Review: Stealth Bastard Deluxe

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The stealth platformer genre is a tiny one, and it’s not hard to figure out why. Stealth games in general are tricky to balance between challenge and frustration, and limiting that tug-of-war to just two dimensions doesn’t make it any easier. The auspiciously-named Stealth Bastard is actually more on the fringes of the genre, focusing on puzzles with stealth mechanics than outright stealth, but it makes a solid showing for what it is.

Sinister dystopian megacorps are afoot, churning out stealthy clones for an unknown purpose. You play one of those clones who happens to be sharp enough to break out of holding and puzzle his way through eight sectors of test chambers, air vents, and industrial compactors to escape. Each sector contains ten levels (two of them secret) full of traps and switches between you and the exit, with new mechanics popping up in every sector like sensor beams and force fields. You’re evaluated at the end of every level on how fast you escaped and how many deaths you suffered and so on, so there’s pressure to puzzle carefully and efficiently, too.

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As a platformer, Stealth Bastard is as solid as they come. The controls are tight and responsive, allowing you to perform precision ledge jumps over spinning spike pits with ease. Your clone moves at a brisk clip which is also used to escape some of the more fast-paced traps. The big difference here, though, are the stealth mechanics layered over the fine fundamentals. Light levels make you more visible to cameras and enemies, and your goggles are color-coded red/yellow/green to indicate how exposed or hidden you are. The more dangerous puzzles in the game deal with sticking to moving shadows or covering light sources to allow access to new areas.

Stealth is really the only big deviation from most puzzle platformers to be found here. Every level has a number of terminals you must hack to open the exit, as well as one hidden collectible to hunt for. Levels can get rather long and winding in the back half of each sector, but there are numerous checkpoints per level so death won’t send you back too far. It’s a good thing, too, because traps in Stealth Bastard are instantly lethal and occasionally cruel in their construction. If you’re just looking to get through the game it’s fine, but keep in mind that S-ranking anything past Sector 1 is going to be an agonizing ordeal, as you’ll need to finish most (all?) levels in one go without dying.

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It may not be a groundbreaking game, but it sure is pretty. I’m partial to the warm, fuzzy scan-line look that Stealth Bastard uses, giving the shadows and glowing cameras a little extra oomph in appearance. An excellent soundtrack backs up the visuals with some sinister, pounding synth (the boss stages are a real highlight here), which also compliments the story-driven messages you get every few levels from an unseen tormentor. Along with a robust level editor and custom level catalog, Stealth Bastard is a great puzzle platformer to sharpen your wits with.

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