Stealth Inc. review: A super-hard puzzle-platform game for iPhone and iPad
Stealth Inc. is all about staying hidden. Our little man is hanging above the robot (who has a yellow question mark because he thinks he knows where we are)
One of the articles on the Macworld 'to-write' list is an iOS gaming wishlist: the games on PC, console and browser that we wish someone would port to iPad and iPhone. Brilliantly (although also annoyingly for the purposes of that half-written article), one of the top choices on the list has now made the transfer. But can Stealth Inc.* possibly live up to our expectations?
[That article has now been published - Ed. 'iOS gaming wishlist: PC and console games we demand on iPad']
Well, we'll get to that in a moment. First things first: Stealth Inc. is a puzzle-platform game for iPhone and iPad that, obviously enough, involves a lot of sneaking around. You control a series of disposable clones, who uncomplainingly take it in turns to tackle the game's impossibly lethal levels, leaping over whirring saw blades, dodging laser beams and hiding out of sight of murderous robot sentries.
There's a lovely blend of fast-twitch hand speed and thoughtful pre-planning: it's essential in each level to work out firstly which door, lift or trapdoor each button or computer console activates, and secondly how to pursue the best route to the exit. But the execution of even the most meticulously thought-through plan is likely to require considerable hand-eye co-ordination. Not to mention patience: often the key is forgetting the clock for a second and waiting in the shadows for the right moment to strike.
The progress bar shows how long it will take to hack the terminal
So the gameplay is built on sound foundations, and the cosmetic edifice on top is good too; the variety of levels is pleasing, with a natural progression in the difficulty (platform addicts will be happy to learnt that it gets tough - properly tough). And the look of the thing is great, all dark greys and futuristic greens, making the occasional hot-pink laser beam or burst of crimson blood when you slip up all the more alarming for the restrained colour palette the rest of the time.
It's also funny, for that matter. You get to read 'company memos' between levels that expand on the (minimal) backstory and crack little jokes. And certain actions trigger pointed criticism - "Do you need me to draw you a diagram?" - to appear, lit up in giant capitals on the walls.
The clones themselves are very slightly reminiscent of the minions in the film Despicable Me, with the addition of adorable night-vision goggles that glow green when they're successfully hidden and yellow or red the rest of the time. (Keeping an eye on your visibility status, also labelled at the bottom of the screen, is often a crucial part of cracking a level.)
Stealth Bastard made its name as a mouse-controlled PC game, but it works surprisingly smoothly with a touchscreen. There are buttons for jumping and crouching (and an extra 'activate' button that appears when relevant), and pressing and pushing left or right with your other thumb covers directional controls, like in Limbo.
I'll just nip up there and jump past the robot sentry...
All in all this is a quiet little masterpiece: tricky, funny, great-looking (in a 2D, retro sort of way) and very much its own game. It's a lot of fun, but expect a fair but of frustration too, this being a classic platformer. We died a lot while reviewing the game, and expect to die many more times.
*We say Stealth Inc., but one element that has been lost is the original name: the delightful 'Stealth Bastard', appended in one version with the elegant subtitle 'Tactical Espionage Arsehole'. This was changed to something less rude when the game made the move to PS Vita, and remains in its bowdlerised form on the App Store. We would have suggested Stealth Jerk if they'd asked us.
If you like Stealth Inc., you may also like (although we don't know any other iOS games that are quite like this one):
Limbo: another puzzle platformer with a strong sense of humour, but rather more bleakness
Super Crate Box: a very different game in most respects, but it shares Stealth Inc.'s simple look (even though it's even more retro) and fast platform action. There's absolutely no brain-work, though
Deus Ex: The Fall: and the converse - a game that's almost the polar opposite of Stealth Inc. in terms of look and play style, but shares its shadowy stealthiness
Stealth Inc. is a charming puzzle platformer for the iPhone and iPad, with distinctive and attractive graphics, simple but rich gameplay and a nice (but not intrusive) sense of humour. Casual gamers may find the difficulty level a bit frustrating - you may get stuck on a level for a while, although this is alleviated by being offered a limited number of skips. Nevertheless this is highly recommended.