Stealth Inc.: A Clone in the Dark Review
Amazing level design; Wit pouring out from everywhere you look; Smooth, understandable gameplay; Sharp and detailed graphics; Unlockables
Huge missed opportunities on some smaller features
Not Just Another Clone
After seeing much success with their 2D stealth platformer Stealth Bastard on the PC, Curve Studios (the minds behind smash-hit Thomas Was Alone) decided to take a trip down a strange road. The team began work on an HD remake exclusive to the PlayStation Network, and retitled the game Stealth Inc.: A Clone in the Dark. While managing to sustain a ‘screw this game’ difficulty and still be extremely frantic and fun, Stealth Inc. shines as one of the most polished and well thought-out platformers, bringing character to a genre that has thousands of worthy competitors.
As far as stories go, there isn’t one. You play as a nameless clone who goes through test chambers in a Portal-esque fashion. Along the way you might run into a few fellow clones here and there, but they play out solely as game mechanics. The only personality you’ll see throughout the entirety of the game is a set of omniscient, often-cynical writings in the background. These often serve as learning points or a tongue-in-cheek tutorial, and all of them carry a fantastic sense of humor. Equally funny and helpful, they provide brief comic relief to tough sections of gameplay.
You’re never told why you’re going through these tests, and you really don’t need to be. The focus is entirely on smooth gameplay, and for that reason, the ending caught me off guard â€” I won’t spoil anything, but the brilliant finale had me laughing maniacally.
Stealth Inc requires you to do two things: First, figure out how to get through a level without dying. Especially in the latter levels, this will take a decent amount of trial and error to learn all the caveats of the stageÂ â€” what tripwire deactivates a laser, which door a button opens, so on and so forth. It’ll take brain power, exploration, and a hell of a lot of deaths, but when you finally see the solution through the diverse mechanics, you’ll get a satisfying feeling of accomplishment. But that just leaves the second part…
…having the skill to pull it off. Â There’s a few things you’ll need to simultaneously juggle when navigating a level. Â Death traps (such as laser beams) are common, but Stealth Inc takes a page out of Metal Gear Solid’s book and encourages the player to stay hidden as often as possible. By taking advantage of the shadows, keeping quiet footsteps, and staying out of the enemy’s visibility, your clone will have a much easier (and much less bloodier) time. Your main objective is usually to hack a varying amount of consoles in order to open the test chamber’s exit door. While deaths will be a frequent occurrence, a dynamite checkpoint system guarantees you’ll never lose too much, and it stifles frustration levels completely.
Over the course of eight chapters (each with ten total levels), Stealth Inc. breaks up any potentially monotonous gameplay by constantly adding new mechanics. While the first fifteen levels or so may not take much effort, the difficulty quickly ramps up with the inclusion of teleporters, tripwires, buttons, robots, sound pads, elevators, and much more. The gameplay matures as you progress andÂ never onceÂ felt stale, with the mechanics constantly being reused in fresh and exciting ways. All of these mechanics might be daunting to understand, but they’re dispersed throughout the chapters perfectly; you’ll never feel overwhelmed and, even though the game might be brutally tough at times, itÂ neverÂ feels cheap.
Graphics & Sound
On the original PC release, Stealth Bastard did NOT look bad at all. Textures, lighting, and animation were all well done. Curve Studios decided to up the bar, though. Stealth Inc. streamlines the blocky look of the original and gives it a noticeable high-res coat of polish. It’s a welcome addition, andÂ everythingÂ â€”Â from the lighting, to your clone’s movements, to enemy modelsÂ â€”Â looks sleek and shiny. It’s also extremely satisfying to see all the different ways your clone can kick the bucket (I need therapy, I know). Coupling the relatively innocent art style with explosively bloody deaths never gets old.
The soundtrack is equally enjoyable. Pinging synthesizers and chill electronic beats ring out through the menus and levels. Though they don’t come in much variety, they never lose their luster. Sound effects, like the zap of a laser, may not occur with much frequency, but they’re always spot-on.
Though I applaud the checkpoint system, it does have some weird inconsistencies. I ran into a couple of times where my progress wouldn’t save, even though I had hit a checkpoint. Occasionally, you might hit also hit a bug or two that makes a level impossible to complete unless you restart the level entirely.
Stealth Inc. also hits a few snags with some big missed opportunities. A comprehensive level editor is included, which is always cool to see in any game. But without a way to share levels within the community (although Curve has stated they WILL be patching in this feature at a later date), many current buyers won’t have any use for the feature. The game also includes unlockable costumes with unique abilities (like deploying clones). However, you can’t use any of these on a chapter untilÂ afterÂ you’ve beaten it, meaning they’re more of a fun toy than a useful tool.
As you can reasonably expect, Stealth Inc’s 64 main levels can all be meticulously picked apart to get better scores. You can strive for the ‘S Rank’ (which requires a combination of a speedy time, no deaths, and few alarms), and grab collectible helices to gain access to sixteen unlockable levels. If you’re really feeling adventurous, online leaderboards will give you the chance to top your friends and become the fastest clone in the world.
Aside from that, the game offers PS3/Vita Cross-Play support. Buy it on PSN, and you’ll have access to both copies for the same price.
If you love platformers, brainteasers, or challenging games, Stealth Inc. is an easy recommendation. There’s a ton of content to be had, and even more to collect, create, and master. Great controls, intuitive and manageable gameplay elements, and some meaty replayabilityÂ â€”Â plus, add in continued support from Curve Studios by way of DLC and community updatesÂ â€”Â make for one heck of a delightful platform hopper.