Hollow Dissent, Stealth Simplified

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This game, by Dark Space Games, is definitely a first game.  Developers’ debut titles may carry certain elements that come through into the game itself: uncertainty, ambition, fear and paranoia.  Hollow Dissent certainly gave the devs a chance to release some of that my shouting into a microphone.  While it may have been therapeutic for them, it made my headphones buzz and my ears ring a little.  Of course, the fact that this game almost feels like a default game that came with Windows 98 kind of makes the game feel a little silly.  Let me explain.

When you start up the campaign, you aren’t given a story as much as you are given what you need to know.  Bunch of people on a base are starting to succumb to radiation poisoning and they are losing their minds because of it.  Kill them all.  Now, I’m no doctor but I am pretty sure that a lead enema isn’t the only treatment for radiation poisoning.  This seems suspicious.  Alongside the ominous music, this all seems like some kind of plot that I am being thrown into the middle of in hopes that someone can solve a really big fuck up.  You play as the wetwork ninja that will move in, eliminate all witnesses and resolve the issue.  Ah, mysterious paramilitary organizations, when will you learn?

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Turning enemies into anonymous clouds of red mist…

The controls are pretty simple and easy to master: spacebar shoots your rifle, arrow keys move, shift lets you interact with things.  Typically you will get through a level after eliminating all foes and get to a door to go to the next level.  It is never really specified whether you go up or down, but I always assume down.  Then there is the gun.  Remember when I mentioned this being a stealth game?  Well the main way you kill enemies is by walking over them like a fucking power up.  They’ll turn into red mist and give out a groan.  I don’t even want to know what this guy has that makes the corpse explode into red mist and even more terrifying is the fact that he never gets covered in enemy residue.  If you fire your gun, however, all the enemies in the level hear it and come running.

Who are the enemies in this game?  Initially you face the personnel of this facility.  The most interesting thing that this game does is make you feel bad for the guards.  Let me explain.  The two main enemies in this game are the guards and the scientists.  The guards are either stationed or patrolling and are ridiculously easy to take out.  In a game like this you would have a stationed guard switch his gaze back and forth between different corridors.  Not in this game.  These guys are practically mechanical meat-puppets that look only where their gun is pointing since that is how shooting works, right?

The other primary enemy you’ll face are the scientists… fucking little scientists.  These guys, unlike every other scientist in gaming, have decided to self-arm and start shooting anyone they don’t recognize.  This is a bitch.  Combined with the fact that they move erratically, they are a serious pain in the ass to take out.  On top of that, these guys spend the whole time whimpering and whining about “him” and “they’re gonna find us.”  This, combined with the totally forced voice acting for the guards makes the whole game start to slide apart.  I mean, the guards literally say things like “target acquired” and “moving to target” like they are a bunch of overweight local policemen playing paintball on a weekend getaway.  It’s pretty ridiculous.  I am sure even those weekend paintballers manage to sound more convincing.

Not sure why all the scientists are wearing orange-tinted fishbowls on their heads, but whatever...

Not sure why all the scientists are wearing orange-tinted fishbowls on their heads, but whatever…

Why do I feel bad for the guards?  They are useless.  Seriously.  They are doing their jobs, walking back and forth or standing there doing nothing; in some cases they are even facing a wall.  This would make sense if there was some kind of viewing window, but walking right up to them on the opposite side of the wall from where they are stationed results in staying hidden.  These guys are doing their jobs and continue to do so despite the fact that the scientists, who are supposed to be far more intelligent, start losing their shit and packing heat.  The guards even come running if they hear a gun shot like it might not just be one of the damn scientists giving into their insanity and killing themselves.  What with all their whimpering and bitching, I would have just ordered the R & D team be euthanized.  I wouldn’t even resist the main character, I would be helping him.

