Stealth Inc PS3 review – where skulking meets speed runs

(Version tested: PS3)

I’ve committed every single camera’s movement routine to memory. I know the moment at which the shadows cast along the route I need to run to get to the next switch that’ll keep me out of sight. I’ve figured out exactly how close to the wall I need to put the box, and because I’ve done the climbing sequence after it about, ooh, three hundred times now, nailing the timing is a matter of muscle memory now. I will beat you, Stealth Inc, if it’s the last thing I do.

Stealth Inc PS3 review

Time for a deep breath. The game that was once called Stealth Bastard brings out the worst competitive streak in me. On purpose. Each of its many rat-runs of cameras, turrets, jumps and box puzzles requires 60 seconds of inhuman precision to master. The reward? A spot on the leaderboards, an intimate, exhaustive knowledge of each level’s layout, and the joy of silencing those condescending messages that appear on the walls each time you mess up. GLaDOS would deeply approve of Stealth Inc’s relentless player-trolling.

Of course, that spot on the leaderboard doesn’t count for much currently, since only we idle-thumbed journos have access to the game until its release. But, goddamn it, I worked hard for those top spots and I want someone to know that when you knock teamopm off the top of each level one gauntlet run, I’ll be shedding silent, bitter tears.

That it means so much to me is credit to the game’s level design. Curve Studios manages to blend fluidity and momentum remarkably well with the – well, the stealthier elements of the game. Don’t let the name summon a 2D Metal Gear Solid. sure, there are goggles, and lasers and other accompanying mise en scène of stealth games. But your time standing still is minimal.

You only need pause and memorise the patterns of each level’s moving apparatus – the cameras, robots, conveyor belt-driven objects that cast shadows – during your first attempt. That initial recon run is about figuring out how to get from the start of the level to the end without being turned into jam by one of the above. The subsequent 1,0000,000 runs are about doing that quicker, and quicker, and quicker.

“GLaDOS would deeply approve of Stealth Inc’s relentless player-trolling.”

Chaining jumps together. Dropping boxes onto switches and pressing yourself up against the tunnel door that you know is about to open. Momentum is like a drug in the frustration-dungeons of Stealth Inc, and you’ll ride its high long past the point that most OCD-ravaged robots would cease hitting the restart button.

Not that you have to play the game with any such speed. There’s never any explicit instruction to do, nor much reward beyond the leaderboards. Your rating for each level depends on remaining undetected and avoiding death as much as anything else, but it’s the mere possibility of ever-quicker times that proves the most enjoyable aspect of playing it – the realisation of how you could have done it, after you did it the Heath Robinson way.

Perhaps its unfair then to cast a frown in the control scheme’s direction for occasionally detracting from that fluidity. They’re competent and consistent, after all. But your on-screen mini-sneak has a proclivity for hanging onto objects you’d rather he didn’t and jumping about 1mm lower than you’d have liked, and there’s no sneaking around that issue.

Stealth Inc’s larger issue – the shallow long-term appeal left by its digestible, brief and intense stages – is lessened by the inclusion of a level editor. One can only hope that after release the game earns a Trackmania-like community of creators, pushing the limits of the editor and each other in ever-more inventive levels. It deserves that much for giving you such interesting tools.

Interesting is the word. It’s interesting to see how each level works, how each element works together in a level so ingeniously. Stealth Inc’s mechanically fascinating, and holds you in just the right level of contempt as a player to keep you bashing your head against its heavily guarded walls. Now go forth, and break my heart on those leaderboards, you nimble-thumbed dream-stompers.

Our Score

Score: 8