Stealth Inc: A Clone In The Dark Review
The game known as Stealth Bastard on PC has found its way to PS Vita, albeit with a watered-down moniker more in line with Sony’s more universal outlook.
A tightly designed, quick-fire, twitch puzzler/platformer, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Stealth: A Clone in the Dark was designed for the handheld from the start.
Solving puzzles with your mind and executing said solution with nimble fingers is the order of the day here. Each of Stealth’s 2D levels is short in duration, but big on smart design and just-one-more-try addictiveness. Comparisons have been made to Super Meat Boy in the past, but those don’t really accurately reflect the true nature of the gameplay on offer here.
You play a guy that resembles a pygmy leukaemia patient with goggles; a clone created specifically for the purposes of testing the deadly new equipment manufactured by a malevolent scientific institute. The idea of each test (read: level) is to get from entrance to exit without being chewed up by a grinder, blasted by a robot or disintegrated by a laser.
Predictably enough, the title being ‘Stealth’, the best way to evade such an untimely end is to avoid being seen in the first place. One of the single most important elements to learn and master is how shadows can hide you from the prying eyes of enemies and surveillance systems. In a neat visual touch, our clone’s goggles glow with traffic light colours that reflect his level of visibility: red equating to fully visible, amber partially visible and green invisible.
Getting to the safety of shadows is usually of case of working out the movement pattern of anything that can trigger the alarm, and then putting the dexterity of your fingers to the test by attempting to sneak your way past. Throw in blocks that have to be moved to create new shadows, switches that need to be pressed to open gates and robots that need to be tricked into activating pressure pads and you’ve suddenly got quite a bit to think about.
Very quickly Stealth sheds the patronising hand-holding approach of its early stages and throws you into the deep end with little-to-no assistance as to how to proceed.
This trial by fire can lead to an incredible number of deaths, however (due mainly to the more cerebral nature of the gameplay) not as many as most of us experience during the aforementioned Super Meat Boy. Still, it’s a lot and you should expect to find yourself minced up and spit out more than a few times.
Some test zones are admittedly underwhelming and do their best to ruin the experience, but the majority are well thought out and a great example of how simple ideas can turn into rewarding gameplay in the hands of a thoughtful design team. There are enough ‘eureka’ moments on offer for the diligent and the patient to keep you coming back for more.
It’s not perfect, though. Some sections require platforming skills that your avatar’s movements just don’t seem capable of fulfilling. Jumping has an unfamiliar arc to it that still didn’t feel natural or intuitive come the finale, resulting in numerous unnecessary deaths. Jumping with precision and correct timing is of utmost importance in a game such as this, so it’s frustrating that it doesn’t feel perfect.
Visually things could have been more interesting, too. While the style is appealing and fresh during the first third, the aesthetic changes little and becomes tiresome by the end. Similarly, the audio is nothing to get excited about and our clone hero has little in the way of charm.
All in all, though, and certainly considering the price of admission, A Clone in the Dark is a success. Leaderboards will keep those with a competitive streak involved and searching for ways to shave off those valuable tenths of a second, while the robust level editor adds enormous replay value for those looking to create and/or supplement themselves with new content.
Not quite a classic, but not too far off, Stealth delivers something the Vita hardly has in abundance and does so with the kind of smart game design that makes for an addictive ride.
Version Tested: PS Vita