Once upon a time, videogame titles were meant to be evocative of a theme or tone, a style that would convey to you, the unknowing participant, of the potential experience that lay before you. Many of the time, these game titles were designed to assist with the abstraction, to offer an explanation ahead of time to the confused lost who might not otherwise, in information-tight stories, be able to work out what was going on. Titles like Pong and Missile Command explained their concepts. As videogames became more advanced, titles became about tying games together, like Alex Kidd In Miracle World and Wonder Boy 3: The Dragon’s Trap. Down that path we find ourselves at the Metal Gear games. In this hedonistic modern era of videogames, however, game titles have become just another part of the aesthetics. In some cases the titles can showcase an interesting mechanic (Shift) or provide the vast majority of the game’s instructions (Cut the Rope), or demonstrate a ‘quirky’ sense of humour (Dive Kick). Indie game titles tend to be very clear indicators of what you’re going to experience. When an indie game comes out, then, with a title like Stealth Bastard Deluxe: Tactical Espionage Arsehole, what do you think it’s about?
Ahah! You’re wrong!
The advertising premise for Stealth Bastard was that it was a stealth game that was not as slow as other stealth games. Conceptually this is like complaining about Gran Turismo games having too many wheels, but whatever. The advertisements demonstrated trial-and-error gameplay coupled with fast iterations all in the mould of a stealth game. The game delivers on most of that offering. It is indeed a Super Meat Boy style reload-driven, fail-fast, fail-often style of game with lighting and stealth as mechanics… but…
Ah yes, but.
Look, Stealth games can be fast. They can be fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants quick where you try to find a quiet place to breathe while you leap from almost-caught to almost-caught. They had levels like that in Thief. The stealth elements in Dishonored can often be dizzyingly fast as your project is not to avoid guards’ turning heads, but to find some path that the guards do not look at at all. Now, to do that well, you have to have multiple routes through an environment, and that creates a need for wide, open, expansive areas, often with puzzles that can be hard to predict, with chaotic components. Stealth Bastard doesn’t do that, because it’s an indie game and designing enormous levels with thousands of moving parts and providing opportunities for emergence in stealth gameplay is tricky (not that some people haven’t done it, Gunpoint hem hem). What results is a game where the crucial elements of stealth gameplay – planning and exploration – are effectively nonexistent.
This is not to say that Stealth Bastard is a bad game. It really isn’t, it’s fun and it’s less punishing than other frustration-based Newgrounds-style games. On the other hand, if you’re hoping for a genuinely new take on the stealth genre that can stand alongside innovations like Dishonored‘s blinking, you will be disappointed. Stealth Bastard is rather a very good puzzle platformer, where stealth is one of its many mechanics.
Buy it if:
- You’re a fan of fast-reflexes, high-iteration puzzle games
- You want something you can alt-tab to and from for 2-3 minute play sessions between doing work
Avoid it if:
- You want a pure stealth game experience.
- You’re sort of tired of Portal jokes.