Developer / Publisher: Curve Studios
Platform: PS3 & PSVita (reviewed); Also available on Linux, Mac & PC as Stealth Bastard
Price: £7.99 (Cross-buy)
I’m not really a fan of 16-bit style games, the pixel art doesn’t generally interest me, I grew up gaming on Commodore Amiga and Sega Mega Drive. Having been back and played Sonic 2 on PS3 I feel it hasn’t aged well and is frustratingly hard. Feel free to call me a snob but I feel games have grown up, so I can’t say I was expecting to be taken a back by the renamed Stealth Bastard for PlayStation. I was so wrong it’s not funny, but the game made up for it by killing my Clone, over and over as punishment.
Stealth Inc. has you controlling a single clone, navigating through complex mazes of a platforming nature, solving puzzles to allow you to reach the exit, sounds so simple doesn’t it. The nameless lead reminds me of Riddick with his signature goggles, which are a key feature as they change colour depending on your visibility in your surroundings: Green for hidden; Orange for partial visibility and Red for sticking out like a hammer struck thumb. You have to control this cute looking character through varying traps, cameras, gun turrets and deadly robots that look like top-hats, trying to stay as invisible as possible. If you’re spotted by a camera it may lock down all the exits, until you become hidden again, or run through a guns beam and it will render your character into a shower of blood and guts, thankfully being instantly replaced with one of an infinite amount of clones at your last checkpoint. The levels have a feel of the scene in Resident Evil Extinction where Mila Jovovich‘s character is trying to escape the facility, killed by lasers and another one is released, learning from the past clone’s mistakes to progress. I spent a great deal of my time dying, then rethinking how to get past a specific obstacle to the next switch, or making sure I time my jumps better or use the shadows in the level to remain anonymous. The lighting in this game is brilliant and essential, being able to use the dynamic effect to remain hidden from cameras glare. Sometimes by moving blocks or doors to change the shadow coverage in areas to aid safe passage to the exit.
Unlike Curve Studios previously published Thomas Was Alone, this game doesn’t have the same kind of compelling story. Though it does have some semblance of a omnipotent watcher, who appears to be observing your clone character’s progress. This unseen entity spends part of the game encouraging you or disparaging your failures through the medium of wall projections. These are unusually amusing and add to each test chamber, in very GLaDOS style, added to the End of Chapter corporate messages has a very Aperture Science vibe. There are other clones running around the test chambers that occasionally, hit switches to open a door for you and aid you on your journey, more so in the final chapter.
I love the way the game is structured, each chapter is broken into seven standard multi room levels and eighth which could be classed as a boss battle. These Sentinels survey single room areas and require getting past a massive laser gun, with the ability to detect you through motion sensing, delivered via waves of green light eminating from it’s centre. If your clones movement is detected the deadly turret swings round and aims it’s death ray, usually resulting in instant death, unless you’re hidden. There’s a ridiculous level of replay value and reason to go back to each level due to the rating system. Based on a 3 star rating for the least number of times spotted, the amount of times killed and time taken to complete the level. The latter rating you against the rest of the world, adding a competitive element that encourages replay.
Sadly I feel Curve have missed a trick by not allowing you to compare against friends, mainly as my times haven’t been good enough to reach the top ten. The replay value is extended further by allowing you to select abilities that may aid your speed through the level by placing a decoy to distract gun turrets, a rapidly traversing a level through the use of portable teleports.
I also went back to each level to try and obtain a green Helix jar, some are in plain sight, whilst others are hidden in secret crawl spaces, or only revealed after certain conditions are met. Adding a little sub puzzle to these levels, collecting all in a chapter opens up an extra level, which isn’t easy. Certain levels I had to go back numerous times trying to figure out where the Helix was hidden, or how to get it without dying. Achieving a very challenging S rank opens up another bonus level, bringing the total to ten levels per chapter. The game may well be damn tricky in parts, but due to the check point system and the ability to skip 3 levels on the title screen you can see it through. I loved the reward for completing all the main levels, as the ending made me genuinely laugh.
As a surprise bonus, the game supplies rather functional level editor. Another trick missed by Curve could have been the ability to share these levels with the world, either in a similar way to Soundshapes or via PSVita‘s shamefully under used Near functionality. That said considering they are a smaller Developer and publisher these things would have taken a lot of time and extra expense, and may not have been exploited by most gamers. I feel this extra cost would have needed to be passed on to the consumer and probably resulted in people being put off this rather special little game.
Stealth Inc. A Clone in the Dark is not perfect, due to some incredibly high difficulty spikes, one of which caused me to reach out to Curve Studios on Twitter . The music is functional, but becomes very repetitive quickly. The controls are simple and tight, so failure always feels like it’s due to your poor timing. The use of Cross-buy and a working Cross-save, make it perfect for jumping on to the PS3 to continue your game when the PSVita is on charge, then resuming playing on the daily commute, sunshine permitting. I actually felt it looked as good on TV as on the PSVita‘s lovely OLED screen, and I loved the filter on the image making it look like the refresh rate on a CRT display. I’m surprised this game doesn’t feature a Platinum Trophy especially considering the challenge of trying to achieve S Ranks on all levels, and like Thomas Was Alone there is sadly only one trophy list split across both platforms. The additional of Teleport Chambers levels DLC, which came free if you bought the game in the first two weeks in the EU. These extra levels add more gameplay, challenge and additional trophies.
I feel the game missed a few additional features but the warm fuzzy feeling this game gave me of my teens playing Another World, Flashback and the sense of humour of Oddworld: Abe’s Odyssey, is a well worth the purchase. As long as you have the patience to play-through it, because it’s not the quickest game to finish, even harder to master the scoreboards and S ranks, with a timing requirement that seems to shift on a daily basis. It is perfect one more go gaming, making Stealth Inc. A Clone in the Dark, exceptionally superb value for money.
Review copy with DLC supplied by Curve Studios, images used with permission, taken by the reviewer using the PSVita’s screen grab function.