By: Brian Gunn
Clandestine is the latest indie stealth game. While it’s a genre that seems to be largely struggling in the AAA game industry, smaller developers like Klei have brought fresh takes, from the side scrolling Mark of the Ninja to the turn-based tactics of Invisible Inc. Logic Artists have entered the fray with a take focused on co-op gameplay and hacking. While there are some good ideas there, sadly they stumble a bit as well.
In Clandestine you control either a spy or a hacker. The spy has largely conventional controls that you’ll see in the average third-person stealth game. She can take cover on walls, do contextual takedowns and aim a gun if desperate enough. The hacker, meanwhile, is controlled like you’re actually him — as though you’re looking at his computer screens.
It’s fairly easy to pick up and much more mouse oriented, though it looks a bit overwhelming at first. One grating issue is that if too many interactions are close together, it’s incredibly annoying to sometimes get the game to do what you want since so many are context sensitive. The game is generally keyboard-and-mouse oriented even as the spy. There is rudimentary controller support for her, though it doesn’t have some key elements bound.
Visually, Clandestine isn’t going to win many accolades, though it does have its moments. There are a variety of clunky animations; for example, when I took out a sitting guard, the game sort of just blinks into him standing up for your takedown animation. Some range from just seeming awkward to flat out comical.
When characters speak in close ups their mouths are oddly animated. Levels tend to look fairly good for a lower budget effort. On larger levels with more NPCs, performance often tanks, a likely side effect of attempting to be ambitious on an engine like Unity.
There’s nothing too noteworthy on the audio front. Voice acting is a mixed bag, but at least there’s nothing too grating. One aspect I did like was that foreign languages are spoken when appropriate. The lead character, Katya, is a Russian transplant, and the man that runs the armory is, too, so they speak Russian to each other rather than English like when she interacts with others.
There’s a variety of nice details like that throughout Clandestine. In terms of the soundtrack, music is infrequent and what does appear is general spy caper stuff.
While trekking through Clandestine I was frequently reminded of Alpha Protocol. Both titles are a bit awkward and clumsy on both a visuals and polish front, but they have a solid enough base of gameplay to make them at least a bit interesting.
The story starts with a new spy branch being established called Kingbridge. It has been formed because there have been a series of leaks that imply someone powerful in the intelligence community and could lead to several spies across the globe having their cover blown. The mission, should you choose to accept it, is to find those leaks and plug them.
It’s fairly standard stuff, although there are some variable elements within the story, too, such as some characters that will ream you for killing people and others that support that.
As Katya and the hacker Martin you’ll need to investigate a variety of areas and finds leads. Katya is your boots on the ground and Martin stays in the van to provide backup.
Martin has access to a map as well as most of the computers, cameras and locked doors in a level. Playing as him you’ll be able to do things like spot guards and mark them with a tag, set off faulty transformers to stun a guard, or quell an alarm.
Playing as Katya is a mostly familiar experience full of crouching and knocking out guards, and sometimes the need to plug in equipment to extend Martin’s range. Players can work together in a handful of ways, for instance with a pager item. Throw it with Katya, and then call it with Martin to create a distraction.
However, the co-op doesn’t always gel that well. Martin just doesn’t have a lot to do. It’s a role that feels very reactive to the player controlling Katya. He gets some limited-use abilities — for instance, a cleaner support agent, which will dispose of dead or unconscious bodies. Most of his other abilities seem to be about cleaning up the other player’s mess, and I would have liked more abilities to get him more proactively involved.
Despite the game’s focus on co-op, it has a fairly approachable single-player mode. There you’re able to switch freely between characters, though there’s often little reason to switch to Martin as you can tag things within vision to get him to help crack a door or take over a camera.
The highlight of the game is in areas where you get to maintain a cover identity. In these areas you have limited free access on levels so you can balance maintaining that cover and sneaking into restricted areas. There are even NPCs to interact with where you can bluff your way into further areas with the right information.
If I had to summarize Clandestine in a single phrase it would be the old adage, “Your eyes are bigger than your stomach.” There are good ideas here and some fun to be had, but the ambition exceeds the skill and budget of the developers. Big stealth fans will likely have some fun buried under the issues, and co-op may appeal more to someone with a casual gaming friend in the role of the hacker, though it will be a bit unfulfilling compared to the role of the spy for most.