By: Michael Dao
Independent games can be fantastic, and in an age of where most of the titles that are released from the big publishers are either sequels, prequels, remakes, reboots, or make the use of licensed material, indie developers are a great way to play games that are refreshingly unique and that sometimes push the boundaries of what we thought was possible. Stealth Bastard Deluxe: Tactical Espionage Arsehole, is a title which combines two wholly disparate genres in a manner which is sure to delight fans of either one. It manages to display a level of polish, refinement, ingenuity, and sheer cheek that sadly, the industry ofttimes lacks too much.
Stealth Bastard is a game that can be best described as a combination of Metal Gear Solid, and Super Meat Boy. The former is a third person action game that has a great deal of emphasis on combat and stealth, where the latter is an incredibly hard, yet incredibly satisfying puzzle-platformer. The genesis of this combination, I hope, was something akin to when people discovered that peanut butter and chocolate go together – two things people wouldn’t think to mix, but once discovered, is rather life-changing.
The title is simple in design, and plays as one would expect a platformer to. The single button used is to jump, and the player can hold up in order to activate switches along the way. It’s the design of how such a simple game proves the skill of the developers here. The player character has a set of what can only be night vision goggles, and provide a visual cue as to how stealthy or not so stealthy the player is. The goggles glow green when he’s in total darkness, yellow when only partially visible and red when fully exposed. The game also features various modern niceties, such as the ability to hang off of ledges.
In this make believe world of stealth tactical clones that is entirely made up and based nowhere near the real world, the levels can be designed in ways that are creative and fun. The game’s levels do a fantastic job of introducing new concepts. Instructions are provided to the player via literal writing on the walls, and it’s even hilariously entertaining to read when you inevitably fail. Death comes quickly and easily in Stealth Bastard, and thanks to the near instantaneous revival, you are controlling a clone after all, it never feels like a chore. It’s as if the game acknowledges that you are terrible at the game and just wants to make the bar to trying again and again incredibly low.
Stealth Bastard starts off easily enough, and consists simply of sticking to the shadows and avoiding the eye of security cameras, but soon adds twists and turns to steadily ramp up the difficulty. There are robots with laser beams, environmental hazards, laser beams in general, spinning wheels of death, you name it. The one off putting thing about puzzle platformers is that the difficulty often ramps up too quickly, leaving the player stuck and needing to consult YouTube for a solution. In Stealth Bastard, the problem isn’t so much the puzzles, not only are they cleverly designed, but they tread that often oh so very thin line between too hard and too easy. They are hard enough where the player has to think and reason out the next step, but not so easy that there is no sense of accomplishment when completing a level. It feels really good to work out how to get through a certain level, and when the point does come that you get stuck and have to look for a video online, the solution is never one where you feel that you’d have never figured it out in a thousand years, it’s often a solution where you kick yourself for not having figured it out yourself because you just overlooked some small detail. Personally, I found that most of my deaths were a result of my execution. I knew what I needed to do to advance levels, I just didn’t have the hand eye coordination to do so, and it took a little bit of practice to clear certain areas.
The Deluxe version of the game comes with some 80 levels or so and is packed with replayability. Each level is timed and there are both global leader boards as well as a friends only leader board for the competitive sort. There’s also a level editor and the ability to play community levels. Upon beating a chapter, one can go back and use a different sort of clone with different gear and abilities to play in an entirely different manner. On top of all of these great features, Stealth Bastard feels like it was designed to fit in the life of a busy gamer. Each level takes no more than a few minutes to complete. Most of the levels, can be completed in or around a minute give or take, if you look at the leaderboards, and that’s not a bad thing. I’ve been playing the game in bite sized chunks, and it fits well in that capacity. It’s a great way to kill fifteen minutes or so while you’re waiting for your dinner to come out of the oven, or perhaps if you have a few minutes before your StratOp in Eve Online is set to begin. Overall, if you’re a fan of just one of the genres that comprises Stealth Bastard, it’s worth looking into.
Stealth Bastard is currently available on Steam.