Video Game Review: Stealth Inc. [PS Vita/PS3]

Stealth Inc. [PS Vita/PS3]

Stealth Inc.: A Clone in the Dark
System: PS Vita/PS3 (crossbuy) [also on PC, Mac, Linux and Android as Stealth Bastard Deluxe]
Genre: Stealth puzzle platformer
Developer: Curve Studios
Distributor: Curve Studios
Release Date: July 23, 2013

Stealth Inc has the distinction of being a stealth game that doesn’t really play like one. Most stealth games move at a laborious pace that requires sneaking around, waiting for guards to turn their backs, and hiding until the coast is clear. In Stealth Inc, there is still a lot of lurking in the shadows, but the game moves at a much brisker rate than you might have come to expect.

It’s also one tough bastard.

Stealth Inc scraps the idea of having a plot in favor of just throwing you — an unnamed “clone” — into action. This clone, with an appearance not unlike a South Park character, is forced to undergo a series of tests presented by an unknown overseer. This mysterious figure mocks the test subject when he dies by writing words of belittlement on the walls, but he also shares the occasional helpful tip to get through a tough area. These random blurbs help lighten the mood, a much-welcomed diversion from the difficult gameplay.

Stealth Inc. [PS Vita, 2013]

Split into eight chapters of ten levels each, the main campaign offers bite-sized puzzle-platforming action. In theory, each level can be completed in anywhere from 30 seconds to just a couple minutes. In reality, these can take much, much longer, as a lot of trial-and-error is required to solve the myriad of puzzles thrown in your direction.

In order to progress through an area, the clone must hack computers and push switches, all while dodging security cameras, lasers, patrolling enemies and other hellish contraptions. Each level is well-designed and offers generous checkpoints, but many of the puzzles are real head-scratchers. Certain areas can be incredibly frustrating — there were multiple times where I needed to step away just to clear my head — but there is a huge sense of accomplishment in solving some of the trickier bits. In other words, patience is required, but those elusive “Eureka!” moments make the grievances worth it.

In many ways, Stealth Inc reminds me of the highly-regarded indie title, Super Meat Boy. The fast-paced platforming action is very similar, right down to finding hard-to-reach optional items in clever locations. The stealth aspect adds a refreshing twist to this tried-and-true formula, and the brief levels make this an easy game to pick up and play.

Stealth Inc. [PS Vita/PS3]

One major plus is that there is a lot of potential for replay value here. For the extra-adventurous, each level can be replayed in hopes of getting the desired S-Rank high score. These in turn can unlock new levels and bonus suits, the latter of which can help shave off precious seconds in a time trial. There is also a nifty level editor, though unfortunately user-created levels cannot be shared at this time (the developers have stated that this feature will be patched in soon).

This game also has the benefit of being a Cross Buy title, meaning that one $9.99 purchase grants you access to both the PS3 and PS Vita versions. For this review, I focused entirely on the Vita experience, and this type of game is perfect for on-the-go action.

Stealth Inc offers plenty of bang for its buck, and its stealth-tinged gameplay is unique enough to make it stand out in the ever-expanding indie market. It helps to be a glutton for punishment with this one, but those who stick with it will find this to be a very gratifying experience.

8/10

 
(A copy of this game was provided for review.)

Advertisements

Video Game Review: Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus HD [PS3]

Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus HD [PS3]

Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus HD
System: Playstation 3
Genre: Platform/Stealth
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Developer: Sucker Punch Productions
Release Date: November 9, 2010 (original PS2 release: September 23, 2002)

Despite owning a Playstation 2 for most of the system’s lifespan, I missed out on a lot of its more popular titles. For one, I pretty much neglected the entire 3D platforming genre. Thankfully, Sony has been especially helpful in my quest to go back in time by releasing HD collections of all sorts of modern favorites. The first one to revisit: Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus.

I was initially ambivalent to check out the Sly Cooper series simply because of its cartoonish nature — I had written it off as a kid’s game, more or less. I couldn’t have been more wrong. While the Thievius Raccoonus can be enjoyed by all ages, there is a surprising amount of depth to the gameplay that will keep everyone coming back for more.

Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus

In his quest to uncover his family’s “Thievius Raccoonus” book about stealing, the eponymous raccoon travels through five different areas, ranging from mountains in China to Haitian swamplands. He is aided by two trustworthy companions, the intelligent Bentley the Turtle (voiced with a poor man’s Harry Caray impression) and the dim-witted Murray the Hippo. There is also a love interest of sorts in the form of Carmelita Fox, a government agent who is actually trying to capture Sly.

Gameplay consists of a hybrid of platforming and stealth elements. Sly can be wiped out with just one hit from an enemy, so sneaking around can be crucial to level progression. Getting caught by a security camera will set off an alarm, causing any enemies nearby to swarm the area. There are ways around most security systems (helpfully shown by a dotted blue line), but it can be tricky to get by in some instances. For the most part, Sly Cooper is fairly easy, but there are occasionally frustrating moments that require expert jumping and dodging of obstacles to get anywhere. For me, there was just the right amount of challenge, but platforming pros may breeze through the campaign with minimal difficulty.

Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus

Each locale is comprised of several levels, all of which have several clue bottles and coins scattered throughout. The coins act just as they do in Mario games — collect 100 for an extra life — but getting all of the bottles will provide Sly with bonus power-ups and features. These become especially handy in later levels, as some aid in jumping and combat. Each game world also has a handful of mini-games to spice things up, including go-kart racing and third-person shooting.

On the whole, Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus offers a well-balanced campaign with fluid gameplay. I never ran into any trouble with the in-game camera — a problem I often have with the genre — and the mix of stealth/platforming is perfect. If anything, the game’s only real problem is that it is relatively short. The single player campaign can be finished in less than eight hours, though getting 100% can extend its shelf life a bit.

Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus

What makes Sly Cooper stand out from other like-minded platformers are its gorgeous cel-shaded graphics. The PS3’s upscaled HD rendition makes the colors even more vibrant, and the animations wouldn’t be out of place in a Looney Tunes cartoon. Adding to the attractive aesthetics are brilliant film noir-esque interludes that are perfectly in line with the game’s criminal roots.

As the first title in this highly-regarded series, Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus has laid down some impressive groundwork. This bit of platforming fun was exactly what I needed to play recently, and for those looking for a diversion from today’s popular shoot ’em ups, you can’t go wrong with this. I can’t wait to play through the rest of the Sly Collection.

8.5/10

Video Game Review: Batman: Arkham City [PS3, 2011]

Batman: Arkham City [PS3, 2011]

Batman: Arkham City
System: Playstation 3 (also on Xbox 360 and PC)
Genre: Action/Adventure/Stealth
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Developer: Rocksteady Studios
Release Date: October 18, 2011

It was just last month that I finally played through Batman: Arkham Asylum, Rocksteady’s breakout hit from 2009. That game totally blew me away and removed any pre-conceived notion I had about superhero titles lacking in quality. After completing Batman’s first PS3/X360 effort, I immediately picked up last year’s sequel, Arkham City.

Whereas Arkham Asylum focused primarily on a plot against the Joker, Arkham City showcases several prominent villains. After former warden Quincy Sharp is elected mayor of Gotham, his first order of business is to clean up the streets. His solution? Turn the slums of the city into a maximum security prison — its own metropolis, blocked off from everything else. Naturally, this is a terrible idea, as that means all sorts of evil masterminds are put together in one location. All hell breaks loose, and it’s Batman’s job to restore order against the likes of Hugo Strange, Two Face, the Penguin, and the Joker, among many others.

The biggest difference between the two games is Arkham City’s venture into a larger open world. The city is five times bigger than the asylum, and it allows Batman to have free reign in a massive urban environment. With the ability to use a grappling hook from building to building and rooftop to rooftop, you really feel as if you are Batman himself. The sheer freedom that the city provides is awe-inspiring, and it helps to be controlling such a badass character.

