Stealth games are awesome. Hiding from The Man, skulking in shadows, the thrill of infiltration. But why do they have to be so… slow? That was the question that spawned Stealth Bastard, the fast-paced, nail-biting antidote to tippy-toed sneaking simulators that the world had so desperately been craving.
What We Think:
Stealth Bastard isn’t really a stealth game so much as a 2D platformer with a stealth paint job. It’s a stealth game in the same sense that Chili’s is an authentic Tex-Mex restaurant because the sign has a picture of a jalapeno. There are shadows, which you make use of, and cameras, traps, lasers, etc., but there will never be a time where you study a guard’s patrol pattern before slowly creeping behind him in the shadows, knife in hand, ready to silence him should he unexpectedly turn around. Which is fine, as long as you didn’t think you were getting a 16-bit version of Splinter Cell.
At its heart, it’s a puzzle platformer. To a large extent, it’s much less a test of your reflexes as a test of your patience and your ability to think like the designers. Eventually, your goal will be to find the fastest route through a level and execute it flawlessly, or at least less flawed than the players on the global leaderboard.
On your first couple of playthroughs for a given level, however, you should feel free to take your time and find the solution to the level. And it really is a matter of finding a solution. Reflexes are less an issue than simply figuring out how to get to switches, how best to use movable crates, and remembering the locations of traps that the game sometimes throws at you unexpectedly.
The game plays equally well with keyboard as it does with controller, probably because it never asks much of you in the way of split-second timing or lightning reflexes. I never found myself yelling at my little stealth clone because he zigged when I told him to zag, which is pretty rare for me. Just in case it all goes pear-shaped and you don’t feel like repeating the same level twenty times in a row (or was that just me…) the game does offer you the option of skipping the map, although you only have a limited number of skips available.
There’s also a surprising amount of depth for such a simple game. It integrates community-built maps, which gives the game nearly endless replayability, and it puts you in direct competition with the scores of every other player, all over the world. I was very impressed with how community-oriented the game is straight out of the box. In addition, you acquire stealth suits as you progress which give you different abilities, so there’s even a little nod to the RPG fan.
In all honesty, I can’t say that I’m a big fan of Stealth Bastard. It’s a well-made game, and it hooks into the community extremely well. The graphics are quirky and attractive, and I say that as someone who turns my nose up at nostalgic kitsch. I just can’t get past the fact that, at the end of the day, it’s not really a stealth game.
Sure, you can argue that, ultimately, all stealth games are basically just hiding in shadows and sneaking past things, but there’s much more than that. There’s a different feel, a different pacing to stealth that might not be possible in a 2D platformer. Certainly not one that encourages speed runs, in any case. The Stewart standard is useful here; people who like stealth games might not be able to give you a list of what makes them different, but they know them when they see them. This ain’t one of them.
So, can I recommend Stealth Bastard? Absolutely. It’s one of the better “old-school” platformers that have come out lately, and the puzzle mechanic is genuinely enjoyable. If you like platformers, you already have the ability to replay the same level fifteen times in three minutes without losing your mind, so you’ll be just fine here.
And although it might be tough to sell a game called “Bastard,” or “Jumping Bastard,” or even “Switch-Throwing Bastard,” I can’t help but think that some people who show up for the stealth might walk away angry. So, as long as you understand that this is a platformer with some nods to the stealth genre, it’s an easy recommendation.