6Anya Romanov, the resident of noir-fictional and perpetually shadowy Forge City and the thieving star of developer Blue 52’s Stolen, was supposed to be a narrative breath of fresh air for the gaming world. She’s not a super-agent selflessly saving the world, or some magical-girl savior. Yeah, she’s the obligatory videogame stealth-hottie, but she starts off with one notable difference: she’s primarily a professional thief out for little more than personal gain in the best Hollywood heist-movie tradition. 10 out of 10 for sexy, “empowering†attitude, but minus several thousand for actual role-modeling.

Anya does have something of a pet peeve right from the get-go: She won’t actually kill anybody, which sets her apart from her Asian counter-character Breeze, who will appear later in the game, with few or none of Anya’s reservations. This creates something of a pickle for our infiltrating heroine as it’s a lot tougher for her to bust her way in and out of Forge City’s high-security museums, highrises and the like. Anya’s expert criminal exploits take place against the backdrop of a larger political conflict engulfing Forge City.

Such is the sleek backdrop of Stolen, a Thief / Splinter Cell / No One Lives Forever blend of stealth gaming where you win the day by breaking into places and robbing them blind. Broken up into four main sections slated at around three hours of gameplay apiece, it ramps its way up into more dangerous missions with skilled guard and elaborate high-tech security systems. Later areas see Anya tackling a prison, a skyscraper, and a remote mountain base that would do a Fleming villain proud.

Anya won’t kill, but she can mess you up. Bad. If spotted out in the open and forced to fight, she can throw down multiple melee combos based around single-button attacks, but her best weapon is not being spotted at all. In a creative twists, the guards that are knocked out eventually wake up (in about a minute or so), and sound the alarm. All of the guards, including guards from other levels, wake up and go on high alert for a little while, flashlights in hand and investigating their surroundings. Eventually they calm down, but should they zero in on Anya, they’ll shoot her up. And since realism is a central theme in Stolen, it doesn’t take more than a few direct hits before it’s game over and you’re sent back to the previous checkpoint.

Thanks to context-aware control, Anya can perform exotic acrobatics and evasions—swinging on outcroppings, clambering up walls, sneaking along ledges and so forth, mostly with single-button commands. The acrobatics aren’t Sands of Time smooth, but they’re good enough. If things don’t go so well and she finds herself face-to-face with a foe, she can choke him into submission or deliver a roundhouse; and when they’re down, she can rifle their pockets for extras, such as keys or door combinations for later (or secondary) objectives. If she’s feeling particularly brazen, she can actually pick the pockets of her adversaries as they walk past her.

Anya wouldn’t stack up so well in the heist-movie ranks if she didn’t have some cool tech, would she? One of the most obvious and useful nifties is the ability to augment her ever-present mini-map with motion-tracking darts. Pop one of these into an enemy, and he will become an integral part of Anya’s HUD, broadcasting his position and throwing off a cone-of-sight as seen in traditional stealth games. Another audio-sensory device allows Anya to effectively see through walls almost in the manner of a bat—“pinging†each enemy footstep and aurally fixing the presence of nearby room features (such as furniture, vents, doorways, etcetera) via the magic of wire-framing. If the next room is completely silent—a blessing, in a way—Anya can still make her own noise, by whistling, to create a reliable audioscape. The lockpicking system is equally creative and tense, especially when you have a temporarily unconscious guard nearby as you’re struggling to open a door.

7Finally, there’s the audio dynamic duo, sonic emitter and the nullifier. If you fix the emitter to a surface and activate it remotely, guards will likely go check out the noise like the dutiful little schmucks they are (just don’t overdo the noise thing, or the marginally more-aware will draw their weapons and maybe even call for backup). Use the nullifier as you would your own personal electromagnetic pulse—for knocking out lights, cameras, and various and sundry countermeasures electronics. Let’s hope none of your hapless adversaries have pacemakers.

There are two things in Stolen that make it likable: 1) Each “mission†can branch, without warning, into the opportunity to heist a little more unexpected loot on the side (not something Anya has agreed to with her tech-savvy partner in crime); and 2) The fact that when you bungle a job and reinforcements are called, they’re called from somewhere. In other words, they have a specified dispatch-point from which they’ll arrive, and therefore a minimum estimated time of arrival. Nothing is more irritating that video-game reinforcements that just sort of show up out of thin air.

There are some things that could have been improved with Stolen, such as the graphics (they’re fairly minimal) and the environments (not enough interaction, and especially not enough stuff to pilfer). But overall, it’s a decent looking and quite enjoyable stealth game with some nice creative elements.

System Requirements: Pentium IV 2 GHz, 256 MB RAM, 2.7 GB HDD, WinXP

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