Platforms: Windows, OS X, Linux, Android, PlayStation 3, PlayStation Vita (reviewed), PlayStation 4, iOS
Stealth Inc.: A Clone in the Dark (formerly known as Stealth Bastard on PC) is a game that tries to blend platforming, puzzle solving and stealth into a challenging, yet accessible package and for the most part, it does just that. While I’m a big fan of both platformers and puzzle games, I’ve never been too keen on stealth in games. So I went into Stealth Inc. curious, but skeptical. Fortunately, much like last year’s Mark of the Ninja, Stealth Inc. handles the stealth aspects in a very user-friendly manner.
The character you play as, one of a number of clones, is outfitted with some pretty sweet stealth goggles and these will be vital to your success. As you traverse levels, these goggles will shine green (hidden), yellow (partially visible) or red (fully visible), depending on how concealed within the shadows you are. Thanks to this, you’ll always know just how visible you are, so there’s no pointless guess work (and inevitable frustration) as seen in some other stealth games. Level design also lends to this user-friendly nature as well, as each enemy has a clearly defined area of vision, so if you pay attention you’ll always know where you stand when it comes to the stealth.
Much the way stealth is handled, the puzzles in the game are well designed and quite intuitive. Stealth Inc. is broken down into 8 separate “worlds” (known as sectors), each with 10 levels and a unique theme. This type of design eases you into the puzzles, allowing you to learn the basics in the early levels of each sector and then getting more complicated as you progress. While I did get stumped a few times during my playthrough, figuring out the tougher puzzles always felt satisfying and logical and never purposely abstract just for the sake of difficulty. Each sector also ends with a boss level that puts all you’ve learned throughout that sector to the test. These all felt refreshing and were a nice way to end each sector, but if I had to nitpick just a bit, the difficulty felt a little uneven from sector to sector. For instance, I found the final boss level to be much easier than some of the boss levels in sectors before it, but this is just a small gripe.
The platforming in Stealth Inc. wasn’t quite as impressive as its stealth and puzzle elements, but it is more than sufficient. It took me a few levels to get used to the way it controlled and while I would have liked slightly tighter controls, it was nothing that affected my enjoyment of the game. Luckily, there are only a couple of instances in the game where your platforming becomes a crucial aspect to being successful and it may take a couple of tries, but it’s nothing that can’t be overcome. That is, unless you’re trying to get an S-rank on every level.
One of my biggest issues with Stealth Inc. comes from its ranking system. As I mentioned earlier, there are 10 levels within each sector, but two of those levels must be unlocked a specific way, one by acquiring a collectible on each of the first 8 levels and the other by achieving an S-rank on each of those 8 levels. In order to get this S-rank for each level you’ll need to complete the level in a certain amount of time, finish the level with 0 deaths and only be detected a certain number of times. No deaths is a given and while the time constraints can take some practice as you master the platforming on each level, my biggest problems come from the detection limit. In most levels this isn’t a problem, but in some levels it seems to be more reliant on luck than skill because some enemy reactions never seem to be the same twice in a row. I had the most issue in the boss levels as each boss can be very finicky in whether or not it detects you. Eventually I got sick of this hit or miss detection and with no discernible pattern to consistently follow, I gave up on getting S-ranks. So I missed out on a number of the bonus levels and felt like I didn’t get to experience all the game had to offer.
There are also a number of different suits you can unlock for your clone throughout the game, but if you use them, you are eliminated from getting an S-rank. So they felt rather pointless to me and I didn’t even bother trying or unlocking all of them, but if you’re looking to get more out of the game, each suit has its own leaderboard and offers a unique way to play the game.
The game also offers up a level editor, if that’s something you’re into. As I’ve never been the kind of person that builds my own levels in games, I didn’t touch it. So I can‘t really comment much on it, but it’s there if you’re interested.
Stealth Inc.: A Clone in the Dark is a great game, with a great sense of humor (the ending definitely makes it worth playing to completion) that blends platforming, puzzle solving and stealth gameplay nearly perfectly. It offers up 64 intelligently designed and challenging levels as you progress through the game, with another 14 that can be unlocked in special ways (if you’re better than me). Unfortunately unlocking some of these levels requires you to achieve an S-rank on the 8 levels before it and getting these ranks comes down to luck far too often. That said, even if you don’t get to experience these bonus levels, the base game (which is cross-buy on PS3 and Vita) is well worth your time and money and something I’d recommend checking out.