Stealth Inc. 2: A Game of Clones follows its predecessor in just the right way; updated graphics, attention to new mechanics and systems, and an attention to detail when it comes to keeping the style of the series intact. That style is a dark yet fun take on the cold, industrial business that fosters the titular clones, and cutscenes that feature comic-book-style panelling, dialogue and villains.
So, what is a poor, adorable clone to do?
Well, you’d better hope that Metal Gear Solid prepared you for a vast range of puzzles and reflex tests. The ‘tutorial’ of Stealth Inc. 2 has you running a gauntlet of closing walls, traps and tests to see who the superior clone is. If you have strong feelings about watching adorable lookalikes die, then prepare your jimmies for rustling, as the game has a Jhonen Vasquez-style sense of humour about death. If you’re a fan of watching creatures that look just like you cowering and dying in the dark, then you’ll love this game. Also, please don’t come near my house or pets.
All joking aside, the dark humour does work especially well in the game’s cutscenes. Watching the villains rant in asides to themselves feels like watching Cobra Commander planning awful things to himself, complete with the standard fist-shake. It is hardly personal here, however. It is all business, and the cold, industrial backdrop adds a nice touch to both the impressive visuals and the overall black humour.
Is there a story here? Somewhat. The simplest explanation is that your cruel creator wants to beat the score of the highest ranking employee at the company, and unleashes you and your brethren into a maze of traps to buffer his score. Once you are the last one left, your goal is essentially to navigate this corporate version of Hell and survive. The occasional cutscene adds a bit more to the story, but overall, there is a good bit of subtlety at work. Here, it works in the game’s favour, as it allows the player’s mind to conjure all sorts of awful theories and scenarios while simultaneously struggling for survival.
The nice thing about Stealth Inc. 2 is that it has honed its controls to be quick and responsive. In a nutshell, if the player’s clone dies a horrific death, it is more often the fault of the player (though I’m sure many will still cry foul to hide their own shame). Not only that, but sleek graphics running at a cool 60 fps are nothing to scoff at.
A responsive puzzle game that relies literally on stealth and quick reflexes needs to have controls that are tight, quick and easy to execute, otherwise the constraints on some players would become a nightmare. Pacing wise, Stealth Inc. 2 does a great job of balancing out the reflex tests with the more difficult puzzles that require a fair bit of thinking. The puzzles are also very nicely ranged in difficulty. Rather than simply increase as the game progresses, harder puzzles are thrown into the medley at random times so that there is never a comfortable pocket for the player. It is a game that keeps you and your clone on their toes. A good blend of meticulous stealth and fast-paced avoidance that has you running for your life keeps Stealth Inc. 2 interesting throughout.
A Game of Clones’ sound design is particularly notable. It is crisp and clear, giving the game a distinctive ambience and further colouring to its unique style. A blend of industrial-sounding techno with a cold, almost cyberpunk touch draws the focus to the action and the need to think before acting. Suitable background music that manages not to become a continuous, annoying loop is not only a sign of clever design, but also a bit of love from the dark hearts of the developers.
Similarly, the colour palette chosen adds to the bleak, corporate environment that would make any office drone consider a long leap from the employee lounge window. Relying on neutrals to suck the hope and joy from the room, the eye is immediately drawn to the more vibrant, contrasting neon colours that give it that cyberpunk/dystopian future look. The occasional puns, references and general sadism of the game make for both a hilarious and disturbing presentation. Even for bleeding heart gamers, Stealth Inc. 2 will more than likely draw a guilty laugh or two.
Overall, this game is a great follow-up to Stealth Inc.: A Clone In the Dark (puns, wonderful puns!). Keeping the dark, cold style of the previous game alongside the humour that hands out personal tickets to Hell, Stealth Inc. 2 also improves on all of the things that a good sequel should: the graphics, controls, environment and presentation. It does all of this while managing to take the original recipe and make it even more fun. That is Stealth Inc. 2 in a nutshell: dark, hilarious and challenging fun.