Batman: Arkham City [PS3, 2011]

The core gameplay is the same as before, a strong mix of combat, stealth and exploration. The combat system still uses the same attack/countering method that is so simple yet amazingly well-executed. Batman has some new gadgets this time around, many of which help during battles. Smoke pellets can be dropped to disorientate enemies and allow Batman to more easily escape harm’s way. A taser gun can be used to shock enemies, and it also restores power to generators. There’s even a new freezing gadget that can be used to toss ice grenades. All of these new toys are used throughout the game, often at critical points.

Stealth is largely the same as before, but the exploration aspects have drastically increased. If you couldn’t get enough of Riddler’s challenges before, you will love Arkham City even more. This time around there are a whopping 440 trophies to acquire, and all of them are scattered throughout the huge in-game world. There are also an increased amount of side missions, many of which introduce other villains not otherwise found in the main story. The Riddler himself has a side quest that has Batman stopping Saw-like puzzles to save innocent victim’s lives.

What’s great about all of these new quests is that once the main campaign is completed, everything is rolled over into a “New Game+” mode. That means that you can pick up all of the side quests you missed the first time around, but with all of Batman’s upgrades already included. I loved having this functionality, as I am the type of gamer that usually tries to finish the story first before digging into the supplementary features.

Batman: Arkham City [PS3, 2011]

Also carried over from Arkham Asylum is the expansive Challenge mode. This feature pits Batman in a series of increasingly more difficult combat sequences, with the goal being to string together awesome combos in order to achieve a high score. A new twist to this mode is the ability to tweak the settings in order to make combat even more challenging (or easier, if you are so inclined).

Yet another new addition to the game is the ability to play as an entirely different character, Catwoman. Unfortunately, she can only be used if you buy the game brand new, or if you are willing to cough up $10 extra for used copies. This is a seriously shitty move on the part of the publishers, as Catwoman was clearly already built into the game and therefore should not be considered as something akin to downloadable content. I had considered paying the $10, but from what I have heard, her campaign is very short and only lasts about an hour. That’s not worth it to me, and I am disgusted that it is not included as part of the main package.

Still, Catwoman or not, Batman: Arkham City is an incredible experience that is an absolute must play, especially for those that loved its predecessor. The dark, gritty visual style is back and better than ever, and the soundtrack feels like it could easily belong in one of Christopher Nolan’s terrific Dark Knight films. With a staggering amount of gameplay depth, this will last a LONG time. An easy contender for 2011’s Game of the Year.

9/10

Video Game Review: Batman: Arkham Asylum [PS3, 2009]

Batman: Arkham Asylum [PS3, 2009]

Batman: Arkham Asylum
System: Playstation 3 (also on Xbox 360, Windows and Mac OS X)
Genre: Action/Adventure/Stealth
Publisher: Eidos Interactive
Developer: Rocksteady Studios
Release Date: August 25, 2009

I am not a big comic book or superhero guy, but I have always had a soft spot for Batman. I remember buying Batman trading cards (based on Tim Burton’s 1989 film) when I was a kid, and I even watched the ultra campy (but fun) 1960s TV show when it aired on daytime television. After some poor movie sequels in the 90s, Christopher Nolan revitalized the character with his acclaimed Dark Knight trilogy. This success has translated to the video game world, where we have Batman: Arkham Asylum, easily one of the greatest superhero titles ever made.

Arkham Asylum is gripping from the opening moments, as Batman (voiced by Kevin Conroy) escorts the Joker (Mark Hamill) to the eponymous institution. The Joker is restrained by handcuffs and surrounded by armed guards, but there is still that sinking feeling that shit is about to hit the fan. Sure enough, his accomplice Harley Quinn (Arleen Sorkin) is there to override the security system, allowing the Joker to escape. Now it is Batman’s turn to regain control of the asylum, while also thwarting the Joker’s plan to create an army of Titans that threaten Gotham City. All in a day’s work for ol’ Bats, right?

Fans of the comic books (and TV shows and films and so on) will be pleased to see several recurring characters show up. Bane, Killer Croc and Poison Ivy are just a few villains that our caped hero runs into, and there are references to several others as well. In fact, for those who could use some refreshers on the series, there are dozens of newspaper clippings scattered around the game’s environment that can be picked up to learn about backstories for each character. Even non-fans will find it easy to get sucked into the world of Gotham.