Then, about 4 levels down (or up, I am not really sure which) you run into a new foe.  These are some kind of groaning, grumbling comet-ghost creatures that can pass through walls, but they only move when you fire your weapon.  You can walk right up to them and they just stare right through you.  Shooting at them is totally useless, so you have to just get past them to finish the level.  The devs seem to favor putting these fuckers near the exits, forcing you to fire your weapon to get them to come after you… away from the door.  These ghosts don’t seem to affect the guards in the least bit but, entertainingly enough, the scientists splatter upon contact with these things.

Man, the flooring in this room is making me see some weirs ass shit...

Man, the flooring in this room is making me see some weirs ass shit…

Don’t get me wrong.  This game isn’t terrible, but there is much that could have been done to improve it.  Ambiance is held together by the grace of a solid soundtrack and decent graphics.  Your character looks like someone took a silhouette of a swat cop, put blue arm bands on him and said “fuck details.”  Guards are all the same little guy holding a pistol with a red dot and the scientists are the erratic little guys with the orange fishbowls on their heads.  This all kind of adds to the ghosts being a little more creepy when you run into them.  Everything already has an ambiguous look to it, but now you have these ghosts that are just all kinds of fucked up.

Level graphics are painfully simple and cookie cutter-styled.  Walls all look exactly the same, and every couple of levels the floor changes design; this would be ok if there were some explanation or pattern, but it goes from stone to riveted metal to castle flagstones so fast that after a while it is just as annoying as the scientists.  Story is delivered in the form of computer consoles that are placed randomly throughout the game.  Through the computers your character communicates with his employers, but this is very very vague and cryptic at every turn.  We have to guess at what is even being discussed at times since there is no internal monologue about anything.  If I saw a comet ghost when I thought I would be stabbing blood-puppets for the next three hours, I would stop to consider my circumstances for a moment.  I am pretty sure I passed by a terminal at some point, too, but it seems that you can go up the next level before finding the consoles, so those aren’t even entirely necessary.

Where's a proton pack when you need one?

Where’s a proton pack when you need one?

If you are jonsing for a good stealth game that challenges you in your stealthiness, you could do a lot worse than this.  Hollow Dissent still accomplishes what it sets out to do in that regard, but it wouldn’t be my first resort.  I am also not going to say that the 5.99$ asking price on the Darkspace Games website is entirely worthwhile, but here are some suggestions on how to make this game worth a little more than that:

Add in a few gadgets and, perhaps, a silencer.  Something more than just a gun and walk-over stealth kills.  The walk-over stealth kills would be alright if the guards looked around a little bit.  Add in some darkness and give guards and scientists flashlights.  This will act to show you where they are looking and add more spooky ambiance to the game.  Don’t make the ghosts glow, but perhaps add in a radar that pings gently as their groans draw closer in the darkness.  That is something the last Alien game did well, even if the only thing.  Put a little more variation in the walls.  Please.  Maybe little windows that stationed guards can look through.  It will add another obstacle and way to get detected.  These levels feel less like any kind of facility and more like mini-mazes to house a few meat sacks.  A little decoration could go a long way.  I don’t rate things, but that would take what is currently 40% of a decent game and punch it right up to 75% maybe even 80%.  I could pay 10$ for that comfortably.  And, please, get a better voice actor.  I could do it for you, I was in the army for two years.  I know what convincing “report” language sounds like.

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Shadow Protocol, Super-Techno Euro Spy

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I am generally not a fan of mobile games, but some devs have really been killing it lately.  Seriously.  First I discovered Henry Sorren and his horror series, then there is Goodnight Games and this remarkably sweet piece of iOS entertainment.  I grew up playing games where stealth was a challenge and not a super-power, and this game just feeds that sense of profoundly badass precision tempered with a tension I rarely see anymore.  Come disappear into the shadows for a while.  I promise you’ll enjoy it.

