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Stealth Inc: A Clone in the Dark Review

NaCLy AF Jul 23, 2013

  1. NaCLy AF

    NaCLy AF Lifetime Gold Lifetime Gold
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    PS3: 8/10

    THE GOOD
    Smart puzzles with lots of variety
    High difficulty without ever feeling cheap
    Tricky boss fights
    Achieving high scores is fun and rewarding

    THE BAD
    Can be clumsy when speed is imperative

    Why would anyone mourn the death of a clone? Replicated humans are as disposable as toilet paper, after all, and only slightly more sanitary. No one would weep if a clone were to be executed by robotic sentries or crushed between moving walls. Heck, you wouldn't even be able to tell which clone met its untimely end; they all look alike. But if you had the same DNA as everyone you knew and found yourself trapped in a sadistic obstacle course, you sure would care about your own life. Stealth Inc: A Clone in the Dark follows an individual searching for freedom, and delivers an unnerving 2D puzzle-platforming adventure.


    Not everyone that wears a red mask is evil.
    Names are for real protagonists. In Stealth Inc, you're just a mirror image of a bunch of other unknown people, so you don't have the pleasure of a title. But you can jump, crawl, and flip switches, skills that prove invaluable if you're going to make it out of this nightmarish warehouse in one piece. It's that "one piece" bit that's so tricky. As a mere human, you don't have the toughest skin, so one false step in front of a turret means your body could be torn into a million gooey droplets. Your lone companion is anonymous text that appears on the wall to either help you proceed or mock your failures. "I can't fault your persistence," the sentient being writes. "Just your ability."

    If you step in front of one of those deadly turrets while hidden in the shadows, you can keep your delicate body whole. Color-changing goggles shift between a safe green hue and a dire red warning depending on how much light shines upon your body, and that visual shift is enough to quickly communicate your vulnerability. Boxes can be moved into opportune positions to shield you from the dastardly glow of a nearby bulb, so you learn to scan the environment for any object that can extend your life for a little longer. No matter how much you tell yourself that gloomy corners make you invisible, there's the moment when a patrolling robot edges terrifyingly nearby and you hold your breath so as not to alert it to your presence.

    Avoidance is the only way to survive--there's no combat here--but don't mistake this downloadable adventure for a typical stealth game. Rather, darkness is just one solution to the myriad puzzles you're presented with. Levels are populated with boxes, switches, and computer terminals, and you have to figure out how to move smartly through the labyrinth without meeting an untimely end. Should you trigger an unexpected laser blast, you die in half a heartbeat, but you respawn just as quickly. It's a punitive system that rewards exploration. Secure in the knowledge that a mistake doesn't eliminate your progress, you push the bounds of interactivity to find a weak link in the fence that's holding you in.

    Artfully crafted levels do an excellent job of nudging you toward the solution while remaining consistently challenging. Because there is often only one path open, the difficulty comes from figuring out how to continue forth rather than scratching your head over which direction you should take. And once the exit is apparent, you have to fit the pieces together to make the picture complete. Use a block as a stepping stool to reach higher ground, slink in the shadows so the oscillating camera doesn't spot you, and then jump toward a nearby switch when there's a brief opening. The cunning situations reward careful planning, and it's empowering to see your hard work pay off.

    Stealth Inc does stumble when it places dexterity above mental acumen. Your humble clone isn't blessed with impressive locomotion, so sprinting through a series of death traps at top speed can be a dispiriting endeavor. Thankfully, moments such as these are rare. The majority of your time is spent puzzling out how to proceed, so you're not often forced to rely on acrobatic maneuvering.

    Eight worlds stand between you and freedom, each containing a new twist to the robotic terrors. You may scoff when a blind, motionless turret is introduced, only to curse your fate when the flooring has been transformed into a loud keyboard. Another world makes you question your nature. To complete these levels, you must work in tandem with another clone, and pulling switches and pushing blocks to help your friend adds a feeling of camaraderie that was previously lacking. But what happens when only one of you can proceed? Stealth Inc shows how quickly alliances can be forged and broken, seamlessly combining a moral lesson with tricky challenges.

    The high points of this crafty adventure are the bosses at the end of each world. The various strategies you accumulate over the course of a world must all be applied within one deadly room, and it takes smarts and determination to make it out alive. The rotating, gun-toting turret in the center of the room quickly spins and eradicates you whenever even a hint of your skin catches the light, so you have to plan your moves in advance or pay the consequences. You may die dozens of times in one confrontation before opening the door to freedom, and yet frustration never takes root. With immediate respawns, bountiful checkpoints, and the knowledge that every death is preventable, you push forward until you finally come out on top.

    Though punishment is but a slap on the wrist initially, trying to achieve the highest rank is far from easy. Strict limits on time, deaths, and alerts mean you have to move perfectly to come out on top. Crafting and executing on a plan is incredibly satisfying, and there are unlockables to strive for as well. New equipment lets you complete levels by using a hologram or other such gadgets, changing how you experience this game, and you can even create your own levels in the extensive editor. The extras are just a nice bonus, though. Stealth Inc: A Clone in the Dark is a tightly crafted and incredibly rewarding adventure through a dark dystopia.
     
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