Batman: Arkham Asylum [PS3, 2009]

Arkham Asylum’s gameplay consists of a mix of brawling combat, stealth and exploration. The combat, at first glance, seems almost elementary in execution, as just one button is used to attack. However, this “Freeflow” system is surprisingly well-crafted. Along with standard attacks, Batman has the ability to “stun” an enemy, as well as counter an opposing punch or kick. In order to string together long combos (which boost the overall score), he must flawlessly maneuver between each function, dodging enemy attacks while fighting back at the same time. High scores are eventually rewarded with XP, which can in turn be used to upgrade Batman’s gadgets. Many of these can be used in combat as well, such as the Batarang and Bat-Claw. The amount of depth that this simple brawling system has is outstanding.

The stealth aspects allow Batman to hide in the shadows and use his grappling hook to fly from pillar to pillar. Evasion is important in areas where enemies are rampant, particularly when they are carrying guns. Utilizing a healthy mix of brawling and stealth is the way to go to achieve maximum success.

For those who enjoy exploration, the game offers plenty to whet the appetite. There are countless items scattered throughout the environment, many of which give insight to the game’s backstory (as mentioned earlier). Most intriguing is the addition of a whopping 200+ riddles left behind by the Riddler. In every new area, the puzzle-obsessed villain leaves behind a riddle for Batman to figure out. Many of these are tricky and benefit greatly from the use of Batman’s impressive Detective mode. This well-designed feature highlights objects of interest and allows limited X-ray vision on anyone in sight.

Batman: Arkham Asylum [PS3, 2009]

Quite frankly, there is not a shortage of quality gameplay in Arkham Asylum. As an added bonus, there is even a separate Challenge mode that offers bite-sized levels to boost combat and stealth skills. The amount of options and replay value is staggering.

Although Arkham Asylum is now over two years old, its visuals still hold up well today. The game’s environment is very dark and gritty, not unlike Christopher Nolan’s films. This presents a sense of realism that is very welcome, and this is aided by a stellar voice acting cast. Batman, the Joker and Harley Quinn are all played by their voice actors from Batman: The Animated Series, and the other roles are filled by more-than-adequate veterans on the scene. In terms of aesthetics, everything screams high quality.

I won’t go so far as to say Arkham Asylum is the best superhero game ever made, as many have, but it is certainly up there. The gameplay is near flawless, the story is a worthy entry to the canon, and the presentation is superb. You don’t have to be a fan of the series to appreciate what this game has to offer. As a bargain bin title today, there really is no excuse to miss this.

9/10

Now, onto Arkham City, which I am VERY eager to play.

Video Game Review: Deus Ex: Human Revolution [Playstation 3, 2011]

Deus Ex: Human Revolution [Playstation 3, 2011]

Deus Ex: Human Revolution
System: Playstation 3 (also available on Xbox 360, PC, and Mac)
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Eidos Montreal
Release Date: August 23, 2011

Talk about a mashup of genres.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution has elements of stealth games, first person shooters, sci-fi thrillers, RPGs, and tactical espionage. It is a smart and cerebral adventure, one full of conspiracies, twists and turns. Quite frankly, this is one of the most mentally stimulating titles to come out on this current generation of video game systems.

A prequel to the original highly-regarded 2000 PC title, Deus Ex: Human Revolution is set in a dystopian futuristic Detroit. To be exact, the year is 2027, and a major class divide is running rampant. On one side, there are the “Naturals”, normal humans who are against any sort of genetic body modifications. On the other side are “Augs”, humans who are augmented with mechanical implants that push the boundaries of human ability.

