Released: Oct. 23,2014 (on Wii U); Apr. 7,2015 (everybody else)
Developer: Curve Studios
Publisher: Curve Digital
Platform(s): Wii U, Playstation 3/4/Vita, Xbox 360/One, Microsft Windows
Genre(s): Stealth, Puzzle platformer
I was first introduced to this hidden jewel of a game a little over two years ago. I think it was the same weekend as NekoCon 2014. (I should have gone to that thing.) Anyway, I ended up purchasing then downloading this title as a distraction to cheer myself up and spent the entire weekend playing it. The mind stretching gameplay alone almost made me forget about not getting to play with the other anime/video game nerds.
I got super far into Stealth Inc. 2 through many hours of wracking my brain and trial and error, as I recall. And many, MANY deaths. And then, for no particular reason in particular, I just stopped playing without completing it. Yeah, I never got to see its ending, or endings if it indeed has more than one. I did think about buckling down and seeing it all the way through over these past two years, but I soon found myself with so many other things to do and so many other games to play . . . and eventually review.
That all changed a few weeks ago. I had just finished my Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon review so I had an empty spot in my gaming lineup and needed something to fill it. While I did consider finally giving other games in my digital collection a go, my thoughts repeatedly came back to completing Stealth Inc. 2, the humble little game that I had needlessly left in limbo for WAY too long. It was time to set things right.
Before I could begin this review, there was something I needed to take care of: deleting my old save file so I could replay the game from the very beginning. It was the proper thing to do. Anyways, on with the−
Stealth Inc. 2 opens up with an image of hundreds of clones in test tubes within some sort of laboratory. This is where we first see Malcolm Alderman, award-winning scientist at PTI Industries(?) and our main antagonist for the evening. He was on top of the food chain until one of his colleagues by the name of Colin Rickman comes along and outclasses him. Our boy Malcolm isn’t about to take this lying down and sets out to “[restore] the natural order” of things which somehow involves the big-headed, small-bodied, goggle-eyed clones we saw in the opening.
The first moments of gameplay have you take control of one out of maybe five or six of these little guys. From there, you are all sorted and separated until there’s only one of them left: you. And suddenly you’re off to the races puzzle-platforming your way through many obstacles, testing out PTI’s various products, and making your way around the facility. This is all while Dr. (Professor?) Alderman watches your progress with increasing concern.
If I had to guess, I’d say that you were supposed to be slaughtered along with the others you started out with. You were never meant to make this far. And I think that’s way the good doctor flies into a rage-fueled panic when you suddenly find yourself face to face with him. “You’re just a clone!” he roars before sealing himself within a monitoring room. That’s exactly where you’ll find him for quite some time, all curled up on the floor like a little bi−−
*Ahem* Moving on, it is here that you are presented with the main objectives in Stealth Inc. 2: pass every single test thrown at you while rescuing as many of your clone brethren as you can while making your way to the very heart of the PTI complex.
Stealth Inc. 2 is a 2-D side-scroller with very refined graphics, about what you would expect from an Indie game of this caliber. Everything just looks so smooth, clean, and well animated. What I find the most interesting about the visuals is the lighting effects. Light and how if affects things actually ties into the gameplay, reflected by the color of the lenses in your clone’s Super Spy Glasses.
This game has a very fitting soundtrack. It has a sort of heist film meets Metroid Prime thing going on. The music here is quite atmospheric with little in the way of strong, iconic, or memorable melodies. However, it IS good thinking music that gets you in the right mood for some stealthy puzzle-platforming action. Which is fine by me. Not all video game music can be a classic like the main themes from Super Mario Bros. or The Legend of Zelda or be as cherished as Undertale’s entire musical score.
Let me get something out of the way before I go on: if you play this game, you WILL die. A lot. And in horrible ways − getting crushed, eviscerated, blown to pieces, etc. This is why generous checkpoint systems exist. There are several elements that combine to create the more-complicated-than-it-initially-appears gameplay of Stealth:
Stealth – You know, ‘cause it’s in the title. You are going to spend the majority of your time with this game sneaking past things without being detected.
Puzzle platforming – This is the other big one. You are going to face many challenges throughout the PTI building that test your wits and reflexes as well as a handful of products developed by the company, but I’ll get to that in a minute. You must survive these tests to be given access to every area in the complex. Notice, I said ‘survive’ and not ‘pass with flying colors.’ And if you can rescue every last one of your fellow clones, more power to you. It’s just another facet of the many brutal deaths that await you. Just accept it: YOU. ARE GOING. TO DIE.
Metroid-vania – Not as obvious as the other two, at least not until the second part of the game. Remember all that product testing you’ve been doing. Well, if you make it through every test thrown at you using one of these items, you eventually get to keep it. That’s right. You get to keep that item and use it outside of the testing areas which means having an easier time getting past all the hostile robots and around the PTI building. This also allows you to access new testing areas that, when completed, open up even more of the place for you to explore. Yay! Don’t be surprised if you keep getting this nagging feeling that you won’t like what you will ultimately find when everything is said and done. Maybe that’s just me though.
Malcolm Alderman – Despite the fact you don’t see him in person all that often, he is still a significant presence during your quest. He tracks your every move from his impenetrable control room and can communicate with you via white text that can appear randomly on any given wall. And this is how he mercilessly trolls you throughout the first part of the game. The tone he takes with you shifts gradually from totally mean-spirited to trying to bargain and reason with you to honestly begging you to abandon your endeavors. Then, much later, good ol’ Malcolm tries to get you to give up again, only this time he starts talking about how an exceptional clone such as yourself will just be dissected in the end. What exactly is he getting at here? I don’t know, but something tells me that there’s more to this guy than what he’s been projecting all over the walls. I guess playing Stealth all the way through is the only way to find out for sure.
When I decided to replay Stealth Inc. 2, I really didn’t know what I was getting myself into. I thought it was just going to be a fun, mind-bending, reflex-sharpening little stealth game with a bit of metroid-vania tossed in for good measure. And that’s what I got . . . at first. Then that dreaded second part of the game kicked off when your intrepid little clone throws himself down the literal rabbit hole (okay, ventilation shaft) to escape getting ambushed by an army of freshly made clo-bots. They are you’re average clones stuffed with robot parts from what I can tell. For some reason, I find this cruel. Anyway, our boy Malcolm created these things and sent them to take you out when everything else failed to do the job. He desperately wants to stop you from completing your quest. But I’m still getting this feeling that there’s more, just beneath the surface.
As of the writing of this review, I have yet to finish this game. I’m still kinda metroid-vania-ing my way around the facility using my brand new Adventure Light to get to areas, test chambers, and stranded clones I couldn’t reach before. I’m also struggling to find the rest of the chambers in the lower portion of the complex. I have several questions about Alderman’s motives. I want to know what it is about this clone in particular that has him freaking out like that and why such a clone would be deemed a threat to the “natural order” of things. And I’m dying to know how all of this craziness ends.
I have no freakin’ idea. However, I can make a few guesses. I predict that everything will come to a head in a final confrontation with Alderman. I also predict that the ending you receive will depend upon how many clones you were able to save. I don’t know about the rest. #nospoilers, please.
At any rate, I had better pick up that WiI U gamepad and move my ass if I want to find out about all that while I’m still young.