In both 2D and 3D, platform games are nearly as old as gaming itself. While this ensures a rich library of games, it does make it somewhat difficult for a title to stand out on its own. Stealth Inc: A Clone in the Dark is a creative and unique addition to this classic genre. Released by Curve Studios as Stealth Bastard Deluxe on PC, Mac, and Linux in 2011 to warm reception, the rebranded version of this game now comes to the Playstation 3 and PS Vita. Fusing stealth with traditional hallmarks of the platformer genre, Stealth Inc offers innovative gameplay that is both challenging and excitingly addictive.
What Braid did for platform games with manipulating time, Stealth Inc does with shadows and light. Staying in the dark is crucial to surviving and getting a higher score at the end of each level. An indicator at the bottom of the screen lets you know if you’re fully visible, partially visible, or practically a ghost. Your character’s goggles also reflect the status of your visibility—turning red, orange, or green, depending on your status. The challenge of staying hidden varies in a refreshing and versatile way. Some levels require you to move with shifting shadows, while others involve the controlling of platforms to cast new shadows in order to hide from cameras or robots and to reach new areas. Getting spotted by a camera or robot can either result in death or a lower score depending on the circumstance. The game’s stealth mechanic is not as punishing or hard-core as a big-budget stealth title like Metal Gear Solid or Splinter Cell, but rather uses it in a way that works with the platform genre instead of feeling like an added feature that may make gameplay more frustrating.
What also helps is that the stealth mechanic doesn’t turn this title into a one trick pony. There are many other elements to the game—some of which don’t require stealth at all. Avoiding robots, floating cameras that fire lasers, triggering platforms by crossing laser beams, and teleportation ports are some of many challenges this game puts forth; add to that the collectible helices which are sometimes in plain sight, and other times completely hidden. The mix up and fusion of different challenges creates a dynamic experience that prevents the game from getting stale. Things get more complex by means of mixing up different elements and challenges as opposed to using the same ones repeatedly and simply requiring you to make it through the level faster.
The attention to detail in the game and the overall feel is executed well. From the often-humorous messages displayed on the wall such as “This will all be worthwhile…assuming that you survive,” “I’ll be amazed if you do this,” and “You’re making me look bad,” to the game’s music which is not only fun to listen to, but changes every time you start a level—preventing annoyance at hearing the same track over and over again—it’s a fun experience that eases you when you’ve died for the 20th time in a row. The controls are also straightforward and work well with the PS3’s controller. But with this genre, unless you’re adding drastically new features, it’s hard to mess up the controls when running, jumping, and crouching are really all you do. Overall, the game is well polished, looks and plays great, and feels modern.
There were a few things that disappointed me during my time with Stealth Inc. One of which was the fact that the game is a single player only experience. While many gamers may not be phased by this at all, it was a bit of a let down for me. I could see some great potential by allowing for a second player either locally or online. This was also disappointing given that the game comes with a fantastic level creator. With no way to share the levels online or to play your custom levels with someone, it seems like a wasted feature. The fact that I can’t share my own levels definitely dissuades me from putting the time into creating new challenges—especially since the person creating their own levels would know how to complete them; it’s kind of like asking yourself trivia questions that you already know the answer to. I also found myself wishing that there was a dedicated button for dropping down and climbing up ledges. Various parts of the game require the player to hang onto ledge by sort of falling off and quickly turning around. While it’s not necessarily a difficult thing to pull off, you will fall often—even when you think you’ve mastered it. This makes some moments a bit more frustrating as opposed to challenging and could have been solved with a simple dedicated command.
Fans of platform games that missed this title when it came out on PC should definitely look into this for Playstation 3 or Playstation Vita. A nice bonus to buying the game is that you get two copies for both systems. So if you own both a PS3 and a Vita, you don’t need to get the game twice; with a cloud sync feature, you can take your progress with you on the go. With 80 levels, leaderboard listings, a level creator, and unlockable gadgets and features, you can get some pretty good mileage out of this title. Despite being a solitary experience with some parts bordering on frustration here and there, Stealth Inc is a fresh take on a classic genre and shouldn’t be missed.