Monday, February 23, 2015

[REVIEW] Stealth Inc. 2: A Game of Clones

 Stealth Inc. 2: A Game of Clones
Played on: Wii U
Genre: Metroidvania platformer, puzzle platformer
Developer / Publisher: Curve Digital

You're supposed to be a mindless clone inside a huge, mysterious facility. But, as luck would have it, you ended up defective in a crucial way: yearning for your freedom. This is the rather intriguing premise for Stealth Inc. 2, a sprawling Wii U-exclusive platformer that mixes metroidvania exploration with focused, self-contained (and sometimes super-hard) puzzle levels.

Stealth Inc. 2 is certainly a sadistic game. During your adventure, your arch-nemesis (an ambitious facility worker who's trying to "scrap" you) will constantly communicate with you via sentences reflected on the walls. He'll tease you about upcoming  hazards and mercilessly mock you when you inevitably face a gruesome death. This, and the gradual revelations about what exactly is going on, adds tremendous appeal to the title's minimalistic storytelling.

Don't feed the clones.

While the game plays mostly like a metroidvania platformer, it's very peculiar in that it features numbered "test chambers" on each section. This makes it feels a bit more linear than usual in the genre; it's like the overworld is a big open map that actually tasks you with finding each stage. This could be very interesting in theory, but the game has a few problems that hinder the exploration. For example: eventually you learn to tell which sprites are solid walls and which aren't, but it's not always clear, which sometimes can become an exercise in frustration. Furthermore, areas look very similar to one another, which certainly doesn't help the player feel familiar with the overworld's structure (and remembering which secrets to backtrack for).

The inflate-a-mate: awesome gadget, even better name.
Once you cleared all test chambers in a given area of the facility (including some pretty climatic boss stages), you're treated to a new gadget that helps you keep exploring. The test chamber themselves can get quite hard, and many of the puzzles are more cerebral than particularly fluid, meaning you'll certainly die a lot. I have mixed feelings about this; in the best-designed levels, it can be exhillarating, but the difficulty can feel cheap and boring in other sections.

The gadgets themselves are quite well-designed, even if some are way cooler than others. Sometimes you'll be required to use them in very specific ways, and each of them features particular controls you have to master. I like that kind of challenge, however. What I dislike is how the game forces you to soft-pause in order to change gadgets, especially with the big gamepad screen available for on-the-go switching.

Why, hello there!
One of the game's better ideas is a neat way to help with the difficulty: the Miiverse integration, which lets other players place clues all over the overworld. This can be turned on and off at will, and can come quite handy whenever you're stuck on a particularly cryptic section. The well-made level designer mode also means that you might get mileage out of the game even after the credits roll.

Stealth Inc. 2 showcases an interesting way to design exploration-heavy 2D platformers, certainly offering thrills along the way, but it doesn't hit all the marks it sets out to. It has a great little story and a setting that can get enthralling, but some less-than-pleasant design decisions mean that it doesn't really compare favorably to other metroidvania titles on the Wii U e-Shop.

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