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Review: Stealth Inc. is an inviting entry in an often daunting genre

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Posted by: David Sanchez

Review Rating 7.5 Good
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Stealth Inc: A Clone in the Dark is one of those games that does very little wrong, but it hardly excels at any of the things that it does right. That's not a bad thing, though. This is, for all intents and purposes, a rewarding little puzzle-platformer that I urge you to check out. That said, you should go into it knowing that you're probably not going to be swept off your feet, as its puzzle and platforming elements aren't exactly revolutionary as much as they are just wholly entertaining.

Previously titled Stealth Bastard Deluxe, this lovely endeavor does its best to combine rigid brutality, intense stealth, and mind-boggling brain teasers. Though its Super Meat Boy-meets-Metal Gear influence is quite clear, Stealth Inc. does a good job of being its own game. It takes all of its elements and creates what can best be described as a “my first puzzle-platformer” type of experience, making it a hell of a lot more welcoming than other entries in the genre. For longtime fans of these games, however, this is simply a pleasant download to spend an afternoon or two with.

You take on the role of a chubby clone dude (or several clone dudes, considering the fact that you're going to die a bunch of times). It's up to you to traverse an industrial factory and elude all of its dismal deathtraps and hazardous obstructions, all the while hiding under the cover of darkness and solving puzzles, some which are more taxing than others.

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Every stage requires you to operate several computer terminals to open up an exit. These terminals are usually tucked away behind walls or are guarded by enemy sentry bots that will shoot you if you get close enough. You can gain access to these terminals by seeking out switches and distracting bots, and sometimes they're right in front of you, ripe for the picking and appearing almost foreboding due to just how nonthreatening the surrounding area is. Not knowing what danger could pop out just as you reach what seems like a safe haven always keeps you on your toes in Stealth Inc.

Among the many tropes you encounter are tripwires that can have helpful or harmful results. In the case of the latter, simply hitting one of these will cause instant death. Utilizing helpful tripwires is a bit more complex, though. These can trigger elevators and doors and oftentimes work in conjunction with movable blocks, which can be placed on switches, used as platforms, or provide cover from enemies.

Later stages require you to do more, and it's great that the game challenges you to utilize your surroundings in different ways to move on. One set of stages, for example, is filled with “blind” bots that can't see you and rely solely on sound to alert them. These levels have precariously placed sound pads that make loud noises and give away your exact whereabouts should you jump on them or even walk on them. One misstep and it's bloody bits of clone flesh and organs all over the place. If you're careful, however, you can get through these areas without meeting a fatal end. Additionally, sometimes you need to make noise to lure moving bots away from key areas, adding another slight wrinkle to the gameplay.

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A few levels had me working alongside AI-controlled clones. Aside from accessing terminals that were beyond my reach, these little guys opened doorways and hit switches that created environmental effects. I had to watch their backs as much as they had to watch mine, so when bots were nearby, I had to provide a distraction — either by being visible or by landing on sound pads — to get the bots away from my artificial little buddies. The ways in which Stealth Inc. changes things up are absolutely brilliant at times.

As smart as the game may be, it's also fairly easy for a puzzle-platformer. I never really felt like any particular level was too difficult to conquer, and not once did I use the available “skip level” option. Of course, this is mostly true if you're merely trying to get from point A to point B. If you're going for par times or searching for collectibles (there's one per stage), you could have a harder time beating everything. For those players who just care about the core experience, though, don't expect a ridiculously tough time.

Despite the fact that Stealth Inc. isn't overly punishing, it definitely provides you with an ample challenge a lot of the time. This is especially true regarding boss battles. These encounters make up some of the biggest challenges in the game, but they're also the source of the most fun and satisfaction that Stealth Inc. has to offer. I almost wish there were more boss battles, because the ones included in the game are a sheer delight. They're hard as hell, but they're delightful nonetheless.

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Stealth Inc. is fairly easy on the eyes. I wouldn't say this is an artful masterpiece like other indie games that pop up on digital download platforms, but it's still nice to look at. The visual style lends itself to darker tones and masterfully placed shadows and lighting. Additionally, the industrial world set within the research facility is hauntingly dystopian and appropriately sci-fi-ish. Then there are the messages on the walls, which sometimes give you hints but most of the time just make you feel like an idiot when you fail. These large collections of block letters also appear right at home with the graphical style.

The soundtrack is equally fitting, though it easily trumps the graphics. Sure, only a few songs are especially catchy, but the whole thing works well within the context of Stealth Inc. This is a fairly strong collection of electronica tunes that only helps to get you into the experience even more.

You can get through Stealth Inc. in five to eight hours. Aside from the unlockable stages, there's also a level editor, though you can't share custom stages, making it seem more like a missed opportunity. Ultimately, it's the 80 enjoyable stages that will grab your attention the most. If you're a fan of puzzle-platformers, you're bound to have a fun time — just don't expect your mind to be messed with all that much. Alternately, if you don't play these games often, the difficulty here is scaled back enough to provide an inviting experience worthy of your time. No, Stealth Inc. may not be evolutionary, revolutionary, or legendary, but it's a damn fine game that most people are likely to enjoy.

Want to talk about indie games, Kirby, or cheap pizza? Follow me on Twitter @dr_davidsanchez.

Tags: Stealth Inc: A Clone in the Dark, Curve Studios

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