The Xbox One has no shortage of puzzle platformers thanks to games like Max: the Curse of Brotherhood, Kalimba, and Thomas Was Alone. They all manage to be quite different from one another, simultaneously satisfying the itch for solving puzzles and running and jumping through levels. Now Xbox One has another distinctive puzzle platformer, thanks to the good folks at Curve Digital.
Stealth Inc 2: A Game of Clones (sequel to the original game for PC, PlayStation systems, and iOS) launched first on Xbox One last week, followed by Windows and PlayStation versions this week. That's progress, baby! Stealth Inc 2 lets players sneak through a variety of trap- and puzzle-filled levels, and even create and share their own levels. You'll also need to work together with AI-controlled clones of your character, which feels pretty unique.
Continue reading for my full review and gameplay video!
One big world, lots of tiny levels
Curve Digital has referred to Stealth Inc 2 as a Metroidvania game, but it's not a traditional Metroidvania game. The game actually features over 60 separate levels that are not directly connected to each other – not Metroidvania-like. On the other hand, you initially access those levels via an expansive hub world that is very Metroidvania like.
Stealth Inc 2's world map or hub world is unlike any I've encountered before. As you run around searching for the next level, you'll pass by numerous out-of-reach collectibles and pathways. The key to reaching some of these new areas and goodies is simply beating more levels. Knocking out new levels will cause new paths to open up, ensuring that players can't access the next batch of levels until they clear previous ones.
Eventually, our hero will gain new items for use in the hub world that allow him to reach previously inaccessible areas. The first of these is the Inflate-a-Mate, which you'll find near the end of the second set of levels. Throw it wherever you like and then activate it to inflate it. The Inflate-a-Mate can be used to activate switches, block out light, and as a platform/springboard.
Unlike many games with hub worlds, Stealth Inc 2's hub often proves just as challenging as the levels themselves. Sometimes you'll have to really puzzle over how to reach the next set of levels. Less pleasantly, backtracking can be a pain as some areas require a lot of maneuvering just to get through, even after you've been there before. But on the whole, the hub is a cool way to tie the game together.
When you first start the game, you know that you're a clone who must participate in a series of experiments. The actual story doesn't kick in until several levels in. When our clone reaches certain points in the hub world, hand-drawn digital comics start to reveal the narrative. Just why does this corporation need so many clones, anyway?
The story is intriguing and well-written, but the actual cinematic art is terrible and poorly animated. It would have looked much better to render these sequences with the game engine itself instead of crude artwork.
Run, jump, and hide
Our clone hero can run, jump, crawl, and grab onto ledges. Initially I wished he could jump off of walls as well, but the levels are smartly designed around the ledge-clinging ability. Each level has numerous switches to activate and terminals to hack. Sometimes you'll need to push a box onto a switch to hold it down, or find some other way to activate it (such as the Inflate-a-Mate).
Those are the really basic puzzles. Stealth Inc 2 gets better a few levels in when the actual stealth elements show up. Many levels feature cameras that our hero must avoid. If he strays into the camera's cone of vision, a door could shut, the floor could open up into a pit, or a laser might shoot him. So avoiding those camera is important!
To stay out of the camera's line of sight, you might be able to just wait for it to turn and then run by. Or wait for a passing shadow to obscure the camera's vision for a moment. Sometimes you can even use a steam source to fog up the camera's eye. Funneling the steam to different locations proves to be an enjoyable mechanic as well.
Occasionally, our main clone will have to work together with other AI-controlled clones. These guys react to things you do, such as running through a door that you open or standing on a switch so that you can reach new areas. I've seen plenty of games in which one player controls two or more characters (Kalimba), but working together with an AI feels different and fresh.
Test Chambers and leaderboards
In addition to the main world map, players can revisit any previously completed level via the Test Chambers menu. Each level grades you based on completion time, deaths, and number of sightings. At least early on, the levels are short and fun to replay for better grades. They do get more complex as the game goes on, but most will take less than five minutes to beat once you know what to do.
The leaderboards take several minutes to update, which is unusual and a bit of a bother. Maybe the developer saves money by going with slower leaderboard servers or something. On the plus side, the game displays the leaderboard stats whenever you select or complete a level, rather than hiding them away somewhere that nobody will see them.
That said, the end of level screen badly needs a "retry" option so that players don't have to exit the level just to try for a better score. Also, the same screen should list whether or not you saved all of the clones in the level. You can see this stat on the Test Chambers menu, but not on the before and after screens during the main game.
Besides the main game, players can also enjoy a fully featured level editor. You can then share those levels online or download other people's levels.
As far as I can tell, the game does not require that user-created levels actually be completable. I tried several that seemed to be impossible to win. You can report those levels, but it would be better if players had to complete their own levels before uploading them (as with Microsoft's ScreamRide).
Still, it's cool that we can make and share levels regardless.
Xbox One games can offer far more Achievements than Xbox 360 games, but Stealth Inc 2 only has a scant 12 Achievements to its name. It really could have used Achievements for completing each batch of levels, which would provide a welcome sense of progression.
Of the Achievements we do get, the tough ones are visiting every room in the hub world, rescuing every clone in the game, and S-ranking every level. At the moment, there are no guides for these accomplishments, so they're very hard to get. Hopefully videos and guides will pop up eventually.
Send in the clones
Stealth Inc 2 is not the flashiest game out there. The characters are fairly small and boring, the environments generally drab. But collectible hats and outfits eventually liven the clones up a bit. The lighting effects are solid, and mesh well with the simple stealth mechanics. After I completed a few levels, the game really started to click for me.
What makes Stealth Inc 2 stand out? The levels are tight and well-designed, and they're actually fun to replay for better ratings. The stealth and clone-team mechanics make this feel unlike any other puzzle platformer series. And the hub world really is quite clever. Plus the game gets really hard, but seldom frustratingly so.
Sure, Stealth Inc 2 is a bit boring to look at. But give it a chance and it will sneak up on you.