Stealth Inc. 2: A Game of Clones, the widely acclaimed 2014 Wii U exclusive, has finally made its heavily requested multi-platform debut after decisively showing that sometimes sequels do actually render their predecessors obsolete. Although the first Stealth Inc. was good, this well ported sequel’s combination of a playful narrative, fluid gameplay, flawless level design and eloquent graphics make this stealthy Metroidvania puzzle-platformer a fantastically superior must play for all gamers.
You’re totally unique…
Now unfortunately you were born a clone and as such your life expectancy is rather short as you and the other easily replaceable clones test various gadgets in PTI Resolutions’ deathtrap of a facility. But at the least the work day ends right? Well no as this game begins with antagonist Malcolm Andersen, a quality controller, staying after hours on a quest to get the final points he needs to secure his umpteenth consecutive employee of the month award. This narrative, though admittedly not the greatest story ever told, functions well enough to justify and enhance the game’s premise as you rebel and attempt to save yourself and your fellow clones throughout this game’s Metroidvanian overworld that’s littered with 60 test chambers, secret passageways and collectibles.
Between each of the six in-game areas a short cutscene will play, and while they are have no glaring faults, they nonetheless feel flat and empty without voice acting or other commanding sounds. However, the game’s narrative shines is in Malcolm’s backhanded instructions, taunts and pleas that sprawl across the overworld and test chamber walls. With not so subtle references to classic games along with other clever and usually helpful quips, this game berates and lulls you into a fluid, on-going dialogue with Malcolm.
Thanks Malcolm, you know for believing in me and such.
And fluidity is truly where this game shines as progress through the game’s various areas may be linear so as to keep the story cohesive, but the overworld in which these 48 story and 12 secret test chambers lie is a sprawling masterpiece of deathtraps, hidden passageways and collectibles. In each area the chambers themselves are dedicated to testing a particular gadget, be it your handy dandy Stealth Goggles, the cuddly and yet skull crushing Inflate-A-Mate or the cruelly useful Me Too against an onslaught of laser wielding robot guards, mine fields and a dozen other hazards that interact with each other and can kill you in a single hit. Although the Wii U’s clever gamepad co-op is not present in the ported versions, these thirty second to a couple of minutes to complete chambers do have a level select menu and leaderboards that rank you based on your time, number of deaths and times spotted that will make perfectionists glow as getting that S rank provides a definite rush.
Story wise, completion of each area unlocks that area’s now-tested gadget for use in the overworld which, in true Metroidvania fashion, allows for and encourages further exploration of previously unreachable sections of already completed areas. Thankfully travelling throughout this ever evolving world in and out of chambers is seamless and the game introduces new mechanics along with more complex and difficult puzzles at a pace that is placed perfectly between players being blinded sided and having their hands held.
I know I just met you, and this is crazy, but please stop trying to kill me, maybe?
Nonetheless you will die, a lot, but with precise and responsive controls even the most unexpected of shifts in the games’ negative space feels like a failure in your reaction time rather than the game cheating you out of life. Furthermore with nearly instantaneous respawns and checkpoints being fantastically placed in rarely requiring you to replay an already conquered hazard due to dying on a subsequent one makes this a true trial and error puzzle-platformer. Causal gamers can get through Stealth Inc. 2 at their own pace without vast amounts of frustration and the stealthy platforming elites can go for that superior S rank in attempting a perfect chamber run.
With every Metroidvanian game it would be easy to include an excessive amount of secrets and collectibles, but Stealth Inc. 2 avoids this pitfall entirely. Wearable hats and clothing are well spaced on and off the beaten path so that finding one is rare enough to be a joyous moment, but is not something that even the most resistant to exploration gamer will miss out on entirely. Although backtracking without a fast travel option between chambers and subsequently having to re-complete some of the previously passed overworld puzzles can be tedious, finally unlocking that gadget to get a collectible that was just out of your grasp a few areas ago is a fun and enticing diversion.
Furthermore, beyond the story-based experience, the level editor and online community is sure to bring numerous additional hours of fun to this decently lengthed game. The editor itself is mostly intuitive and thus doesn’t have a huge learning curve while the online filter and favourites options offer an enjoyable online community creations experience. Sure the editor feels like it could have more pieces, but it is nonetheless varied and populated enough to allow even the somewhat creative gamer to do something interesting in less than ten minutes.
Both the audio and visual components of the game are crisp in using negative space to craft an ever evolving world in an eloquent way. The flawless sound and graphics are by no means artistically innovative, but they almost never overshadow the game itself, but instead opt to supplement the game’s seamless integration of gameplay and narrative. The subtly of the background’s dried blood splatter, room lighting and emotions of other clones combined with the satisfying sound of footsteps, doors opening and steam rising draws gamers into full engagement with its reality. The only real detraction to a player’s complete engagement is that the brilliant blood splatter from your undoubtedly gruesome and yet not unnerving death that stains the wall behind you, disappears within seconds.
In short, Stealth Inc. 2 is a fantastic game that perfectly embodies Metroidvanian style in such a way that all levels of gamers can enjoy. The playful narrative, fluid gameplay and vast amount of extras are all presented within an excellent audio-visual environment. This is a sequel that not only exceeds everything the original accomplished, but also establishes a modern benchmark for how the Metroidvanian style should be implemented into games and thus if you haven’t played Stealth Inc. 2 yet, you really should.