Curve Digital surprised many a gamer when it announced plans to release Stealth Inc 2: A Game of Clones as a Wii U exclusive early last year. After all, this was a sequel riding the crest of a shadowy wave following the critically-adorned A Clone in the Dark, and the studio’s move was a far cry from its traditional, multi-platform roots.
Fast forward to April, 2015 and this week heralds the arrival of the stealth-based follow-up on PlayStation platforms, and despite some design gripes and minor gameplay issues, the six-month interval was irrefutably worth the wait.
Much like the original, A Game of Clones will have you slinking around the foreboding innards of PTi Industries, a technically astute corporation with a questionable moral compass to match. As one of the titular clones, you are essentially nothing. A nameless, reticent menial tasked with one deceivingly simple goal: to complete your objective.
Mind you, life expectancy in PTi is nothing short of dire, while human resources is practically non-existent. The result? A rich, almost dystopian milieu that acts as the perfect playground for an old school platforming romp. And there’s an incredible attention to detail in the environments, too, with the new-fangled overworld adding an explorable layer between the ever-challenging test chambers.
These levels in question are divided into groups of eight á la Mario, with the final stage culminating in a boss encounter against a devious sentinel. For all intents and purposes, A Game of Clones is akin to a 2D rendition of Shadow Moses, and Curve Digital’s sequel boasts a lot of the sensibilities found in Konami’s stealth masterpiece. Memorizing enemy movements, dodging security cameras, infiltrating new areas — it’s all infused in Stealth Inc 2’s DNA.
Because this is a sequel that sets its stall out early, alluring you into a false sense of security before pulling the carpet — or indeed platform — from beneath your feet only to send you plummeting to your untimely death. Think the opening level is a mere case of reuniting with a fellow clone and activating a terminal; a terminal that just so happens to be a hop, skip and a fleeting jump away from the exit point? Think again.
Cloak and Dagger
The way in which A Game of Clones unravels like origami before your very eyes is inspired, and it’s a testimony to the level design that journeying along this path is relatively seamless. Of course, it helps that traversal within the game is buttery smooth, and it isn’t long before you’re blazing through tests with bated breath.
But part of Stealth Inc’s inherent charm is it’s oft-times excruciating difficulty. Tiptoe out of the shadows too soon, or miss a ledge by a fraction of an inch, and your brave clone will soon be nothing more than a splatter on the wall.
Your brains aren’t the only decorative item you’ll glimpse on these dimly-lit panels, however, as the majority of your quest will be accompanied by text projected on the wall behind you. Often informative and never complimentary, it is in essence an abstract commentary on your progress — progress documented by one Malcolm Aldershot. As head of quality assurance for PTi Industries, Malcolm’s plight to become the company’s most prized employee is explored through A Game of Clones’ animated cut-scenes. While short and sweet, these segments not only lend the sequel with a tangible personality, the way in which his actions gradually coax you towards the end goal is reminiscent of GLaDOS.
In fact, Stealth Inc 2’s shares much in common with Portal 2 in terms of design. Within each test chamber, obstacles pop up thick and fast, often forcing you to retreat into the shadows in order to engineer a strategy. Moreover, the lighting in the game is second to none, with a three-tiered, traffic light system indicating whether or not you’re visible to enemies. It’s a feature that proves to be lifesaver as the game goes on, allowing you to creep ever so gingerly around the enemies’ cones of vision without sounding the alarm.
The Writing is on the Wall
And sound the alarm you will. A Game of Clones may err towards frustrating rather than satisfying one too many times, but there’s no doubting the improvements it brings to the Stealth Inc formula. The refined animations, the added overworld, not to mention the rather excellent local co-op all bestow the title with the necessary ingredients to exist as an addictive platformer.
Gadgets also add a new lease of life with every stage that is unlocked, allowing you to venture into new areas of the environment in true Metroidvania fashion. Whether it’s the Jack Boy or the handy Inflate-a-Mate, circumventing the once-impossible obstacles proves to be a tremendous amount of fun. Plus, the fact that Curve Digital has kept online leaderboards from the original release will certainly appeal to the score-chasing community.
Sequels always tread a laser-thin line between breaking new ground and remaining true to the legacy of the original. In the case of Stealth Inc 2, the studio has wholly nailed the follow-up, offering up a more robust level editor and the aforementioned overworld. And though it may be undercooked for a hub world, it still gives players the opportunity to delve into the lost chapters of PTi’s murky history.
More twitch-based platformer than out-and-out puzzler, Stealth Inc 2: A Game of Clones iterates on the core philosophy of its predecessor with aplomb, delivering a wonderfully addictive experience that will have you cursing at the television and jumping for joy in equal measure. Take heed of those notes on the wall, though, otherwise you’ll rack up a death count that eclipses even George R.R. Martin’s finest work.
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