As far as stealth games go they tend to be rather serious. Whether it be the heavy political debates found within Metal Gear Solid, Sam Fisher suffering betrayal in Splinter Cell or the intense fear of supernatural enemies in Thief. However with the full title of Stealth Bastard: Tactical Espionage Arsehole, this isn’t one wanting to take itself too seriously.
However, Curve Studios is taking at least one thing seriously enough: the skill of platforming with an added stealth action for good measure. From the deceptively tame tutorial there’s a sense that this game will remind you how fun jumping up and down and moving left to right with precision can be.
The premise seems simple enough. You control a clone and you are tested to reach the exit of an area while avoiding detection by security cameras, robot sentries, or being cut in half by lasers. Puzzles become cleverly worked out and the designers know full well they are. It may take you a few attempts at each puzzle, and text within the environment will congratulate you sarcastically – but you’ll still feel proud.
The game doesn’t have an overly ambitious art style, and it’s rather typical of one that contains robots and near future laboratory environments. It suits it just fine. Watching yourself explode in a gooey red mess from lasers becomes an odd joy, and it’s the game-play that really has the most to boast about.
There is a thoughtful learning curve integrated into the level design. Once you become fairly confident about overcoming an obstacle or an enemy can be easily dealt with, a new challenge will present itself and how the player adapts is key. So you think you can easily avoid the gaze of a security camera that could cause lockout through careful movement and use of shadow, but can you avoid one that will set off lasers? How about a droid that will search and find you upon hearing footsteps on certain tiles? Well, what about the Sentinel that frighteningly sees all? The progressive challenges the game presents to you enables the purist sense of achievement when the phrase ‘test complete’ flashes on screen.
Stealth Bastard Deluxe expands on the original prototype, kindly still available for free download at stealthbastard.com, with a level editor allowing you to contribute your own creations of stealthy platforming to the already packed library of community levels. Some of these are deliciously devious concoctions of laser traps, robotic enemies, and control panels in seemingly impossible places.
People can be evil and it shows in some of their designs of cruel obstacles, but I came across one quite ingenious creation which involved another AI clone joining me for some quick co-op play before I had to take its life in order to activate the last control panel successfully. It was so clever and witty showing off the amount of potential this feature has, and I’m sure there are many out there who will be able to spend hours and hours being a real Stealth Bastard.
The levels already provided also have their own replay value as each time a ‘sector’ is completed new suits with tricks such as camouflage and decoy, can be used to help you play through again for faster time – and getting a faster time to move up a global leader-board can be reason to continue playing in itself.
Curve have managed to blend level design comparable to classic titles of Nintendo with devilish humour similar to that of Portal, together into a bundle of fun and rewarding game-play. The addition of community levels and the level editor are really a shining factor that could push this title into ‘timeless’ status.
This was my first experience of playing a game on Steam and if it can offer enjoyable and easily addictive gems like this with modest price tags then I hope the service continues and thrives.