Hey that's mine, give it back!
There has always been one true king of the 'borrowing' genre of games: Garrett - the star of the Thief series. His adventures are the stuff of legend and he's a hard act to follow. But for me, being a long-time fan of the series and of stealth games in general, I have always looked forwards to a game set in the modern world.
Enter Blue 52's ambitious project simply entitled: Stolen.
Welcome to Forge City and the life and times of the slinky Anya Romanov. The female protagonist of this stealth-em-up third-person stealer, where being sneaky and underhand is a way of life. Anya is a young thief that borrows as much as she can to finance her partner in crime; he's a tech-wiz with gadgets and builds all of her custom kit.
Anya's big heist turns sour and she's introduced to a number of new characters, but as always with my reviews - the story is something you're going to have to uncover yourself as you play the game.
Gameplay and features
The game plays from a 3rd person view with a fully moveable camera; apart from in certain cases where it seems the camera angle locks and you're unable to alter it apart from a few minor changes. The style of gameplay should be instantly familiar to those of you who have played stealth-action games, like: Mission Impossible and Splinter Cell except with one big difference, Anya is a professional thief and therefore does not terminate anyone.
Anya is a lithe little minx and she's far more acrobatic than most other characters, she can run, jump, dive, swing and climb her way through the very large levels offered in the game. As par for the course there are a number of hidden passages and vents to crawl through and places to hang in the darkness.
Anya is armed with a multi-purpose pistol that can fire a number of different rounds, akin to say: Judge Dredd's - Lawgiver.
Aiming and firing of the weapon is done through Anya's first-person view and is shown from a 'glasses' eye view of the world. Anya's glasses are just part of her arsenal of hi-tech equipment that would have Ethan Hunt drooling onto his shoes.
There'll be more on the hi-tech gadgets and their uses in a moment.
Anya can also rely on her hand-2-hand combat skills to take down guards, knocking them out for a limited period of time. She can also crouch and pick-pocket guards that are unawares as long as she keeps quiet and behind them, if that isn't your cup of tea then you can simply sneak up behind the guard, grab them and choke them into sleepy-land searching their downed body quickly.
A minor niggle and definitely where the game looses some marks for me is that while it's great fun to knock out a guard, there seems to be no way to keep them down for good. Which means after an annoyingly short time they'll wake up and alert their friends, even after you've slunk off into the shadows.
This proves to be even more irritating when Anya has to deal with several guards in the same area, all armed with flashlights (and guns) and all converging on her position even though she was unseen according to the light-meter. There's enforcing a no-kill policy and stealth based gameplay, but there's also a need for a longer nap time for guards especially when you're often having to engage in mini-games to hack systems or pick locks.
Gadgets and toys
Goggles: Anya's glasses are equipped with night vision mode and the excellent 'Sonar' feature which allows you to view through doors, but only seeing an image when someone moves past the door and around the move. You can whistle to create a noise, but that could alert the guards.
They also highlight 'steal-able' objects and 'searchable' locations in the room; this is a good way to pick out what you need to 'borrow' when you enter a new location.
Pistol: Anya's pistol has several rounds that can be switched quickly with the push of the D-Pad.
• Tracker: A useful dart that pinpoints enemies and shows camera FOV on the mini-map.
• Nullifier: This dart is packed with a powerful electric discharge that can stun guards (long enough for you to get in a choke hold), knock out lights and disable guard drones and hi-tech security systems.
• Sonic Emitter: This dart adheres to the surface and once placed can be activated at any time, to draw the attention of guards to the spot.
• Tripwire: This nifty gadget does exactly what it states; it creates a tripwire from the attachment point. This will knock out any guards that trip across it.
There are also a number of gadget related mini-games in Stolen that require a little thought and add to the game's overall sense of fun, none of these are frustrating and they're all pretty easy to play, activating when Anya does things like picking locks, hacking computers and so on.
It's obvious that you have to remain in the shadows if you want to succeed in Stolen, but with some of the more attentive guards a confrontation seems impossible to avoid. I would have liked it more if you could avoid all the confrontations and snoop around the place, a ranged knock-out round for the pistol would have been useful.
The control system in Stolen is non-too-shabby and the character feels responsive, with no real 'dumb' moments to speak of. The X&Y axis can be reversed, the first person look swapped from right or left thumb-stick and overall a fine amount of customisation is available apart from the control set.
It's not an overly complex system of controls to get used to and Anya's character is fairly easy to make do the things you want, she climbs with a button press, and so forth. There's not a really tricky thing you have to do, running up a wall and leaping to the other side is the most complex of the moves and its two controls, one of which is the right trigger.
