Review: Stealth Inc 2: A Game of Clones
There are few things more disappointing than a sequel that doesn’t live up to its predecessor. We should be used to it, given how often movie sequels and follow-up novels go awry. But game sequels tend to build on prior entries rather than break down. I wish I could say that’s what Stealth Inc 2 does, but it’s not just the name that’s fallen apart here. Compared to Stealth Bastard this outing has some impressive new ideas that end up spoiled by crippling design and technical issues. And honestly, that’s a really unfortunate name to follow Stealth Bastard with.
Where the first game opened with your purpose and mystery being a sinister secret, Stealth Inc 2 lays it all out in stilted cutscenes. You are a clone, one of hundreds pumped out by amoral megacorp PMI designed to be disposable infiltrators. Presumably you want to escape their clutches but a pasty middle-manager type is on your case for personal gain. To outwit him you’ll need to scramble all over the PMI complex, locating and completing test chambers to free your cloned brethren and learn new stealth techniques. Only then can you and the other copies make a clean break from corporate hell.
At least that’s how I think it works, because I couldn’t stomach more than an hour of this one. Stealth Bastard was a solid puzzler, if a little sadistic, but Stealth Inc 2 wanders away from that winning formula in some very strange ways. For starters, the art style is now a weird mix of flat pixel backgrounds and 3D characters. It’s a huge step back from the warm, fuzzy scan-line aesthetic of the first, especially when your 3D clone is pushing an obvious 2D cutout of a robot straight from the first game. Without that slight blur on everything the pixel graphics look blotchy and out of place, and having fully-modeled characters running all over them just exacerbates the problem.
The puzzles are another big step back from the prior deathtraps. Stealth Bastard levels were tight sequences of brutal traps and interconnected halls, requiring some serious puzzling chops to suss out. Test chambers here feel more like platforming gauntlets than puzzles, challenging you to perfectly time jumps or rely on fidgety mechanics like drifting smoke or fans to get past lasers and spinning blades. You’ll run into a lot more traps now that are virtually impossible the first time, as expected reaction times are way faster than before and the hazards are more complex than ever. One early level has you drifting over sawblades using fans, and then traps you on the way back with moving lasers. They move so fast and leave so little space that you have no choice but to memorize the pattern after several deaths to escape. And the first boss sentinel has an infuriating escape sequence with fakeouts that will kill you instantly if you don’t already know to avoid them.
It’s possible my version of the game is running at unusually high speed, because technical problems with this title are rampant. In my first play session the game hitched and stuttered terribly, the kind of hiccuping I would expect from trying to play PUBG in 4K on a toaster. Now it runs super smooth, almost too smooth, because I never have time to respond to traps the way I did in Stealth Bastard. Whether it’s a glitch or not is irrelevant because it makes the game essentially unplayable, and that’s only one of the issues. Basic controls like throwing usable items only work like 10% of the time, important features like smoke used for cover is incredibly spotty, and vision cones feel less precise than they did before.
There are some genuinely neat ideas here, like the open overworld you traverse to reach test chambers or the unlockable cosmetics that help distinguish your clone from the rest. I like that rescuing clones takes the place of finding hidden collectibles here, because they help you out and sometimes provide new solutions to rooms or create more challenges to escape. But between the disappointing art style, the sadistic traps, and the awful technical problems, those neat ideas are buried deep beneath a pile of clone corpses. Stealth Inc 2 is worse than a simple copy, it’s an attempt to do better twisted into a pale mutation of what it wants to be.