2012 was a surprisingly good year for stealth games. What surprised me even more is that I like all of them. Stealth isn’t typically a genre that I like, but Dishonored, Mark of the Ninja and Stealth Bastard have got me reconsidering my genre preferences. Stealth Bastard stands out from the other two, though, for being primarily a puzzle game instead of an action game. It’s a nice change of pace, the challenge is high, and it feels unique in a crowded year for the genre.
You play as a clone making his way through numerous puzzle rooms. The people running the tests seem to be rooting against you, as there are wall-mounted turrets, robots with machine guns and sections of the levels that close in an attempt to crush you. On top of all this, you never get a weapon. The only way to survive is to stick to the shadows and hack terminals to open doors and disable turrets.
Like Mark of the Ninja, Stealth Bastard is great at communicating exactly when you’re safe. The player character wears night vision goggles. If they glow green, you’re hidden and can’t be seen. If they glow yellow, you’re partially hidden and can’t count on not being seen. And if they glow red, you’re completely visible and should be looking for a new shadow to hide in.
On top of great communication to the player, Stealth Bastard looks like it could have been a Super Nintendo game, and I mean that as a compliment. The 16-bit aesthetic hits a great nostalgia note for me. It brings back memories of great platformers, and having a new great puzzle platformer with that look about it is phenomenal.
Stealth games, at least for me, are typically slow affairs. I sit in the shadows, plan my move and patiently wait for my target to come to me. In Stealth Bastard, I can’t do that. Staying hidden is important, but the puzzle element forces a speed component that is refreshing and different for me in a stealth game.
I was running across levels, getting just barely detected, jumping over a turret and hiding in the shadows again. There may have been another way across the level, but I’m pretty sure my way was usually the safest and slowest while it felt like anything but at the time. The fast techno soundtrack adds to the intense feeling, and has me considering purchasing the tracks the next time I have some Steam funds.
The difficulty curve is a bit steep, but that’s a hard line to walk. Make your puzzle game too easy, and everybody blows through it in a day. Make it too hard, and 80% of your player base never finishes the game. While Stealth Bastard is harder than your average game, it evokes Super Meat Boy in that death is a learning experience and restarts are nearly instantaneous. I love being able to try again without sitting through a lengthy loading screen, and Stealth Bastard lets me do just that. It’s not your typical stealth game or your typical puzzle game, and that’s what makes it stand out.
Pros: Great aesthetic, great soundtrack, instant retry on failure
Cons: Gets difficult faster than many players will enjoy