The stealth game genre is a small one, but the games that make it up usually end up being hits due to their gameplay innovations or engrossing narratives. Recently the stealth genre has undergone a bit of a revival with games like Mark of the Ninja or the recent Thief revival. These games have both changed the way we view stealth games as well as retread old ground in updated ways. Stealth Inc. 2: A Game of Clones seeks to marry sidescrolling stealth mechanics with more fast paced puzzle platforming and open world exploration. The result is a game that feels just as fresh as the original Stealth Inc. did when it was released.

Stealth Inc. 2: A Game of Clones follows one of many clones as it attempts to free its counterparts from the testing facility where they were created. The game’s story and omnipresent antagonist/narrator give the game a Portal vibe, but at no point does it feel like a lazy retelling of that story or an attempt to establish familiarity with fans of that franchise. Rather all of the story elements help build the world around these nameless clones and actually fit very well in this game. The same can be said for just about every mechanic or design choice in this game. Everything feels very natural and nothing in the game feels tacked-on or uninspired. The game’s story is delivered by both cutscenes between and during levels, and by the main antagonist--the scientist that created you. Through these methods, the game is able to convey a great deal of exposition and even develop the main characters without interrupting you for the sake of a long cutscene or big chunks of dialogue.

Curve Studios

Contrary to what the title may have you believe, the focus here is less on stealth and more on puzzle-solving and quick reflexes. Throughout the game you’ll explore the large testing facility in search of your fellow clones. The search will lead you to many different testing chambers, which is how you progress through the story. The large testing facility is just a hub world for all of these smaller levels, as opposed to the first game, which only featured the levels without any overworld. Every level consists of the player navigating his way to the exit while remaining hidden from enemies, manipulating the environment to do so.

This combination of fast paced platforming and slow methodical stealth works very well. The game usually gives you enough time to take stock of your surroundings and plan out your next move before throwing everything it has at you. Throughout the game you’ll also find lots of gadgets and powerups to help you reach new areas or better deal with enemies. For the most part these powerups are useful and give you a reason to revisit past levels to explore previously unreachable areas.

Curve Studios

Unfortunately, the amount of trial and error, especially during later levels, interrupts the flow of the game and hinders the overall experience. Stealth Inc. 2 does a lot to set up a good pace and let the player learn to deal with obstacles however he pleases, with some fairly open ended gameplay. All of that goes out the window once the game starts throwing surprise deaths at you. At first, the game handles this well, giving you adequate time to get out of the way of hazards or warning you ahead of time.

As you progress you get less reaction time to the point where there’s no way of knowing if something is safe until you try it. In a faster-paced platformer that would be fine, but in a game like this, it only serves to mess up the player’s pace. Death has very little penalty besides lowering your overall score however, and you’re always placed right before the section where you died, so it’s more a detriment to the gameplay than the atmosphere.

Curve Studios

Stealth Inc. 2 is a hard game to find fault with, and its worst quality is really just a clashing of two unlike gameplay mechanics. Other than the annoying trial and error nature of later levels, this game delivers a fantastic platforming experience. It combines the atmospheric and mysterious storytelling of Portal with the challenging and methodical gameplay of Mark of the Ninja without ever feeling too much like either. Stealth Inc. 2 delivers on story, looks and gameplay without comprising one for the other. Fans of stealth games, or even 2D sidescrollers in general would be doing themselves a disservice by not playing this game.

This review is based on a purchased download of Stealth Inc. 2: A Game of Clones for the PC.