‘Stealth Bastard’ Review – Super Stealth Boy
Glorified flash games, purgatory, a novel form of self abuse. Call them what you will, but ultra-punishing 2D platformers are quickly becoming an emergent genre in their own right, with titles such as VVVVV and Super Meat Boy leading the vanguard. But despite what the waves of positive critical reception might lead you to think, they truly are the Marmite of gaming whatever way you look at it. You’re either a masochist who manages to thrive off the constant cruelty that these games dish out, or you’re a rational human being the sort of person who yields after the first dozen or so times in a row your avatar shuffles off the mortal coil. Nevertheless, Stealth Bastard manages to widen that rather narrow target audience by asking for a bit less in terms of split-second twitch skills, and a lot more in puzzle solving and good old-fashioned patience.
If you only saw it at a glance though, I wouldn’t blame you for passing it over. These days it’s pretty hard for any indie game that uses pixel art for its visuals to stand out from the crowd, especially when everyone and his dog has “referenced” that art form into oblivion the past couple of years. But Stealth Bastard takes on a unique and interesting element of the style that’s seldom utilised, if not ignored entirely: lighting. Rather than having all the illumination already “drawn into” the environment, the game has a fully fledged real-time lighting system that constantly changes in a mostly realistic and understandable way. It fills the gameworld full of broad shadows and gentle auras, creating environments that would have otherwise looked somewhat bland and generic. But it’s not all just to look pretty; correct usage of those shadows is integral to the titular Stealth Bastard not being burnt, crushed, vaporised, grinded or whatever else the current level’s devices have in store for the little guy.
Patrolling guards and security cameras all need a clear line of sight on Mr Bastard before they can bring him to an untimely end, forcing you to sneak around in the (relatively) secure shadows if you literally want to stay in one piece. This allows for a much slower and far more accessible pace of play than you often see in similar games, one that rewards you (i.e. doesn’t murder you quite so quickly) for progressing slowly and carefully instead of just running in all guns a blazin’. You’re still expected to show a bit of platforming chops on-top of all this, but it never really descends into a Castlevania style pixel perfect jump challenge apocalypse.
Your main objective on each level, other than staying alive for more than a few nanoseconds, is to activate a number of specific switches in order to open up the level’s exit. Reaching this objective in turn requires all manner of other switches to be flipped and couple of block puzzles to be solved, often with the looming threat of instantaneous death from any number of sources. As much as that might all sound rather formulaic on paper, Stealth Bastard’s continually evolving environment keeps things interesting by regularly revealing hidden passageways, completely rearranging the lighting scheme, spawning new hazards and other such potentially fatal tomfoolery. It gives each moment within Stealth Bastard an air of slightly unnerving unpredictability; a breath of fresh air in an age where, seemingly by law, every scripted event has to be neatly telegraphed to the player beforehand.[This Content is Exclusive for Insider]