Office politics can be a killer. As anybody who has ever had to share a tuna salad baguette with Gina from accounting will attest, we're all just one wrong word away from snapping. Usually that takes the guise of making off-hand comments about a 55-year-old's fascination with leopard skin underwear and tight skirts, but what if you worked somewhere where the stakes were a little higher? In ex-Wii U exclusive Stealth Inc 2: A Game of Clones, a bad day at the office is a matter of life or death – your life or death.
In this sequel, you'll be the lucky clone who didn't get ground up into mince. This puts you in a unique position, and not only because you're the only one of your friends that's not currently on a van to a fast food restaurant. Indeed, you might be able to actually escape. Of course, it won't be easy. There are killer robots, deadly traps, and an overachieving scientist who will win Employee of the Month if he can just finish you off. Expect to die. Like, a lot.
This isn't an easy release. You'll have to be quite clever, relatively patient, and a master of the controls if you want to make it through to the end of the game; some levels will inevitably make you want to quit. Unlike the first game, the learning curve is practically non-existent, and you'll find yourself having to replay sections right from the beginning.
Because of the difficulty, it can become very frustrating, very quickly. The most hardcore players will jump in without hesitation, but others will find the low reward and constant need to be "on" too tiring to properly enjoy. There isn't a great story or hilarious dialogue, just occasional insults and harder and harder levels.
With all that said, the level design is absolutely ingenious. The way that the traps are set up, the way in which you have to interact with the environment – you have to appreciate it, albeit from a distance after you've gone and punched a cushion. And while it's very similar to the original game in terms of basic gameplay, the stakes have been massively increased so that you have to solve difficult puzzles to even get to new levels – it's a Metroidvania hub with concentrated trials along the way.
As the name implies, this isn't all about dodging traps: you'll have to master stealth as well. Avoid being caught, else you'll be incinerated. Robot dogs follow you around as a kind of portable alarm, and cameras seem to hang off every wall. This isn't Metal Gear, though, where "simply" remaining unseen is enough to get you through to the end of the game; you're going to have to interact with your enemies so that they can hit switches or set off mines.
All of this comes together in a mess of perfect timing and Olympic quality jumps. Each level finishes with a rating, and, as of writing, most of the people playing have been unable to get the best score for even the earliest stages. It's the perfect opportunity for muscle memory obsessives and sadomasochists.
Considering how repetitive it can become if you're not a perfect player, it's a shame that the art design is so underwhelming. Each new location looks more or less like the others, perhaps with a slight change to the colour scheme. On top of that, shadow plays a huge part, and so much of the screen will be shrouded in black anyway. It's an interesting decision, and some will find it original enough to stand out – but it's less impressive if you prefer something a little less clinical.
Also slightly disappointing is the occasionally wonky controls. For a game that's all about hitting the right mark perfectly, there's some oddness in how the developer's set up some of the additional tools that you'll bring with you on your journey. The Inflate-a-Mate, for example, can be used to boost jumps, crush enemies, or reach higher ledges. However, you can throw it, but it rarely lands where you want it to, which is especially frustrating when there's a need to move quickly. You could argue that it's another challenge to overcome, but when there's already so much going against you, adding a sometimes inexact control scheme into the mix just seems cruel.
If you're the type of person that likes to brag on Twitter about how many times Bloodborne has kicked your backside, then Stealth Inc 2: A Game of Clones may just be the challenge that you're looking for. Others should pause before purchasing, as your patience threshold will determine just how much enjoyment you get out of this sneaky sequel.