This week I tried out Curve Studio’s newest offering, Stealth Bastard Deluxe. For anyone unfamiliar with the original Stealth Bastard, it’s been described as a mash-up (quite literally) of Metal Gear Solid and Super Meat Boy. It’s a free retro-style espionage game, with very messy consequences for being spotted. The free version was released last November, but due to overwhelming demand a premium deluxe version is now being offered via Steam.
Stealth Bastard Deluxe is part platformer, part puzzle and it plays very well. In truth, although it’s billed as some insane lovechild of MGS and SMB, it’s much more like the Oddworld series on the original PlayStation. However, despite the fact that it’s a more tried-and-true formula than it first seems, Stealth Bastard Deluxe combines solid gameplay with a good sense of humour; I can see why it’s been so popular. Despite its somewhat in-your-face name (what IS a tactical espionage arsehole, anyway?) Stealth Bastard Deluxe has a pretty comedic streak running right through it, underlying the gameplay and manifesting itself in various messages following each one of your character’s gory deaths.
Even if you’re a top-notch gamer, those gory deaths are something you’ll get used to. With every one of the close to 100 levels rigged with grinders, lasers, robots that shoot lasers and cameras that activate cannons that shoot lasers, it’s impossible to avoid killing your poor clone on a fairly regular basis. But far from being frustrating (usually), the repetition is consciously built into the game, and is actually quite cool. Each level is a ‘test’, which your evil testing company is running through with expendable clones.
The music accompanying the game is brilliant: tense and frenetic, but still catchy enough to get into your head. It’s quite repetitive, but in a good way – it complements the repetitive gameplay, as you desperately try different routes to the exit in an attempt to find the one that won’t explode your clone into gory kibble.
And actually, returning once more to that sense of repetition, this is a pretty fun game to watch – as my teenage sister soon found out. She couldn’t stop creasing up as she watched me over-confidently marching my character into certain death time and again. Soon I was seeing the funny side of it too, as I realised how stupid my mistakes must be to the casual observer.
There’s also a lot of replay value here; completing levels with a better score leads to unlocking various power-ups, some of which are really useful. The pocket teleporters, for example, and the antilight shield really do affect the way the game is played; they’re not just toys you’ll use once and forget. I was a bit disappointed, on the other hand, to find that collecting every helix (a little glowing hidden item) in a specific zone only unlocked an ‘achievement’ rather than anything material. Finding all of them was bloody hard, I deserved more. There are also community levels and leaderboards which, like LittleBigPlanet, adds what is essentially an unlimited amount of levels to play.
To sum up
Stealth Bastard Deluxe is a great package with a lot of mileage in it. It’s not as ground-breaking as it makes out, but it’s definitely an original game that is fun to play and very well-produced. On top of this, it carries on the fine tradition of games that are pretty funny but also intensely gory, which is a vein that never runs dry for me (perhaps literally).