Caught in the middle of the escalating war between the two sides is Adam Jensen, a gruff-talking security expert for Sarif Industries, one of the largest augmentation companies in the country. After a rival company attacks Sarif’s headquarters and begins torching the place, Adam becomes gravely injured and is near death before being taken in and, unwillingly, given augmentations. These modifications save his life, and when he gets back to full strength, his boss sends him out to find those who attacked the company. What Adam uncovers goes far beyond his wildest expectations.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution [Playstation 3, 2011]

As a cyberpunk-themed story, Human Revolution is incredibly well written and always intriguing. While the main quests add up to a lengthy adventure, the side quests help flesh out the story more and are oftentimes just as enthralling. Typical playthroughs will last for 20+ hours, even if optional missions are ignored.

There is just so much to see and do in the game, and it helps that the environments are so fascinating. Futuristic Detroit is dark, grimy and full of seedy characters. The city is big enough that it is possible to find new things while just wandering around, but it is scaled to the point where it’s easy to walk from point A to point B without there being lengthy gaps between action. It’s amazing how well-crafted the game’s settings are.

Perhaps the most crucial aspect (and possibly biggest selling point) of Human Revolution is the fact that you can play it any way you want to. While the game prides itself on its stealth capabilities, you don’t have to sneak around. You can go in guns-a-blazin’ and shoot up everyone you see if that’s how you would rather play the game. Adam’s augmentation system allows you to build up his capabilities to suit your style, and upgrades can be earned by gaining experience and finding relevant items scattered throughout the city. While Adam starts off with fairly meager augmentations, he will be spectacularly built up by the end of the game, provided you allow him to be.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution [Playstation 3, 2011]

In my first playthrough, I opted to do a hybrid of stealth and action gameplay. Both styles were a blast to mess around with, and it was easy to switch between the two. Sneaking around was perhaps most fun, which is a bit of a surprise to me since I usually prefer intense action sequences. There’s something to be said about crawling to a side of the room, staying in cover, waiting for an enemy to turn away, then taking him down with a quick knockout punch, all while surrounding enemies are oblivious. I also loved exploring areas to find ventilation shafts, which in turn would take me to previously inaccessible areas.

Exploration is a large part of the game, especially if you want to really dig into the story. Scattered throughout the environment are eBooks, “personal secretary” notes, and private emails, all of which add to the overall story when read. Considering the sheer amount of detail that went into the plot, it’s worth finding as much as you can (especially when you stumble upon some of the many humorous Easter Eggs).

Deus Ex: Human Revolution [Playstation 3, 2011]

One of the most efficient ways of obtaining information is via hacking. This is done through a mini-game that is confusing at first, but easy to get the hang of after a few tries. Basically the idea is to navigate through a series of nodes in order to reach the end target while trying to get it done as fast as possible in order to avoid setting off alarms. This is exciting in its own way, as it is always a race against the clock. As a bonus, there are hacking augmentations that can be used to make things a bit easier if you are having problems.

Flaws are few and far in between. The most glaring issue is one that will only affect those wishing to play the entire game without killing anyone — a handful of boss fights interrupt the game’s flow and can cause great difficulty for those armed with nothing more than a tranquilizer gun and some health packs. I found these battles to be a challenging change of pace for my style of gameplay, but this can certainly be a problem for those going all ninja-like.

Also, while enemy AI is generally rather sharp, there are occasions where adversaries get hung up in certain areas, allowing themselves to be casually picked off one by one. These moments are not that common, however, and do not hinder the overall combat experience.

Visually, Human Revolution succeeds in delivering a gritty and unique cyberpunk-style environment. Character models are well-designed, and animations are generally pretty solid outside of occasional awkward clipping (such as when attempting to drag bodies to another location). The aural experience is nothing short of phenomenal. The game’s soundtrack is hauntingly beautiful, a perfect fit for game’s setting. The voice acting is of the utmost quality, with Adam Jensen’s surly Clint Eastwood/Keanu Reeves imitation leading the way.

In short, Deus Ex: Human Revolution is one of the better single-player experiences you will find today. Sci-fi aficionados will love the story, shooter fans will dig the impressive amount of weapons and slick combat action, and RPG lovers will enjoy crafting Jensen in their own image. There really is something for everyone here, although the game’s slow pace may take some getting used to. Kudos, Square Enix, for delivering such a deep adventure that makes the player really feel like THEY are in control.

9/10