The second instalment of Curve Digital’s deceptively cute platform-puzzle-head scratcher is upon us, Stealth Inc 2: A Game of Clones. When the developers describe it as “a basket of bastard” you know you’re in for the type of experience that means having a spare controller on charge, ready for when you hurl the one in your hand at the wall with a display of hand-eye coordination that you weren’t able to replicate seconds earlier. It’s time to return to the labs and start the escape again.
A quick recap… Stealth Inc: A Clone in the Dark is a 2D platform game that has you play as a goggle wearing clone making his way through a testing facility and avoiding the dangers on the way. Originally titled Stealth Bastard when it released on the PC, only the name was tamed with the console release, the premise was the same – use the light and shadow of the environments to sneak through self contained levels as fast as you can, suffering horrific deaths when you get it wrong. Which you will, because the game likes to punish you. Stealth Inc 2 arrived exclusively on Wii U last October, but (and this is my own wild speculation), Nintendo’s latest console must not have the installed user base available to make a decent return, so we’re getting it on PC, PS4 and Xbox One now. It’s a good choice.
If you’ve played the original in any form you’ll be familiar immediately with Stealth Inc 2. Start the level, use the environment to traverse traps, security cameras, bots and gentle mocking, make it to the exit, and get your time rated against the rest of the world. What it’s done though is a Portal 2 – the same puzzling joy, but with a more open environment and the addition of gadgets to bring a wider range of things for you to master. The first couple you get introduced to are the Inflate-A-Mate and the Jackboy that really do well to mix up the gameplay. Take the former, it’s a device you can fling through barriers and inflate/deflate at will to use as a counterweight or a platform, or to even destroy cameras and robots. The latter lets you hack into the patrolling bots and nab yourself a buddy to blast through barriers and go slightly (ever so slightly) on the offensive. There are more to discover too.
Complete the eight stages of each section that trains you to use the devices at your disposal, with the final one being a boss encounter, and you’ll get access to the gadgets for use in the world map. This is your gateway to the test chambers, and is one giant puzzle you need to solve to get to everything… and by everything I mean it’s the place to find collectables to unlock customisable outfit items so your little clone gets a more personalised look. Clones are clones, so having yours look different brings you closer to the avatar on screen, but doesn’t detract from the cutscenes that tell the dark tale that’s driving you forward. It’s woven nicely through small snippets of footage of the humans in the lab, and prompts you through the text that appears on walls as you progress; mostly having you cursing the sarcastic tone as you’re squashed, diced and mangled for the umpteenth time.
You will die a lot during the game. Things aren’t too hard, most of the levels are about learning and repetition once you’ve mastered the puzzle element, but whilst the introduction to new mechanics is gentle at first, the pace picks up and timeframes become very tight. The controls are responsive, though I found quite a bit of frustration particularly in boss fights where I had to repeat the same actions over and over when the window for success wouldn’t fit a gnats whisker through. It’s a good job it instantly reloads your last checkpoint, and that they’re generously spaced. On top of the “campaign” levels there’s also a creator mode that’s pretty easy to use, offering a wide range of tools that allow simple or complex builds depending on the time you put into it. As you’d expect there’s the ability to play and rate the community levels too, so plenty of new challenges to have a go at whenever you feel the need (and shake your head at the phallic and sexual ones on display…).
There’s not much to dislike about Stealth Inc 2: A Game of Clones. It’s good fun, challenging, makes you think on your feet, runs at 60 fps in full HD, and is the type of game you can squeeze in 10 minutes of play in a busy schedule without having to remember loads of intricate controls. However, I hit several instances where it crashed to the XMB for no discernable reason, one of which was during a level I’d already been struggling with – hopefully this is isolated and won’t feature for the majority of players. If you’re going for the PlayStation version you’ll also get cross-buy for the Vita, PS3 and PS4, though not cross-save, which is a shame.
A review copy of Stealth Inc 2: A Game of Clones for PS4 was provided by the Curve Digital PR team, and the game is available now on Wii U and Xbox One, and will be released for PS Vita, PS3 and PS4 as well as Xbox One on the 7th April (for the US, 8th April for the EU).