Stealth Inc. (née Bastard) was a brutally and unforgivingly difficult game. It took the notion of stealth games and blended it with 2D platforming and the endlessly compulsive race against the clock, but as you learned the levels it would kill you time and again. Then the omniscient text projected onto the background made fun of you and your inability to succeed. Stealth Inc 2: A Game of Clones uses this as a starting point, and expands in every direction. Oh, and it’s a Wii U exclusive.
Meet Malcolm Alderman, Snr. Quality Assurance at PTI Industries. Stealth Inc 2’s animated cutscenes introduce the man putting the text up on the walls, a man who’s annoyed that Colin Rickman’s monthly tally is higher than his. Malcolm’s the best, you see, but that makes him complacent, and as the testing facility cleanses itself as it does every night, that complacency gets the better of him. He inadvertently lets you escape.
Following on from the sequence of test chambers in the original, this escape has certain undertones from Portal, as Malcolm tries to lead and manipulate you to his will. You break out into the main building of PTI Industries, in a Metroidvania-styled over world that you can explore to the extent of your abilities. With fairly subtle direction as to where you ought to go, the Gamepad’s ability to show the world map is particularly useful to navigate to your desired location.
Test chambers do of course still feature, with 6 new sequences to follow as you explore different areas of the facility, that can then be revisited individually after their discovery. Very quickly, the twist from the end of the first game reappears, the realisation of the clone’s original purpose comes to the fore, but here it’s used as a jumping off point for the story, rather than a conclusion.
Exploring the world and the testing chambers shows a similar evolution. The puzzles and design which was already rather finely tuned has been refined further, while gameplay elements which were previously explored in depth are now part of a richer and more diverse patina.
The several robot enemies are added to by robot dogs that hunt you down and bark to draw other nearby foes, with new alarm bots which will roll at and suicide attack you and additional flying enemies too. Darkness is occasionally supplemented but smoke that can disrupt a camera’s line of sight, allowing you to pass as if in darkness.
With a large world to explore, it would have been easy for much of the gameplay to remain the same, but Curve haven’t rested on their laurels here either. The clone didn’t really have any special abilities in the first game, relying more on your timing and ingenuity to figure out how to get through a level, but Stealth Inc. 2 features a number of gadgets, each of which first stars within a series of test chambers before you get to use and abuse it in the overworld.
The only one that we’ve seen before is the throwable teleporter which was in a DLC pack, but now there’s the Inflate-A-Mate, an inflatable and throwable equivalent to the blocks you push around so often, the Jack Boy robot hijacking tool and several others that I’m hesitant to spoil.
What they do quite excellently is really refresh the core gameplay that was there before. Each gadget is used on its own within its introductory test sequence, and the levels drop you in at the deep end with learning the extended techniques of an item. Jumping while stood on an inflating Inflate-A-Mate to be thrown into the air is one of the very first things you have to learn in order to progress, for example.
However, when you’re going up against the clock, trying to master a particular test, I do feel that some of the abilities may be a little too finicky to be used reliability. It’s a game that relies on your precision, but throwing an object to exactly where you need it can be very difficult to do and lose you valuable seconds, as can trying to divide your fingers and thumbs between controlling two characters.
One of the best things about the shift to the Wii U is that the potential for innovative and asymmetrical co-op play is so deeply ingrained in the system, and Stealth Inc. 2’s take on this is quite pleasingly involved for both parties. The whole game is playable co-operatively, but rather than having two clones running around the screen, the player with the Gamepad has different responsibilities, now dubbed a hacker during a clever in a typically witty tutorial.
Hacking a terminal now has the clone read out the digits on the screen for the hacker to type in as quickly as possible, as one key interaction, while the hacker can use a few gadgets to hide the clone player or distract patrolling enemies away from them. Some enemies will now be invisible on the TV and need highlighting.
The main change from the clone’s point of view is that the control of the gadgets is largely taken out of their hands. These now fall under the hacker’s purview, to drag gadgets around with the stylus – though either player can activate them, to help with tricky timing of jumps – and it’s a nice move to be able to split the workload when there is a secondary character. With good communication and two skilled players, playing co-op could be even more effective and efficient on some of the trickier levels.
Stealth Inc 2 is a really smart sequel, taking what worked so well in the original and then expanding in every direction, using it as a jumping off point create that’s more diverse and richer. With cleverly designed co-op play, it makes full use of the Wii U’s capabilities and console owners should certainly sit up and pay attention.