Monday 5 August 2013

Stealth Inc: A Clone in the Dark Review (PS3/Vita)

Written by Bradley Marsh

Originally called Stealth Bastard, the game was given the name change for the Playstation release, however it is still a bit of a bastard to play as it offers up one of the most challenging experiences on the system.

The idea of the game is to simply get to the exit. Well, we say simply, as it is anything but simple. All manner of deadly traps will be between you and the exit and generally there to make your task as difficult as possible. Yet like many stealth games, you have various tricks to make your way to the end.

Shadows are the order of the day, as cameras and the like won’t be able to see you, there is also a handy little visual indicator as your goggles light up green when hidden and red when visible. Using the shadows is just small part of it, as levels start off fairly simple, but soon become ultra complex as you try your hardest to move without being spotted.

The difficulty shares a lot in common with a game like Super Meat Boy, but the mechanics really do set it apart, as it becomes less of a pixel perfect platformer and relies more on your ability to think on the go as you plan your next move. In some levels, switches may need to be hit in order to open up other areas to get to a terminal to open the exit. All the time having the various traps, robots, cameras and more trying to spot and destroy your clone.

Each level is graded with a rank between D and S, with the rank you get depends on three main things. The time it takes to complete a level, how many times your clone dies and how many times he is spotted. Basically get through the the level in the quickest time possible, without dying or getting spotted and you get an S-Rank. Easy right? Well not at all, it will take multiple attempts to perfect a level, learning the layout and the movement of the enemies, trying to get the quickest and most efficient route to the end.

Completing levels and getting certain ranks unlocks the various enhancements to your clone, such as decoys, camouflage and more. Choosing the right equipment for the right level can make all the difference, especially in the later levels. Happy with that S-Rank? How about online leaderboards per level that will show up straight away how you compare to the rest of the world. Leaderboards are split too, for simply best time and best time with equipment attached.

Aside from all that, each level also has hidden treasure known as Helices, which add yet another level of difficulty. The Helices are not easy to collect, some may be easy to find, but reaching them is a whole other ball game and again, getting a perfect run whilst getting the Helice isn’t possible, so yet more runs are needed. At the end of each sector you are given a rundown of just how well you have performed, with an over view as to total time, deaths and times spotted.

Each sector also has a boss level, which even early on isn’t simple and requires you to use all the skills learned from previous levels to beat. The first levels act as something of a tutorial, with hints explaining the different mechanics, which become intuitive from the very moment you try each one.
What works with a game like this, as it did in a Super Meat Boy, is that no matter how difficult a level appears, you know what you have to do and how to do it. Each failure is down to something you did wrong, no blame on the controls or the game cheating you. Death is met with instant restart at the last checkpoint, again something that is vital for a game that requires you to try over and over.

You will try things again and again, it is how the game is designed. It wants to challenge you and challenge you it will. The complexity really grows as you progress with many levels including backtracking that you’d expect in a game more akin to Treasure Island Dizzy. Hit a switch to activate a door, then go somewhere else to hack a terminal before going to another switch. Using all those technique to both avoid robots, or use them to your advantage.

Levels that initially seem impossible just start to make sense as you feel your way through, learning how one thing affects another. You will not breeze through Stealth Inc, even levels that look easy on first inspection can be difficult to work through. Then working out how to get through that same level without being spotted, killed and in the quickest time will test you to the limit.

There is a built in level editor which brings you all the assets used by the developers for the main game. It is possible to lose hours to the editor, however levels are local only and being unable to share them seems like somewhat of a missed opportunity. There are so many possibilities as to what can be created in an editor that can match that of Trials Evolution. It is really the only down side to a wonderful game.

Stealth Inc: A Clone In The Dark is a special game and one that shows off the sort of thing the Vita was made for. A game that is simple to play, both in quick bursts or for hours on end, that offers up a challenge and doesn’t hold back just because it is on a handheld, At just £7.99 you will struggle to find another game that offers as much content for the price. This is one game that won’t be hiding in the shadows for long.


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