Stealth Bastard is a game that makes me very sad, and not because I am factually a bastard. I should be jumping for joy at the thought of a side-scrolling stealth ’em up, especially one so piss-takingly punishing, but I just can’t shake the feeling that I’m enjoying it a lot less than I ought to be.
There’s been a number of games this year that have the potential to make you cry: Spec Ops, Halo 4, The Walking Dead, but you’d never expect a game subtitled ‘Tactical Espionage Arsehole’ to be one you’d add to that list. The premise is simple – you’re a clone created by some secretive agency with the purpose of infiltration and you must survive the testing procedure or be discarded like the rest of them (as in die a horrible death) although you never do anything bastardly so this game’s entire title is basically slander.
I can see why others would love it. It’s full of that indie charm that we all adore, its puzzles are well thought-out and challenging, and, as you might have already suspected, it’s FUNNY, but I quickly grew weary. Somewhere in the mess of unexpected deaths and tense pauses in the shadows I lost track of the fun and it just became an unrewarding slog. The visuals are a slick product of sweet loving between cuteness and dark foreboding with little stumpy characters with large heads being torn to pieces by lasers and having the poor manners to spray themselves across the walls, cleaners be damned.
When you start off you might think you’re in for a bit of a child-friendly affair but within seconds that preconception is gone alongside the innocence of any child you allow to play it. Sadly the visuals fall short of achieving the level of charm the indie scene is known for but what it misses in indie-style visual charm it more than makes up for in indie-style difficulty, as it bends the player over and goes mental with the flat of its palm. If you’re going to play Stealth Bastard you’d better have the patience of a Saint, or even the patience of Christ himself, as you’d better believe you’re going to die often and repeatedly. Even once you’ve figured out the confusing levels the game becomes an exercise in not putting your face through the screen as you die over and over trying to actually execute the manoeuvre you spent the last five minutes figuring out.
The snarky quips the game throws at you when you figure something out or die (the two things you do in Stealth Bastard) get old quick as you struggle against the desire to light your computer on fire. Do yourself a favour, just turn it off and go for a sleep to calm yourself down before attempting to play again. When you finally do get it right there’s a small feeling of satisfaction but all the pain you’ll put yourself through trying to complete the levels could well mean you’re emotionally numb by the time you actually get to the rewarding part. Basically it’s not all that rewarding, which is curious considering the level of difficulty. You’ll find yourself screaming “FINALLY” when you should be performing a celebratory dance.