Stealth Inc 2: A Game of Clones (Xbox One) review
- Hard, but with perseverance and checkpoints progress is not impossible
- Lots to explore, even after the end credits have rolled
- If you enjoy the challenge, know you'll have a lot of time ahead beating times and rankings in the test chambers
Not So Much?
- Costumes are a good idea, but completely lost between the character size and shadowy nature of a stealth game
- The map is more of a hint than a guide, with uncertainly at times whether areas are open or for you to return to later
- Checkpoints can be flagged right before dying, leading to a respawn-death loop only broken by using the menu
Stealth Inc 2 often feels like it isn’t playing fair, although with a little experience you’ll realise it was all the time. In true Metroidvania style new pieces of equipment can open up whole new routes through existing areas, and exploring can be a pleasure slightly hindered by dark areas .
It’s always worth remembering that the previous name for Stealth Inc was Stealth Bastard, as you’ll often want to shout something at Stealth Inc 2: A Game of Clones. It is a game that seeks that fine line between testing the player’s ability and crushing their spirit, and having something to shout back can help keep you going through repeated failures…
Stealth Inc 2 takes the death trap test chamber approach of the the original game, and expands it with a Metroidvania complex to explore. Your character, a spy clone whose fate was largely to suffer one of the many deaths the chambers offer, begins by getting involved in a mass breakout. From here, you are led on a journey around the overall testing facility – albeit regularly re-entering the test chambers to rescue other clones (and open up routes to advance).
The general facility and the test chambers use the same general controls – jumping, crawling, hacking terminals, hiding in shadows to become invisible and the like – but carry significantly different levels of difficulty. Throughout, the game offers a quick death, quick respawn approach, with checkpoints often being flipped whenever you do something towards progression. However, while the facility is designed to be explored at a more relaxed pace (albeit with some moments of hectic activity), the chambers can often press you to perform numerous fine actions in quick succession.
This may be simply jumping over saw blades from a moving platform, or it may be controlling a hacked robot with the right joystick while separately keeping your clone moving to safety with the left – made more awkward by having to fire the robot’s laser across the path your clone is moving, with an instant death fall beneath (this particular test was not one I got right the first time, I should mention).
The constant use of checkpoints is probably essential, as it gives the average player at least half a chance to finish the game. Unfortunately, sometimes a checkpoint can be flagged just before dying, leading to a respawn-death loop only broken by using the menu to completely restart a room.
Each of the game’s six areas have eight chambers to complete (plus two optional hidden ones), usually following the use of a particular gadget that is then unlocked for exploring the complex further. These tend to be portrayed as extremely silly (the Inflate-A-Mate is basically a large, rectangular smiling face, for one example) but useful (by the same token, you can use the Inflate-A-Mate to hold down switches or as a platform to jump from… even if you pop it in mid air).
However, completing the chambers doesn’t have to be pretty, and even if you take a long time with numerous deaths, as long as you make it out of the exit you can progress through the complex. By comparison, the facility encourages exploration and backtracking, mainly by rewarding you with costume unlocks… seeing him dressed as a cowboy or bear somehow gives a childish innocence to the clone, which feels fitting for a character who has no overtly offensive skills.
Unfortunately, while the costumes are a great idea they are let down graphically. The environments are often darkened, and your clone isn’t a large character on screen – it is great for getting an overview of your surroundings, but the detail of the outfits is pretty much lost as you play.
There is also a sense of defiance running through the game. Our cloned hero may not be able to fight, but he can disobey (albeit disobeying the game’s antagonist while actually obeying the narrative of the story), with regular messages appearing trying to give you instructions in a way that feels very 1984. The irony that a clone can also be an individual, defying a larger organisation gives an underlying sense of satisfaction to every area completed, sensing your opponent’s frustration as you carve your own path and become an example to the other clones.
The complex itself does require quite some exploring – when finishing the story, I still had numerous hidden chambers to find, various unmapped rooms, and even an unused equipment slot. You are provided with a map early on which helps somewhat, although it isn’t always clear where routes will be and often seems to be giving rough hints instead of clear directions. This does mean that uncovering the whole complex can take some puzzle solving, although even that isn’t meant to be the end goal. When a test chamber is beaten it can be played from the main menu, allowing you to try and beat your previous ratings; times are also uploaded to leaderboards to see how you compare against players around the world.
Getting an S rank on each chamber will unlock an achievement, but this will probably take hours and hours of practice; for example, one took took me around half an hour to simply shave a key couple of seconds off a 90 second run. This is not as daunting as it sounds, as with a little focus you can often find your times improving, deaths decreasing, and those instant death traps – the game does sometimes feel like it is mocking you – aren’t the same problem at all when pre-warned.
Stealth Inc 2 often feels like it isn’t playing fair, although with a little experience you’ll realise it was all the time. In true Metroidvania style new pieces of equipment can open up whole new routes through existing areas, and exploring can be a pleasure slightly hindered by dark areas and a map that seems to be more conceptual than literal. The dangling carrot of costume unlocks seems like a nice approach, although the effect is lost with the small, dark graphics – better for stealth than fashion shows – and be prepared for a lot of time committed if you want to get an S rank on every test chamber… once you’ve managed to find them all, of course.