Platforms: PS3 | PS Vita (PSN, cross-buy)
Developer: Curve Studios
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Stealth Bastard: Tactical Espionage Arsehole was named to shock, but utterly enthralled players long after its novelty moniker wore off. Taking the best gameplay components from twitch platformers and stealth games, Curve Studios released an utterly stonking genre hybrid for the bargain price of absolutely no money whatsoever, following it up with the sensational Stealth Bastard Deluxe that bullied its way into contention for best indie game of 2012.
Thanks to Sony's indie initiative, the unique puzzle platformer has now found a new home on PS3 and Vita with enhanced visuals, extra content, cross-buy, inter-device cloud saves and an inoffensive new name. It stands to reason that Stealth Inc: A Clone In The Dark should be brilliant, then, so the fact that it is comes as no surprise whatsoever.
If you're a sucker for punishment with fast fingers and brainpower to spare, consider yourself taken for the remainder of the summer.
In case you haven't already pored over our Stealth Bastard Deluxe review (or spent hours playing the game after picking it up in the Steam sale), here's the premise. As a paunchy clone stealth operative created by a shadowy security company, you'll leap, clamber and sneak your way through an enormous selection of platforming gauntlets. Numerous pitfall traps demand split-second precision and timing, much like a slightly podgier version of Super Meat Boy, but Stealth Inc's unique draw comes from its deceptively deep stealth mechanics. Clue's in the name, funnily enough.
As you jump and grab your way through the 60-odd levels, you're gradually introduced to an array of sneaky new gameplay elements that add plenty of Splinter Cell-style chicanery to the formula. Keeping to the shadows stops you from being detected by cameras or security robots, while manipulating scenery or timing runs to create your own shadows becomes paramount. Automated security can hear your footsteps on certain materials, forcing you to expertly balance speed with subtlety. That's just the tip of a laser-sensing, terminal-hacking, ledge-grappling experience that constantly evolves in new and interesting ways. Though you'll initially learn each new gameplay element as a means of evading detection, you'll quickly realise that you sometimes have to subert the mechanics to suit your ends, such as relocating security bots to trigger switches or actively attracting them towards you to progress. As a bona fide puzzler in its own right, Stealth Inc presents an emphatic fusion of twitch gameplay and satisfying logical deduction.
The original Stealth Bastard was so-named because it was "bastard hard," and Stealth Inc certainly doesn't shy away from twisting the knife. Then jumping up and down on it. And goosing you. Countless traps will crush you into kibbles without warning. Lasers will dissect you without mercy, and robots will shred your paunchy clone into pate more times than you'd like to admit. Thankfully, due to the responsive controls and logical puzzles, repeated deaths almost always occur because the player wasn't quite fast enough or didn't think through a puzzle solution as laterally as they should. Frustration will occur, but it's the wholesome kind of infuriation, that sweary tear-inducing self hatred that keeps you glued to the screen as you muster all your personal resources to finally beat a level... and then return to it with a leaderboard-crushing speedrun. Stealth Inc absolutely has that 'just one more go' factor, even if you find yourself detesting Curve Studios from time to time. "Arghglarblef******dammit. AGAIN!"
Stealth Inc's unique and eyecatching art design helps it stand out from the pack. It's a perfect middle ground between detailed and minimalistic, between florid and functional, with every interactive scenery element and visibility level clearly highlighted while spoiling players with a moody colour palette and expressive sprite art. Better yet, a steady torrent of abuse is aptly provided by menacing messages projected onto the walls, a stream of epithets designed to rile up your blood and finally show Curve Studios who's boss by beating the level and crushing their leaderboard times. As such, Curve only had to enhance the graphical fidelity and add higher resolutions to ensure that it still looks good at on HD televisions and the Vita's luscious OLED screen. Shock horror: it does. Notably improved lighting rounds out the package from a visual standpoint.
Personally, I actually prefer playing it on Vita, as the tough yet relatively short levels make Stealth Inc a perfect fit for a handheld format (and, again, everything looks better on that screen). It's worth noting that you can effortlessly utilise cloud saves to continue playing between your Vita and PS3, a simple matter of hitting Square while browsing menus. Since Stealth Inc is also a cross-buy purchase, you've got little reason not to.
European players should immediately make a beeline for the PSN store, from which they can grab the 20-level Teleporter Chambers DLC pack for free until August 7th. There's also a powerful level editor included in the package, which is rather tricky to use unless you source some FAQs, but eventually allows you to build some impressive death rooms of your own. Uploading and sharing levels with the online community was one of the most impressive features of the original Stealth Bastard and its Deluxe version, but unfortunately this functionality is nowhere to be found in the review build. Without any ability to share your creations, why bother with the level editor in the first place?
UPDATE: Curve Studios has confirmed that "it WILL be possible to share levels, we’ll be patching that feature in sometime in the next month." Music to our ears.
- Tough and rewarding stealth/platforming fusion
- An enormity of content
- Upgraded visuals look great on an HDTV or Vita screen
- No community level sharing at launch [UPDATE: coming next month]
- Level editor is fiddly and confusing without sourcing FAQs
- Staggeringly tough in places
The Short Version: Stealth Inc's title may have been watered down, but this is otherwise a gorgeous and full-fat revamp of Curve Studios' majestically brutal stealth platformer. Vita owners should waste no time in jumping on board with one of the best (and only) exclusives of the summer, while cross-buying PS3 players have no excuse not to start dying, swearing and dying some more.