Platform: Wii U
Developer: Curve Studios
Stealth Inc 2 is adorable. Playing as a cute cuddly clone, we'll scamper around a toy factory and frolic with a host of lovably rounded robots, all while trying to save our friends and equipping some silly outfits. On Wii U, no less. Aww. Ain't it precious?
No. Don't be fooled, because under Stealth Inc 2's winsome premise beats the sadistic ruthless heart of a Bastard.
A Stealth Bastard to be precise. Curve Studios' flagship franchise may have been renamed to appease the console censors, but the sequel is no less brutal, murderous and punishing than its predecessors. Thrown into nightmarish challenge rooms stuffed with lasers, security bots, cameras, crushers, saws and intricately designed traps, we'll die and die and die in an attempt to overcome the odds, using both fast fingers, on-the-fly brainpower and bona fide stealth skills to eventually triumph.
Half brutal execution challenge a la Super Meat Boy and half devious puzzle platformer, Stealth Inc stands out from the crowd by being a genuine stealth game too, underpinned by light, shadow, evasion, sound and grappling mechanics that quickly become second nature.
Having spent years helping other developers get onto consoles, the indie angels at Curve are back for another round, and it's bigger and tougher than ever.
Our tale begins late one night at the PTI Testing Facility, a toy company proving ground so dangerous that an army of disposable clones (who are also stealth operatives, because PTI happens to have a surplus of Happy Meal freebie goggles lying around) are required to act as unpaid fodder. A burned-out workaday employee decides to run one last test to try and beat his rival, but ends up accidentally freeing a surprisingly capable clone who attempts to escape and free his brethren. We're that brave clone, of course, and set about exploring the facility and using our stealth skills to advantage as our nemesis constantly attempts to put us down from the control room.
As a story, this setup doesn't really hang together. Shockingly amateurish animated cutscenes do a poor job of advancing the plot, which serves to confuse as opposed to hook us in. Exactly what are PTI supposed to be testing? Aren't we actually proving that their products work? Why do we keep running test chambers rather than orchestrating an escape?
Worse, though, it declaws one of the game's most unique visual hooks, in that the constant text taunts that flash up on the environment used to address us directly, acting as a conduit between Curve and ourselves, filling us with both dread and righteous anger. Now that it's just the ravings of some underpaid employee, it's nowhere near as effective.
As a premise, though, it's a great excuse to introduce us to the setting before loosing us into the facility itself, which acts as an overworld of sorts. Rather than just browsing a menu to advance to the next test chamber, we'll explore an expansive environment that cleverly teaches us the stealthy basics on-the-fly, stuffed with hidden secrets that encourage us to backtrack once we've acquired more experience and new gadgets.
It's easy to become disoriented if you put down the game for a while, but the useful GamePad map is usually robust enough to point you in the right direction. Some sections set outside the base, enormous gauntlets of cameras, robots and gantries, feel like a fully-fledged stealth game in its own right, and we'd dearly like to see more of this in a third sequel.
All-told, the overworld is a fantastic addition to the franchise, and one that rewards us with a host of addictive outfits to boot. Personally I favour a stylish Pineapple Samurai number.
By far the biggest new addition to the franchise, however, are the new gadgets. We've got a host of new toys to play with this time around, from a deployable platform that doubles up as an offensive weapon, springboard and counterweight to teleporters that allow us to swap position with enemies or access new areas. The new Jack Boy lets us take control of security robots and use their weapons to progress, while a cloning device doubles your fun.
They all unlock new avenues of exploration and discovery in the overworld, but they come into their own in the test chambers, which are even more imaginative, deadly and difficult than their forebears. Each gizmo has multiple uses, many of which are completely unexpected, and the game gradually teaches you imaginative new ways to wield them via trial & error and thoughtful level design.
Yes, the test chambers are better than ever. Tough, brutal and unforgiving, they're still a joy to progress through as the levels evolve in increasingly unpredictable and intricate ways, full of 'Eureka Moments' as the solution suddenly slaps you across the brain. Like a cryptic crossword, you'll eventually get into Curve's heads and start romping up the leaderboards (I'm still number 1 on one of the Sentinel boss battles at the time of writing! It won't last.), then crow about it on MiiVerse.
Better yet, Stealth Inc 2 is far more replayable than the original due to the addition of optional clones to save in each level, hidden away in the darkest corners and requiring even more dastardly solutions to access. Half puzzle and half execution challenge, Stealth Inc 2 is once again the poster boy for that good wholesome kind of frustration that keeps you glued to your controller as opposed to hurling it through your telly.
Well... in the main. Unfortunately, while the new gadgets grant us a whole host of exciting new gameplay opportunities, they also bring a number of irritating issues. The first of which boils down to basic workflow; as opposed to a radial wheel, the linear gadget selection menu forces us to tab through all the options before reaching the one we want. Thankfully the game pauses, but it's still a real bugbear.
More critically, however, getting these gadgets to where we want them can be problematic due to cumbersome analogue aiming and a slippery lack of friction. All too often you'll know how to complete a solution, yet end up restarting several times because the aiming and deployment is imprecise and finicky. It just doesn't gel with the pinpoint precision of the regular controls, and though not a dealbreaker, occasionally failing through no fault of your own can be immensely aggravating especially during timed sequences.
The Adventure Light gadget also misfires. Being able to carry and deploy a torch to illuminate the environment and activate photo-sensitive diode switches might sound like a good idea, but in practice, most of its test chamber and overworld sections just plunge the stage into pitch darkness and obscure what you're supposed to be doing. Imagine trying to solve a jigsaw puzzle in a pitch-black room with a pen torch held in your teeth. That's what we're talking about here; not being able to see the whole puzzle isn't enjoyable in and of itself, it's just adding an extra layer of inconvenience.
Nevertheless, there's still a huge amount of quality content here, and if you don't like what's on offer you can always create and download your own! Stealth Inc 2 features a fully-featured level editor at launch, allowing you complete access to all the enemies, hazards, textures and logic commands. Wii U GamePad integration makes for the easiest and most convenient experience since the PC original, though I can't help but wish that Nintendo had splurged on a multi-touch screen for pinching and dragging. A tutorial probably wouldn't have gone amiss either, but I'm not going to look an infinite amount of future content in the mouth.
- Tough and compelling puzzle platforming, execution challenges and stealth gameplay
- Great new gadgets, intricate level design and fascinating overworld to explore
- Comprehensive level editor with handy GamePad integration; fun local co-op
- Handsome retro aesthetic and soundtrack
- Gadgets can be aggravatingly finicky to select, aim and deploy
- Lots of trial and error; overworld can occasionally become disorienting
- Light-based puzzles are annoying rather than challenging
- Underwhelming storyline, amateurish animated cutscenes
The Short Version: Stealth Inc 2 is another magnificently frustrating bastard of pure stealth, brutal platforming and satisfying puzzles with a sadistic sense of humour. Though the new features and gadgets come with a few drawbacks, they ultimately expand on the gameplay experience in imaginative new ways, while exploration and content creation bulk out the challenge rooms into a cohesive package.
8 – GREAT: Great games typically provide competent production values with a degree of innovation, personality and soul that's sometimes absent in titles that score lower. Or even just exceptional raw value on top of competent execution. There'll usually be a little something to stop games like these from reaching the very top - innovative but slightly flawed, fun but not groundbreaking - however you can buy games that score 8/10 with confidence.