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Stolen review

Decent
AT A GLANCE

Nothing

No guns? NONE? Not one? There must be a mistake somewhere. Hang on - let's check the disc. Maybe it's been scratched in just the wrong place to... nope. Weird.

How can you have a video game these days without any guns in? What on earth could the triggers be used for? Accelerating and braking the lead character? NO GUNS?

Play Stolen for even just a little while, though, and that absence of hand-cannons becomes clear as those patio doors that everyone seems so fond of walking into - it's purely about stealth, more so than pretty much any other title in the genre.

Most creeping games give you a gratis heads-up as to the position of nearby patrolling guards via the on-screen map, but in Stolen you'll have to physically tag each one before being able to keep track of them.

Sound like an unnecessary inconvenience? It doesn't feel that way - it's all part of Stolen's purist approach to grand larceny.

Guards can never be fully neutralised, only stunned for a short while. And once they go down, it won't be long before backup arrives to check things out, and set up another patrol.

CCTV cams can only be zapped out of commission for a few seconds. It's a game about time pressure, and skill in recon and planning as much as execution; few other games are as cut-throat when it comes to windows of opportunity.

The level structure, too, is refreshing. There are only four stages, making each one feel like a massive and intricate project for your thieving, instead of just a short tunnel of opportunity.

So far, so promising. But here's the thing: Stolen has the blueprints of a watertight heist, but a slightly bungled execution.

And it's mostly down to the guards, whose behaviour just isn't reliable enough for your play experience to be as tight as the game's framework demands it to be.

You'll spend a lot of your time slipstreaming patrol men - either to pickpocket them, or just slope on by unnoticed - but as and when they sense you behind them, before turning to attack, it feels too random to work.

And that alone is enough to shake the balance of the game into something quite frustrating.

A good stealth game is all about rigid boundaries for the player to work with, and if some of them are a little fuzzy, then the enjoyment leaks out pretty quickly.

Which isn't to say Stolen isn't without merit, far from it. The game does plenty right: it lets the player save at any point, with checkpoints as useful backup in case they trap themselves in a pickle.

The Sonar vision is a freaky but novel way to allow players to see through doors, presenting a trippy readout of next door's furniture whenever the player whistles.

Objects and devices are clearly marked out when you scan a room in first-person view. And the mini-games - hacking, safe-cracking and more - work nicely.

Plenty of standard stealth boxes get confident ticks, too: your light meter (marking your hidden-ness) is clearly visible and reliable, with both night vision and some distracting sonic emitters coming in very handy.

Like Splinter Cell, the headgear of lead character Anya glows in the dark, allowing you (but not others) to keep track of yourself in the gloomiest of recesses.

And, as there's plenty of optional booty to track down, it's extremely easy to satisfy your inner magpie.

So, Stolen is very, very nearly brilliant, but that essential fine-tuning is missing. And we see what they're doing with central character Anya too.

Lovely Anya. Lovely, lovely Anya. You're quite pretty. So pretty we very nearly fell in love with you and your unfeasibly large breasts. But you're not as pretty as Splinter Cell, sadly, even with your cat suit. And you're not as clever either.

It's all too tempting for us to just run straight past the enemies in your game, and hide in a dark ventilation shaft until the heat dies down. What kind of a basis for a relationship is that, eh?

Yep, Anya, as you may have noticed, is a little on the lithe side. The only way to squeeze into such a slinky cat suit would be to back flip into it; hence, she's as agile as a monkey on a pogo stick, bringing acrobatics into the mix.

But even this disappoints, because while her wall-runs and pole-swings are impressive, the areas where they come in useful are so tightly scripted her skills don't feel anywhere near freeform enough.

Stolen is a game worthy of note (NO GUNS! etc), but not necessarily worthy of your notes - sadly.

Best stick to Thief 3 or Hitman Contracts if you want a stealth game that'll get your brain warm through skulking and strategy without resort to too much frustration. Or maybe just stick to the wall, on your way to work. Maybe.

Stolen is out for PS2, Xbox and PC now

It's a Zen-like stealth game busted by wibbly AI, making it an ambitious take on the genre, but one that's too flawed to fulfil its sizeable promise

More Info

Available Platforms: Xbox, PS2, PC

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