A spy, a hacker, and a bunch of dead guards.
Games that offer stealth gameplay are often a solo affair. Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Dishonored, and indie fave, Mark of the Ninja, focus on an individual carefully using tools, skills, and planning to navigate environments without making a peep and arousing alarm. But what if you couldn’t go it alone? This is a question Clandestine, a Steam Early Access title by Logic Artists, both raises and seeks to answer through its unique form of asymmetrical co-operative gameplay.
Aside from the fantasy of operatives shifting around in the shadows, Clandestine roots itself in more realistic contemporary technologies, something like early Splinter Cell but dated back to 1996. In each co-op pairing, one friend plays the spy, Katya Kozlova, and the other plays Martin Symborski, the hacker who assists her in each mission. Together, you must perform missions related to solving murders of veteran Cold War operatives.
For the time being, the story in the game is downplayed, and players can just choose missions to try out. In truth, one can play each mission by themselves, but I do not recommend it. If you don’t want to risk being caught while trying to navigate both the terrain and the hacker windows, it’s best to bring someone along. So I did—I played through an “exfil” mission with our friendly Ryan Bates. Together, we attempted to escape an eastern European government office with documents we just stole.
Playing at Katya, I relied on Ryan to hack into nearby security cameras, shut off their alarms, and tag roaming guards for me. I didn’t have a “Detective Mode” à la Batman nor any other kind of super sense. As the spy, you are just a trained field operative who can stealthily take down guards or shoot a gun when necessary. The hacker, Martin, moves his avatar between nodes on the enemy’s network. Using a crude map, he can find his “destination” by clicking on an object on the map. It was certainly a different experience, knowing I couldn’t safely leave the first room I was in because I didn’t know what was on the other side of the door.
While Ryan was hacking every camera and poking around for me, I realized I needed to break the lock on the door in order to leave. Apparently, I did this too loudly, which drew the attention of the nearby guards. Enter the bugs. Guards would just walk through the doors, a luxury I didn’t have to escape them, and begin shooting at me. I died a number of times trying to leave one room. While I hope that one issue will be worked out, it’s also apparent that this is a game for true stealth lovers. It requires patience and a large amount of dependence on one another to make it.
I eventually escaped the room and wandered the hallways. Ryan would warn me when someone was coming and tell me to sneak into nearby rooms. Although my view is third-person over-the-shoulder, Ryan can only look through security cameras or a first-person camera on my person. As I snaked through the building and took out guards, I realized I had no idea where my exit was. So Ryan not only needed me to let him know what I saw around me, but I needed him to lead me step-by-step out of the compound. I really enjoyed the way this game forced us to communicate with each other, and we got a lot of good laughs out of the silliness.
Among the tools I used to manipulate my surroundings were a silenced gun with knockout rounds, flash bangs, and a noisemaker, which can stun guards momentarily. More brutal players can use a more standard pistol, fatal rounds, and regular grenades if desired, but I’ve always been a non-lethal guy when possible. Hackers in the cloud aren’t limited to stealing camera feeds either. They can look through computers for information and get door codes for the operative. Also, hackers can request dead drops of items or bribe guards to ignore the spy. I will note that this functionality failed to work properly in tutorial for both me and Ryan but not in the field. Either way, more tools are being developed as work progresses.
Clandestine is shaping up to be a refreshing take on the stealth genre, necessitating co-operative play over acting like some kind of magic ninja god. The concept is very strong, but for now, the bugs warrant a little caution. Logic Artists recently released two patches with new features and fixes that I haven’t yet tested, so support is still active and moving along on this title. I’ll definitely be reporting back as the game gets tweaked.