To say that the most striking thing about Curve Software’s new game; Stealth Bastard Deluxe: Tactical Espionage Arsehole was its title, would be a huge disservice to the game. However to call the name incredibly apt is also an understatement.
Not only are you tasked with being a sneaky (stealth) bastard but the game itself is a bastard, an utter bastard, at times I found myself calling it much worse. At its most trying I thought Stealth C*** was a more suitable name. However I doubt Valve would let a game with a name like that on their service and thinking about it, it sounds a bit too much like the name of a Metal Gear Solid inspired porn movie.
Anyway, if you hadn’t guessed from the title the main focus of Stealth Bastard is well, Stealth to be perfectly honest. You play as a clone that has to escape from a testing facility using only his wits, guile and, at first anyway, only a pair of goggles like the ones Solid Snake or Sam Fisher would wear.
The goggles themselves act as a means of telling you how well hidden you are. When they’re green you’re hidden, when they’re red you’re in trouble.
The basic premise of the stealthy 2D platform puzzler is very simple. Get to the end of each test chamber without dying. To do so you will need to traverse platforms, hack computer terminals, move objects onto switches and above all else avoid detection. This starts out simply enough. Jump to a platform hack a computer, avoid a camera and move on through the now open door. However, as the game progresses things can get incredibly complicated and frantic, but in a good way.
At times how to approach a chamber may seem bewildering at first but the game is kind enough to give you a prod in the right direction. Words made out of light will appear in the background, again just like splinter cell, giving you simple instructions and also, oddly enough, words of encouragement when you die, Well they start out that way, eventually they descend into mocking. Proof that even the game only has so much patience.
Be prepared to be almost constantly inspired though because you will die a lot. Think Super Meat Boy levels of death. Every last one Stealth Bastards 100 levels hate you. Cameras trigger lasers that will cut you, cannons that will shoot you, moveable objects will squash you, robots will hunt you, parts of the level will attempt to crush you. Light sources will swiftly change leading to detection and you guessed it, Death
However the game never manages to get frustrating. Character design might have something to do with this your clone looks a lot like one of the Minions from Despicable Me dressed up like Sam Fisher. Something about the little bugger getting brutalised, much like during the film that is no doubt their inspiration never failed to put a smile on my face.
It might be that despite being challenging, levels are always fair. If you die it’s because you made a mistake. Also each level has numerous checkpoints that kick in just before a difficult section so if you die, and chances are you will, you won’t feel unjustly penalised for doing so.
Maybe it comes back to those simple words of encouragement. As the old saying goes ‘you catch more flies with honey’. By reassuring players instead of chastising them Curve might have taken the first successful steps towards curing gamer rage. Game over is a slap in the face. Continue? A challenge. But ‘Mistakes Happen’ and ‘Everyone does that’. The usual controller dropping rage subsided. Calm collected I pressed on to obvious, hilarious certain death. But still this doesn’t detract from the elation of figuring out a chamber and moving onto the next.
It’s probably for the best that the game had this effect because the games challenge is only matched by its sheer weight of content and general replayability. Each of the games eight main areas is divided up into ten levels. Eight main and two secret, these are unlocked by finding the hidden helix collectables in each level and the other by getting an S ranking in the preceding levels. These are no mean feat to accomplish. Throughout my initial play through I barely found any Helix’s and didn’t manage a single S rank.
As well as this additional equipment is unlocked on each level after successive completions. Complete a level once and you get one bit of equipment again the next and so on. Reaching the same level of equipment in three levels in the same section will open it up for use in every level in the section and certain items such as the Camo jacket, which gives you a slight increase to the amount of time you have before being detected, are neigh on indispensible in some of the games later levels where spending any time at all out of the shadows at all can be fatal.
The game also features a robust level creator and automatically downloads additional community levels for instant access every time you start the game. As such there are already a plethora of community made levels that have already been carried over from the games initial freeware release just over a year ago.
These range from the incredibly silly to just plain cruel. If you think the levels in the main campaign are sadistic just wait until you see some of the creations from people that have spent a year mastering their creations. Making levels yourself is a relatively simple experience and the ease at which this can be achieved and the high level of community work on display in many ways exemplifies just how incredibly tight and well realised the core mechanics of stealth bastard are, as well as what great level of variation and inventiveness can be achieved with the simple set of hazards the game presents.
So should you get Stealth Bastard Deluxe? It all depends how much of a challenge you like from your games and how much of a masochist you are. Fans of Super Meat Boy should find plenty to keep them occupied and those that feel that modern stealth games are too easy will feel right at home.
Stealth Bastard is a clever, fun and original title with plenty of content, a great art style and a brilliant sense of humour. It’s not for the feint of heart or short of temper but if you are up to the challenge I recommend checkiing it out.