tapping electronic music plays hypnotically in the background and a timer ticks away in your peripheral vision both giving you a sense of unwanted urgency. Yet Stealth Inc. is largely about standing still and thinking before you move. Surveying the surroundings and working out as quickly as possible a safe route to the exit. In a similar vein to Metal Gear Solid’s stealth sections, there’s a fair amount of observation involved as you watch the patterns of the moving light sources and robotic sentries and then move swiftly into dark areas where you can’t be spotted.
Logic, timing and luck all play a part while traditional platforming features, such as the ability to crouch, jump up to ledges and push objects around the environments in order to activate pressure switches or reach a platform, make gameplay instantly accessible and comfortably familiar/predictable.
Despite the time-worn feel, however, level design is excellent and the clever use of light and dark makes most levels unpredictable and very challenging. The challenge culminates at the end of each of the eight stages with a boss battle against a Sentinel in an area full of light traps and trigger points that set off lasers. Having to work out how to avoid the glare of the Sentinel and escape the level really taxes your brain and there’s a real feeling of satisfaction gained from completing a stage.
There’s also some decent extra content too. Unlockable powers give you access to gadgets such as an anti-light shield or a camouflage suit to give you a helping hand, while an in-depth level editor allows you to create new levels. It’s rare in a such a modestly-priced game that you see a fully-featured editor, but in Stealth Inc. you have all the tools to make a complicated level full of moving platforms, pressure switches that trigger light sources and a whole lot more. The only downside is the lack of a good tutorial and the fact that you can’t share these levels online.
Due to the fact each level is fairly short, Stealth Inc. has instant pick-up-and-play appeal and its familiar controls make it very accessible. As such, it suits Vita much more than PS3 because you can play it on the move in short bursts rather than spending a huge chunk of time in one go getting frustrated. Make no mistake about it, Stealth Inc. is a challenging game and as a result you’ll either love it and fight tooth and nail to get to the top of the leaderboards, or want to forget that you ever bought it within ten minutes of booting it up. As for us…we do like the challenge.
Note – we’ve amended this review after we claimed that the PC version was free. The PC version is not actually free. A freeware version exists but it has totally different levels to this new release.