Welcome to life: it’s a ceaseless struggle and you’ll inevitably die, usually because of lasers. Stealth, Inc’s message is a bleak reminder of our own existence – except, perhaps, for the laser part. Playing a freshly-baked clone caught in the bowels of the omnipotent corporation that created you, freedom is your goal and a series of challenging doom chambers the only things standing in your way.
Stealth, Inc. is clearly riffing on some of the humour and scenarios set down by the better known Portal games – malevolent artificial intelligences, seemingly inescapable ‘testing’ facilities, a dryly humorous disregard for organic life, and a constant mocking of your many, unavoidable failures – but its application is drastically different. Each 2D stage is a rigorous assault course of switches, locked pathways, and patrolling death robots, and with no means of assault, the only way to survive is to stick to the shadows and avoid detection.
This is easier said than done though, as the range and speed of enemy robots’ sensors often feels unfairly sensitive. Press on though and you’ll find Curve Studios’ sneak-‘em-up is full of ingenious level design, each stage offering an achievable path to safety even if isn’t apparent on the first attempt – or even the twentieth. As you progress through the eight worlds on offer, various tools are unlocked, including stealth suits granting temporary invisibility and sonic lures to misdirect lethal drones.
The purpose of these unconventional power-ups is two-fold – one, to add some much-needed variety beyond desperately dashing between shadowed crevices, and two, to provide some vague possibility of actually completing levels with the coveted S-rank. Stealth, Inc’s biggest problem is that it’s often far too difficult, made more problematic by an inconsistent learning curve.
To complete all objectives will require considerable numbers of replays, clever use of items, and no small amount of frustration. This is worsened by the tiny clone’s less than desirable athleticism, leading to awkward leaps of faith when trying to meet each stage’s strict time limit. However, instant respawns and regular checkpoints within each room mitigate some of the worst excesses of the game, while the general brevity of each level makes it easy to play in short bursts without rage mounting too much. The unforgiving difficulty will also be appreciated by gamers who pride themselves on overcoming truly demanding play, but may also deter less committed (or masochistic) players.
Reviewed by Matt Kamen