November 5, 2015 11:35 AM | John Bridgman
It is probably of no surprise that most games are better with friends. Competitive or co-op, being able to play something you enjoy with others is almost certainly going to enhance the experience. So it follows that attempting to provide unique experiences to accommodate multiplayer is going to draw attention to a game. Logic Artists' stealth action title, Clandestine, which has just released from on Steam, takes the stealth action genre in a different direction by allowing a co-op partner to join you. Not as another agent in the field, but as the hacker in your ear who guides you through the action.
Playing the role of the agent, Katya, the stealth player has to negotiate guards, cameras, and infiltrate buildings without being detected. She has a few tools to use - guns from incapacitated guards, tactical takedowns, and pagers to distract guards, for example, but mostly the stealth is through the player's own skill and patience. The controls are a little bit clunky, especially with the shooting mechanics, but it's by no means a deal-breaker. You have access to the standard fare of climbing fences and short obstacles, crouching to walk quietly, and taking cover, and while they are by no means revolutionary, they work well for what the game is trying to do.
While you're playing as Katya, you'll have in your ear the hacker Martin, who will be played by a co-op player if you want to invite a friend, or you can open your game up to have a random partner join you. Martin plays remarkably different to Katya, with multiple windows to switch between including camera feeds, overhead maps, the hacking terminal, and the communications window. You'll be asked to monitor data from all fronts at once, and also to keep up with Katya's player so the person controlling her doesn't get slowed down. It is really engaging to play, and can create some genuine tension.
The hacking aspect is almost a stealth game in itself. Rather than having a minigame like you might expect, you navigate from network node to network node, and execute programs to access information. However, the network admin is also in the network, and should your avatar meet up with the admin, you'll be kicked out and have to re-access. This can disrupt the stealth player's flow of the game, simply by way of not having information when necessary.
Of course, playing Katya doesn't mean you just listen to what the hacker tells you. You need to be the one to find accessible computer terminals in order to install the modem on in order for Martin to be able to access the network, and you need to process the information that the hacker provides you. In addition, you are the hacker's eyes, so often times you need to be more proactive than you might be in other stealth games, so as to allow Martin to tag and track enemies. It's an intricate balance that the game plays when relying on the two roles, and they pull it off quite well.
All of this is accompanied by a 90's post cold-war aesthetic that really has its own style and flair about it. Katya's visual style is wonderful, and the game generally presents its plot with well-drawn still panel images, with in-engine cutscenes during missions to help guide the story along as necessary. There's a lot of variety going on, and surprisingly, it's not nearly as dark as other stealth games tend to be. This is less about using shadows and silence (though of course staying hidden and quiet is important) as it about teamwork and technology. The game has a fitting soundtrack too, though it's not terribly memorable. It's dramatic enough, and works to add tension to the experience, and that's all it really needs to do.
When playing single-player, you can switch between Katya and Martin at will, and experience both sides of the gameplay. This is interesting, albeit also rather clunky. It also changes the flow of the game in ways that the co-op doesn't, which is unfortunate, as the flow in co-op is one of its best aspects. That's not to say it's bad, it's just that you need to look differently at solutions since Katya will have to stop moving in order to have Martin do hacking, and vice versa, rather than being able to explore or interact with the environment in other ways.
To accompany all of this is the story which is presented in such a way as you can never really be sure who to trust, and conspiracy abounds as befitting the setting. A current of mistrust and intentional misinformation underlies everything you do, and you find yourself having to rely more on intuition and perhaps what information Martin can dig up to learn what's going on. To that end, also, the game offers co-operative dialogues to bypass checkpoints, and multiple endings based on your actions and decision making. The game also allows you to switch from co-op to single-player as you need to as you progress through the story, so you don't always have to worry about having a partner available to play to continue along, though it will remind you that your partner may miss important information or see spoilers if you play ahead or start co-op at an advanced time in the plot.
Clandestine is a decent stealth action game at its core, with a really interesting hacking element added in. In single-player, switching between the two can be fun, even with the disruption of flow and the sometimes clumsy stealth controls. In co-op the game realizes its potential, and the tension between the hacker and stealth player, waiting for and relying on each other to progress, really makes the experience of the game satisfying. While it has no in-game voice chat, there's a charm to communicating over the text terminal in-game. If you're looking for a stealth game to play, you can certainly do worse than giving this a go, and if something to play with a friend is what you're in the market for, this is an outstanding co-op experience and one I'll be going back to often.