Stealth and time trials are hardly a proper pairing. Steady, methodical play dominates the stealth game genre, punishing players for attempting to rush even slightly. Stealth Inc.: A Clone in the Dark from Curve Studios tries to balance the two, placing an emphasis on barreling through stages at breakneck speeds while still maintaining that rigid, no room for error style of design that makes stealth so damn tough and intoxicating. And it works – for the most part.
(It should be noted that Stealth Inc. is an enhanced port of the PC game Stealth Bastard, specifically the improved Deluxe version also developed by Curve Studios. All the content is the same between them, Stealth Inc. sporting better visuals being the main difference. If you’ve played Stealth Bastard Deluxe already, there’s nothing new here.)
Stealth Inc. puts you in control of one of many clones created by a company named PTi Industries to run a series of tests. Dangerous tests. Like, gantlet of death-style tests – with deadly lasers, turrets, enclosing walls, etc. You know: the good stuff. What for, who knows. Company notices suggest some sinister business going down behind the scenes, blood stained walls and decaying skeletal remains indicating the lowly treatment your kind receives. But as a clone yourself, none of that really matters. You’ve got a job to do, tests to run (80 of them, to be exact). Haven’t got time for such frivolity.
The goal of every level is to open the exit. You do so by hacking terminals spread throughout each chamber, avoiding security all the while. A simple task – just take it slow and you’ll plow through these tests in no time. Sticking to the shadows is all it takes to bypass most of the obstacles, visibility the only factor to concern yourself with, cameras and patrolling robot guards a regular foe. Bypassing them may be easy, but oftentimes they’re meant to be used as tools rather than mere adversaries to outsmart.
Using the security to your advantage is a large part of the puzzle in each chamber. Never are any of them straightforward, usually containing a few extra steps before you can even begin unlocking the exit. Using robot-guards to press buttons or activate trip-lasers often opens door leading onward, or at least the next step in the puzzle. The majority remain simple, but occasionally very strict timing is brought into play, forcing you to coordinate with the guards’ movements. No matter the challenge, though, they never turn into complex affairs. Challenging, sure, but always easily understood.
Stealth Inc. prides itself on efficiency. Where most stealth games are slow, calculated affairs, Stealth Inc. is fast and reckless. Levels are designed with speed in mind, obstacles lain in such a way as to avoid slowing you down much. A timer at the top of the screen constantly ticks upward, compelling you into tossing caution to the wind and going all-out, whatever the consequences. (Usually admonishment or mockery via text displayed on the walls by some unknown entity.)
The breakneck pace the game develops in such runs essentially turn it into a different game. Your first run slow and methodical, careful to learn patrol patterns and vision cones before making any attempts on the level. It starts as a standard stealth game. Once familiar, however, you begin to rush. Beating that “best time” suddenly looks way more appealing. You start leaping over obstacles with ease, security measures all but made redundant; puzzles are solved instantly, segueing from pushing pillars around back to traversal seamlessly; takes time, but once everything clicks, the game truly shines.
It doesn’t always work, though. Some of the levels – those that force you to take your time throughout – hinder the fun. On your initial runs, that’s fine. You’ve yet to familiarize yourself with the area. Blazing through it would be foolish. But while seeking out S-ranks? Not so much. It only pads the time trial portion, lessening the room for failure or mistakes as the timing on jumps another maneuvers suddenly becomes far tighter. That wouldn’t be a problem if the controls had pitch-perfect responsiveness, but as it stands, there’s a touch of input lag on jumps, resulting in many a death due entirely to circumstances beyond your control.
You could avoid that by not bothering with S-ranks, sure. But skipping out on them locks you out of additional levels. By S-ranking each of the eight base levels in a chapter, along with finding all the hidden helices (glowing capsules that are often extremely hard to find), you unlock two extra levels to play around with. A more than ample incentive. You earn S-ranks by finishing levels under a specified time and without dying or being seen. Difficult tasks, yes, but well-worth the endeavor. There’s also leaderboards, if you’re the competitive type.
Stealth Inc. also comes with a level editor, though without any sharing tools of its PC counterpart, its use is limited. But then, the game already comes well-stocked with content as is, so it’s not too big a loss. Stealth Inc.: A Clone in the Dark delivers plenty of swift stealthy, if at times frustrating, fun. And at $10, it’s a steal. If you haven’t already played the PC counterpart Stealth Bastard, now’s the perfect time to see what you’ve been missing.