Stolen (PlayStation 2) review
"Stolen is a stealth title featuring a sexy female thief, and in a world dominated by ultra-cool and macho Solid Snake types, the black leather clad Anya Romanov (think Underworld) is a welcome as well as delicious sight. "
Stolen is a tale of wasted potential. That's not what it's really about; it tries to be a smart thriller with political intrigue at the wheel, but the story isn't very well written or implemented, so you won't even notice all that. It's a stealth title featuring a sexy female thief, and in a world dominated by ultra-cool and macho Solid Snake types, the black leather clad Anya Romanov (think Underworld) is a welcome as well as delicious sight.
Aside from a heaping portion of bosom, Anya's got gadgets. There are sonic emitters for distracting guards and tripwires for knocking them out; there is sonar equipment for tracking guard movement through doors. Anya can navigate ventilation shafts, or else cut through metal with her torch when access to a shaft is not available. She can pick locks, hack computers, and pickpocket sleeping guards. She does all these things while remaining in constant contact with the clichéd computer nerd who advises her from the relative safety of 'home base.' The coolness factor of all this is almost off the charts.
But it never comes together. A limited, limp combat system, and laughable enemy AI flush all the coolness down the toilet rather quickly.
Here. We'll pretend to load up the game for the first time and you'll have a better idea of what I mean. The intro looks slick! You've gotta love all the leaping about, and the motorcycle spinout is absolutely killer. The fuzzy techno-cum-high tech feel reminds me of the System Shock CGI intro sequence. That game was boss, but then again, it's ancient, so I'm thinking the comparison now from a presentation standpoint isn't flattering.
But onto the actual game. Ah, there's the slinky Anya. She looks pretty good, even in motion. But why the hell is everything so dark? And as we take Anya down corridors and through doorways and into rooms, the areas look bland, nondescript. (We'll get used to that--all four areas in the game have a similarly cardboard appearance.)
From our initial superficial impressions, we arrive at the crux of the gameplay, and unfortunately, much too soon. It's at this point that things go from stylish to laughable. When we encounter guards, we'll get to fake them out with a sonic emitter. BEEP BEEP BEEP! The guards will run over to find out what's causing the disturbance, shining their flashlights over the emitter repeatedly. But they'll never see it!
As long as you hold down the button to continue causing the noise, the guards will never move. What's impressive: the guard who is first alerted to the noise will call for a nearby chum to 'assist' him with his discovery. What's amusing is that often after the second guy has already arrived and is thus already 'assisting', the first guard will still call for him to 'come over here' and 'check it out' again.
This event occurred early on in my game, and foreshadowed a disturbing epiphany I would later have once the mission was behind me and I was able to take stock of my thoughts: Stolen was only barely entertaining enough for me to stay with it till completion because it's so flawed that it's funny.
There are plenty more amusing bits in Stolen. Fighting is particularly comical. Combat works like this: guards are much stronger than Anya, and will pound her with impunity until she's unconscious, at which time they'll say something like "lights out girlie", in really hokey wiseguy accents. But if you're quick at pounding on that single attack button, you might score a lucky knockout instead! There--well done. Now you're free to start hacking that computer termin--shit. He's back up already? Yes. And he's shooting you. Anna will die with her fingers still on the keyboard!
I realize that the emphasis is supposed to be on stealth, but it's still appalling that Anya should be so useless at fisticuffs. Her pathetic skills don't enable her to incapacitate anyone for long enough to do anything. Sadly, though she may look a bit like Kusanagi from Ghost in the Shell, she sure didn't go to the same self defense school. Fortunately for the frail Anya, if she manages to get behind a guard, or approach one under cover of shadows, she can perform the indispensable choke.
When a guard is knocked out by way of The Choke, it actually buys you enough time to do things, such as hacking that computer terminal. You can even hunker down over the fallen guard and steal his watch or cell phone, and then drag him off into a corner so his prostrate body won't be so easily discovered! The fact that the pressure you put on the button actually determines the tightness of the choke is a nice cherry on top. Choking and pickpocketing win back for Stolen some much needed cool points.
However, as the choke out is limited by the need to perform it stealthily, if you're in a situation where Anya has been discovered and guards are coming down on her head weapons blazing, attempting it will result in a swift hot babe pistol whipping. You've got a Taser type weapon--here, called a nullifier--which can immobilize guards for long enough for you to get in behind to apply the choke, but if more than one attacker is on Anya's rather sweet and juicy ass, you can forget about it.
Still, in all my resourcefulness, I managed to find a way. Once I was accosted in a wide-open courtyard, and guards literally swarmed Anya. I had her hightail it to a door that marked a previous checkpoint, and it slammed shut behind me. Much to my amusement, the entire contingent of elite security personnel were stuck. I heard them mumbling their frustrations; 'I know you're around here somewhere'. But they couldn't put it together that Anya might have run through the door right in front of them. Intruders opening doors, and then closing doors behind them--what to do? They never said anything about all this door stuff in basic training!
And then there was the time Anya was running down this darkened hallway with guards hot on her tail (I had clumsily tripped the alarm by boldly running in full view of one of the cameras). I took Anya into the washroom (oh baby!) and the guards did not follow, presumably out of their very deep respect for a lady's privacy. How incredibly polite of them! Anya could have been, you know, changing her thing. Or else escaping through a ventilation shaft. And the shafts themselves were cause for further derisive mirth on my part. Sometimes I'd alert a guard purposely, and run back to the shaft right behind him. I'd have Anya's head poking out so that I could watch the guard's puzzled reaction. I was in sight, but could not be seen!
I could go on and on, and I really am tempted to. The silly parts in Stolen make up most of the game. There are some truly neat stealth bits but my feeling is that they were sloppily inserted into an adventure fraught with ridiculous AI hi-jinx and an unbelievable and really, negligible storyline. I know I've probably made the game seem at least a little bit fun and funny, but it's rather like those bad comedy movies (anything with the Wayans brothers, for example) you see commercials for on TV. Consider this review a commercial; now that I've spoiled all the humorous bits, you needn't put yourself through the agony of the rest. This is a bargain bin PS2 title for a reason or three. Stay away.
Staff review by Marc Golding (June 04, 2005)
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