In this iOS title you play a member of M.O.T.H., a super-secret organization so shrouded in mystery, not even the game explains what it stands for.  You are a covert operative trained to get in, get the intel and GTFO before the bulldogs catch on to your presence.  In this, as with many other stealth-based games, a main focus of the game is the gear.  Primary among your kit is that black alien suit you are wearing.  It allows you to melt into the shadows, avoid detection and be generally ninja-like.  When you are in the shadows, you are completely invisible and the music reflects this by going all enigmatic.

Another important piece of gear is the hacking device, and it’s what you use to obtain the most important plot-progressing pieces of the game.  Throughout the game there will be terminals to hack, which will give you pieces of intel – usually objectives – and can also grant you access keys to doors.  These doors will be a bland white color.  Other doors seem to have been purchased from the 90’s era FPS games, as they are activated by keys matching the color of the doors themselves.  I didn’t have an issue with this at all; in fact, I found the keys an endearing element of the game, lending a nod to older games and utilizing the game’s isometric view to the best of its coded capacity.

Be a spooky shadow-ninja

Be a spooky shadow-ninja

Another piece of gear is the smoke bombs, which you will use to get past certain types of guards.  Generally, you can avoid the patrolling guards by staying out of sight until they pass then dodging past them toward your goals.  Cameras are pretty easy to avoid just by going into the shadows.  You can even move around in the shadows, you won’t appear on the camera at all.  I guess the villains were too cheap to afford motion-sensors.  Better to waste the funds on stupid muscle.  That always works out well. The last type of guard is a little something of a dick.  This guy sits in one place, usually guarding a door-key.  To move these jerks, throw a smoke bomb and slip past them, getting the key and gaining access.

Guards can be a little easy to get past at times, providing little more than a momentary obstacle, but they all have little surprises here and there.  The patrolling guards will look to the sides, rather than just in front, finding you just around that corner you thought you were safe beside.  Some of the guards go outside the methods you trained them on, so stay on your toes.  There is no telling where the next guy will be and how resourceful you’ll need to be to get past him.  It can be aggravating at times, but for fans of challenging stealth it is worth the play.

Of course, not every situation permits passive avoidance, and there are situations in this game that warrant a more proactive approach.  Before you Assassin’s Creed nuts start going all Altair on these guys, you have no lethal weapons in your arsenal.  All you have is a whip and a taser.  The whip has a slight chance of render enemies unconscious for a second, but there is also the chance that they might just come running after you; since the latter option is far more likely, you won’t be using this much.  Some guards will only move if you try using this thing, so it becomes a necessity in some levels.  The taser is the most proactive item you have, and this disables your enemies long enough for you to get away… so about 3 fucking seconds.  Using the whip will only disable enemies for 1 second.

...because guards are among the most intellectually superior creatures on the planet, right?

…because guards are among the most intellectually superior creatures on the planet, right?

The controls are pretty intuitive, though they can be frustrating at times.  You move via the touch-screen joystick that many iOS games use, and I have had many a time where I was playing too fast and I went the wrong way… in front of a camera.  Items are deployed by hitting the corresponding button on the menu at the right side of the screen.  Most of the items you just tap once and they’re used, but the hacking tool has to be held while a bar fills, hacking the terminal.  This can be infuriating as sometimes you have to do this before the guard gets back from staring at the wall for a few seconds, other times before a camera moves painfully slow into view.

The art and sound of this game surprised me, and were amazingly superior for an iOS game.  It looks and plays like a lost SNES title with art that is fitting and very enjoyable.  Characters walk and move smoothly and scenery is good.  Sound is enjoyable and helps to create the necessary tension that a game like this desires.  Everything comes together here to create a fun and interesting play, and it has a story that is frankly too good for the standard mobile fare. Add to that the fact that this game is a fucking challenge?  Yea, it’s a good play, for sure.  Seriously, though, the game goes from a pretty moderate walk in the park to “Oh my fucking god how did I even clear that goddamn level?!?!” in a few short (ish) levels.  All this, and the game itself is only 0.99$ on iTunes and the App Store.  I recommend this for iPad, but it is likely still very playable on other idevices.  Want to watch the trailer?  Here you go.