WANTED: Test Facility Administrator. Successful applicant will have enthusiasm, sarcasm, carefully honed sociopathy, and first-hand knowledge of how fast hamsters pop in the average microwave.
Where do puzzle games find these sadists? Portal, The Stanley Parable, 1213... it's like there's an agency somewhere specialising in evil narrator types who love nothing better than seeing their charges fail and mocking them for it. In this puzzle-platformer, that mocking comes from messages on walls – an “I'll Be Amazed If You Do This” projected above a floating platform, with a sarcastic “You're Making Me Look Bad” joining it when you fall into the spiky pit underneath.
There is a reason for all this death, but only barely. All that matters is that you're in a deadly factory, and will be dying a lot for one simple reason – the Stealth Bastard of the title is not you. It's the level designer, who isn't remotely as cruel as the makers of internet-beloved games such as I Want to be the Guy and Kaizo Mario, but went to the same school when it comes to surprise lasers, crushy traps and falling blocks. Stealth Bastard doesn't have the wit or scale of those games, however, usually capping out at a “Ha! Gotcha!” after a trap.
Every level is an obstacle course, mixing pixel-perfect precision with the need to hide from enemies and cameras, trip switches, and figure out how to pull off the impossible. Reflexes and excellent timing are required, but Stealth Bastard is largely a puzzle platformer in stealth drag. Think of a slower Super Meat Boy with security cameras, not Mark of the Ninja with more sadistic lasers.
No individual stage is too hard once you've figured out the gimmick, and the generous checkpointing lets you throw yourself into the action. Complete levels multiple times and you unlock toys such as holographic decoys to help bypass obstacles. First time through though, you're on your own.
More challenge and ongoing replayability is offered by the built-in level editor, and the integrated access to user-made levels. At the time of writing, there were already over a thousand of these, many taking the basic game's difficulty and running with it. You can't automatically string a few together for a more satisfying run, but the tools are there to make excellent challenges.
Stealth Bastard is almost worth playing for its Metal Gear-baiting subtitle, 'Tactical Espionage Arsehole'. Its mix of platforming and stealth, while both have been done better in more focused games, isn't a bad reason either. It's frustrating at times, but the kind where anything that looks impossible is usually a clue that you've not found the gimmick yet. A little more narrative wouldn't have hurt, given the games in whose footsteps it treads. In the end though, you'll be too busy dying to really care about the reason why.
Expect to pay: $12 / £7
Release: Out now
Developer: Curve Studios