Review: Stealth Bastard
Developer: Curve Studios
Release date: 4 November, 2011
Genre: 2D platformer, puzzle-solving, stealth
I read on Joystiq the other day about some game called Stealth Bastard: Tactical Espionage Arsehole. I kid you not. I instantly wanted to know more, and wished I could play a game with such an outrageous title. I can't even bear to not censor the name. Look at me!
I originally thought it was yet another title such as Binding Isaac, only available over at Steam. Well, it turns out that it’s a free game by Curve Studios, developed for the PC. So all I had to do was download and install it. Not so hard, or costly. Curve decided to go the donation route instead seeing as PC games, especially by indie studios, are usually pirated in any case. Developers need to resort to alternate methods of monetization such as this nowadays, it seems.
Downloadable off of the official site, the weight isn’t bad at all. It comes in at just under 20 MB.
Once installed, you proceed to fire up the game, and you are greeted with a prompt that will urge you to create an account. You must do this in order to play the game, but the good news is that you can play offline. The only reason to connect to the web and verify your account is so that you are able to place your times on the leader-board – as you get better and better at levels, the objective is to complete missions as quickly as you can, thereby placing higher on the leader-board. The number of deaths in a level is also taken in to consideration.
SB comes with four episodes, all made by Curve, namely “Bastard Begins”, “Phantom Bastard”, “The Wrath of Bastard”, and "Inglorious A***hole". It’s basically one large series of tutorials showing you the ins and outs of the game, and lets you get to grips with the controls and everything you’ll see on-screen in the game. And needless to say, episodes and the levels therein get more difficult as you progress, often introducing new enemies and obstacles, as well as new and inventive (but often linear) solutions to complete missions. You have the option of skipping levels too, but you can only do this 3 times per play session, I've found. So you can potentially skip any level, but not all in one session. You have to quit and relaunch the game before you can skip a level again.
Initially released as a freeware game in 2011, the game got so much attention that Stealth Bastard received a commercial release in the form of a Deluxe edition that was released on Steam in 2012, which is also available on Amazon.
Stealth Bastard is also bundled with an in-game level editor so you can make your own missions and even upload them to the official website if desired, to share with other players. You can also naturally download and install missions and campaigns that other users make for the game, allowing for almost infinite longevity. It comes complete with a complexity meter, which will indicate how…. well, complex the level you’ve made really is.
The game is inspired by the likes of Metal Gear Solid and Splinter Cell, with its industrial espionage theme; sneaking around in the shadows; the player character dons a pair of thermal goggles much like Sam Fisher out of the latter series of games – and they even change colour depending on how visible you are. When the goggles the player character wears turn green, you are invisible (or not visible) to robots, security cameras, etc. Then you have partially visible (orange); and completely visible (red). This is also accompanied by other visual cues: text in a matching colour at the bottom of the game screen as well as a square-like object that stays still or flashes with more intensity the more visible you are.
The gameplay operates very similarly to the Trilby series of games, by Ben “Yahtzee” Croshaw, such as The Art Of Theft. You have three levels of lightness (or darkness depending on how you look at it). Complete darkness means you’re invisible no matter what your stance or action; a lighter shade than that means that you’re visible if standing or interacting with items – if you crouch by pressing down, then you will remain unseen occasionally, but not always; and being in the light obviously means that you’re exposed no matter what you do. This is all accomplished using the lighting engine made by Phoenix101 (sic). Lighting is used to good effect when transitioning from one part of a level to the next, too. This is the only “side-scrolling” element in the game. For the most part it’s a full-on platformer.
Obstacles you’ll comes across include weird containers on wheels that I could swear have eyes peering out of them. These can be used for many purposes, such as weighting down touch plates, creating shadow when needed to avoid security cameras, robots, eyebots, and even preventing laser beams from gibbing you. There’s also massive spinning blades with vicious teeth that need to be avoided at all costs. And not to mention moving walls; portals...
Players can use air ducts, grab on to ledges, and use lifts to navigate their way through levels, in addition to running and dropping down passages – all the while heeding the advice given to you by text that flashes up on the walls – very SC:Conviction-esque. Of course seeing as this is a 2D platformer, it’s probably more fitting so say that it’s a lot like Abe’s Odyssey – this game introduced the feature long ago. There’s even a few taunts thrown in, too. You have to press any number of toggles, and hack in to interfaces in order to unlock the exit door. Running through this door obviously finishes the level. There are bars above the door that will turn from red to green as you progress in a level, and these bars, I’m guessing, also indicate how difficult the level is.
The controls are quite basic. By default, you have your arrow keys (left, right, up and down). Left moves the character to the left; right moves him to the right; down makes the little man crouch, and up isn’t really a movement control: it’s used to interact with interfaces that you’ll encounter in levels. The only other key used in the game is the “z” key, which makes the character jump. Of course these keys can be configured to suit each player’s individual preferences.
Unfortunately, unlike some of the games I’ve mentioned above, you can’t seem to crouch roll, hug walls, or even execute a split leg manoeuvre. But this would understandably be too involved for a little platformer such as this.
Graphically speaking, the game looks simplistic. Sprites and textures are not extremely well detailed – quite bland actually – and the same can be said for the effects. The animations are also equally simple, but add quite a bit of charm to the game – it’s like watching Bart Simpson with night vision goggles, nabbed from the Prestige Edition of COD: Modern Warfare 2, running around. The most eye-catching animation would probably be the player character’s death and the ensuing gore that results. That hardly ever fails to impress me – it’s just so gruesome. I end up “offing” him for fun sometimes. There’s a bit of extra gloom added to levels that come with SB, with the presence of skulls; remains of other operatives who came before you, as well as blood on the walls.
What's the score?
+ Easy to get into.
- Not “pretty”.
Lasting Appeal: $$$$
Framerate-wise, the smaller the level the better, in my experience. I noticed some slowdown on my system on larger, more involved levels where a lot was going on. All I’m saying is, don’t believe the system requirements listed for this game on its official website. You might be surprised to see that you need something a little beefier. Those specs are the minimum this game needs by the look of it.
The sound effects aren’t particularly outstanding, although audible, and give a basic idea of what’s going on, but it’ll most likely be drowned out by the soundtrack, which has at least some variation. It’s mostly what one would expect from a spy thriller film – quite an understated, light soundtrack with some bass and a few beats added to the mix, but it suits the mood nicely enough.
Overall, Stealth Bastard feels a lot like a retro, old school platformer – and of course that must be the point of it, seeing as I was just saying the other day somewhere that they are exceedingly rare nowadays – particularly commercially released titles – no matter which console you’re talking about. Most games tend to opt for 3D and not full on 2D such as SB. It’s a mix (hence the name “Bastard”) of stealthy but often slow-paced first person shooters (which aren’t always popular with most folk), and fun fast-paced platforming action. It’s a good tribute to practically any of your favourite games from said genre from the good old 90’s, and you should give it a go – it’s free after all. It’s what you want.
It’s a solid, rather challenging puzzle-solving platformer that should keep you entertained, whether you’re a casual gamer, or one looking to take an unlikely break from “Modern Battlefield” for a few minutes.
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© 2011 ANDR01D
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