Movement is on the left thumb-stick and the camera is controllable with the right, the white button performs the switch from 3rd person to first and thanks to the customisation options you can make the view behave how you want it to.
So with all the nice controls and simple but challenging gameplay, does Stolen look any good?
It looks quite nice, the graphics and textures are not going to win any major awards but they are passable, there's a nice use of some bloom effects and the usual fogging, the lighting is pretty good and the shadows might seem a little too stark and dark for some people's tastes.
The use of texturing and lighting keeps to the comic-book feel of the game, where it's like a living graphic novel in colour and palette. Expect a lot brighter world in Forge City than other more realistic gritty games in the stealth genre; this doesn't do Stolen a disservice at all and actually adds to the atmosphere of the game.
Stolen's gameplay is occasionally interrupted by nicely created cut-scenes that either use the in-game engine or it seems rendering, or perhaps the engine with a filter over the top of it. Regardless of what has been used the scenes are well designed, directed and flow very well. It's nice to see that Blue 52 approached the game with this kind of direction in mind and kept to the comic-book feel of Forge City and its characters, being the insane story guy I am - I love nothing more than a good cut-scene to lead me further into the game's plot.
Blue 52's style of level design moves between realistic looking architecture and comic-book design, this is a good mix and allows for far-more expansive levels in terms of puzzles and hi-tech tom-foolery, we're used to seeing elaborate traps and laser-grids in such movies as Mission Impossible 1 and 2 and Tomb Raider so they're easier to accept when we know the levels have been designed with a 'larger than life' feel to them.
With such an acrobatic protagonist some of Stolen's levels rely on your mastery of the game's controls and timing, to negotiate ledges and pipes - making the game a little like the Prince of Persia or Tomb Raider games.
A lot of time and effort has been spent on Anya and it shows. She's a slinky woman that doesn't rely on her assets to get attention; attention is the last thing on her mind. It's nice to see that the modellers have created a memorable character that has an interesting look, personality and design without concentrating on the old 'boobs' to sell the game. Anya's trademark, like Fisher's goggles are her startling 'blue' glowing glasses, of course we know they don't really glow that blue - but like Sam's tri-goggles it helps the player identify the character in the shadows.
The rest of the in-game models have been given a reasonable amount of detail although the museum security guards seem to have come from a clone vat, a tiny minor niggle but they can't all be fat-overweight donut eating slobs, can they? Ok. So yes, we're in a comic/graphic novel game so I can forgive them.
Anya is well animated and her various acrobatic moves look pretty good, the animation system in Stolen seems to do the job well and the movements are realistic and lifelike, she doesn't waddle when she walks - she jumps - crawls, spins and flips with the best of them.
The rest of the characters have been animated to the same standard and there's nothing really that I can complain about, it works and it looks good.
The AI in Stolen is aggressive, perhaps a little too observant but reacts to a variety of stimuli. Sound and light, they're armed with flashlights and don't hesitate to call for backup or assistance if they're under attack - they provide a suitable challenge for even the most seasoned players. They will try and hunt you down unless you can escape from the location or hide in a place where the AI wouldn't think of immediately looking, so far however (and I pride myself on my skill in games like this) I haven't gotten away from them yet.
Stolen's music especially when it comes to the intro is a nice breezy, hi-power tune that seems to be suitable for a really good TV show or mini-series. The whole intro feel is pretty much aimed towards that in regards of the cut-scene direction and musical theme.
The rest of the music in game keeps the same kind of feel as the intro theme and kicks into high gear when you're escaping from the first location, the museum, without giving too much away there's a really decent rooftop chase with the music to get the blood pumping.
The sound in Stolen is of a good quality and there are some nice spot effects, the buzz of the alarms is suitably annoying and the ambient effects work nicely with crisp and clear audio throughout.
The VA in Stolen varies as one might expect between good to poor, the guards voices are an area where I feel the game could have done with a bit more work. Anya's voice and the voices of her cohorts in the story are well and competently acted, so the game scores a few points for having a good main cast - I did like Anya's voice a lot, and that of Breeze.
So there you have it, you break into heavily guarded locations and steal things to finance your career in crime. Stolen isn't a bad game, it's let down by the annoying wakeful guards and the fact that a lot of the lights in the level can't be shot out with Anya's pistol, leaving you no room to really hide. The game relies on a check-point save system and you can save your check-pointed progress at any time, you do have numerous bonus things to unlock and the environments are large and full of little sub-things to steal.
The mini-games add an extra layer of challenge and some players might find the difficulty a little daunting, since no-matter what you do to remain undetected, the guards will sound the alarm as soon as they wake up from their enforced slumber - some people might argue that's what they would do, but we're in a comic-style game where the laws of reality are already askew, knocking them a little further in favour of the stealthy player would have been nice.