At a glance...

Reviewer Platform Publisher Developer Players
Matt Bailey PS Vita Curve Studios Curve Studios 1
Requirements Also on...
None. PS3

Stealth Inc: A Clone in the Dark review

Stealth Inc: A Clone in the Dark is one of a selection of indie games that have helped me to fall in love with the PS Vita in recent months. Since April we've had the likes of Guacamelee!, Thomas Was Alone, Velocity Ultra, Hotline Miami and Limbo, with many more to come this summer. Games like these have made the Vita my main gaming platform, and with Stealth Inc it's almost alarming how often I've picked up the handheld and found myself putting in an hour or two while in the garden, spread out on the sofa, or lying on the bed.

Can you see me?

Can you see me?

At first glance it might be easy to dismiss something like Stealth Inc because it joins a long-running series of 2D side-scrolling games which have been part of the indie insurgency of the last few years, and even puzzle-based ones have become rather commonplace. What the indie scene has shown, however, is that there are a lot of interesting ideas still left to explore in a genre which either weren't considered or weren't possible in the 8-bit and 16-bit eras. It's also one thing to have original ideas, and another to deliver them in a polished and enjoyable way, and that's something that Stealth Inc does rather well. Each block of levels, known as a sector, introduces a new mechanic to the game which is usually a new technique to either kill you or stop you getting to the necessary switches.

The goal is to get your clone through a testing facility without being killed by the rather trigger-happy robotic guards or the precarious environment's traps that wouldn't pass through British health and safety standards. As the name suggests, stealth is your primary focus; through all the difficult jumps to pull off and the switch-based puzzles to solve, the key to success is to remain unseen. There's a message at the bottom of the screen about whether you're visible or not, but it's usually pretty obvious if you're in the shadows or fully exposed. Most of the enemies only attack when they can see you, and even then only if they are close enough to fire, so running away to a darkened corner is a valid strategy. Stealth becomes more difficult as those new mechanics are introduced, such as robots which use sound rather than sight, or light bridges which prevent you but not your foes from proceeding.

You get rated by three different criteria and then ranked online

You get rated by three different criteria and then ranked online

As you progress through the sectors the challenge tends to increase, but there are some unexpectedly frustrating spikes in some levels, where you will being trying and trying again just to get past one small section. Funnily enough, Stealth Inc originally had a different name, Stealth Bastard Deluxe. As the PC game made its way to PlayStation platforms Curve Studios reached out to its community to come up with a more sanitised nomenclature, and while I understand the reasons behind it, it is a pity the change took place because "bastard" is just one profanity I found myself shouting (in my head) as my clone gets killed on the same laser beam twenty or thirty times over.

The challenging sections join a trend in indie games, to have a bit more of a challenge as a counter to the perception - rightly or wrongly - that most mainstream big budget games have been dumbed down to appeal to a wider audience. Stealth Inc certainly doesn't make things easy for you, with many difficult surprises lurking around its dark corners, ready to catch you out. But the deaths are part of the game's charm, as messages which appear on the backgrounds as you proceed openly mock your failures, and show surprise at any progress you make. It's partly this humour which helps you get through the game's more frustrating moments, in addition to a sense that it really is possible to succeed that is successfully curated in the early levels. For context, I've struggled to make much progress in the otherwise excellent platformers Super Meat Boy and VVVVVV, and yet here I've found myself compelled to continue, finding it difficult to resist picking up the Vita for one more go.

Death is so close...

Death is so close...

Stealth Inc is not only fun and humourous, but it looks great too. Maybe it's partly the Vita's fantastic screen that is helping, but the game does look better than its PC original, and a side-by-side comparison let's you notice the fact that all the characters are more detailed and the animation is improved. The visual style, with a strong focus on dark areas and glowing lights, as well as Metal Gear Solid-style camera arcs, was already looking great but looks even better here. With tight controls on the Vita's D-pad, it's worth owners of that first version having a look at the new life it has been given here.

If you manage to get through the eight sectors of the main game there's still more to do. For a start, every level has a bonus collectable and also gives you a ranking, so you might want to try again to pick up what you missed, to complete it quicker, or maybe try dying fewer times. You might be compelled to complete a level quicker as each one has an online leaderboard that's placed right in front of you on the level selection screen, encouraging you to try to do better. Maybe you want to play the level again to try one of the unlockable clone variants who posses extra abilities. The DLC pack, "The Teleporter Chambers", which was already available on the PC is already on the PlayStation Store and will be joined by two exclusive packs later in the year. They focus on new mechanics, because if you just want new levels then there's even a level editor included with the game, with a promise of a future patch to allow you to share those creations online.

Glowing lights everywhere

Glowing lights everywhere

It's a compelling package, made even sweeter by the inclusion of "cross-buy" support. While I have been focussing on the PS Vita version because that's where I played it the most, Stealth Inc launched simultaneously on the PS3, and if you buy one version you get the over for free, with built-in support for synchronising progress via the cloud. It still looks great on the TV, and the DualShock 3 D-pad is also excellent for navigating the levels, but if you have a Vita, I would recommend putting it on the handheld so you can enjoy Stealth Inc wherever you go. Its level structure suits the short bursts of play common on a handheld, but it also lasts well if you play twenty levels in a row.

Ratings

Overall Stealth Inc is an addictive and enjoyable puzzle platformer that suits both the PS3 and the PS Vita well. It's challenging, and can occasionally be frustrating, but you always want to make more progress. 9/10

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