I have a pretty severe distaste for Metal Gear Solid, but I will readily admit that it is stylish, which is probably a big factor in its lasting popularity. It copied its MSX predecessors’ palette of cool blues and greys, giving it a cold and sterile appearance, then bloated it out into full 3D. It really owned its blocky, pixelated graphics, unashamedly forcing the camera in for close-ups during its extensive cutscenes. Definitely a treat.
It seems that Humblehearts, the developers of Never Stop Sneakin’, feel the same way, as they’ve lifted the Playstation classic’s visual eccentricities to decorate their game. The colour palette is decidedly muted, characters are built of chunky polygons, and textures feature massively noticeable pixellation. The game, on the other hand, is both inspired by and remarkably divergent from the Metal Gear Solid formula. It lifts the well established stealth formula, then turns it on its head to create a new experience. Whether its something new or a tribute to its influences, it’s the differences, and not the similarities, that I detest in both games.
THAT’S A COMMAND, NOT A REQUEST
Amadeus Guildenstern has kidnapped all the Presidents — even the bad ones — and is holding them hostage until the presidency is turned over to him in perpetuity. It’s up to you, a lone soldier working for the Deparment of Sneakin’, to infiltrate Guildenstern’s base, build a time machine, and rescue the presidents.
It’s funny enough, but it’s easy writing that wouldn’t stand up to any sort of analysis. It comes across like something that was freewritten, then never further developed. In spite of this, it actually works decently well as a parody of a typical Metal Gear plot without descending into direct referential comedy. It lacks punch, moves with all the haste of a hair clog, and skimps on the presentation, but it’s reasonably entertaining, and the jokes land more often than they miss, so it’s a mix of good and bad.
The aesthetic borrowed from the original Playstation are more consistently successful. Blocky character models and pixellated textures take you back to a simpler time before proper texture filtering blurred everything up. The developer has thankfully spared us from the shifting textures that marred the console’s visuals and has taken the time to implement some shading and lighting techniques that wouldn’t have been possible on the hardware, which makes for an effective but not unappealing callback. It really does a decent job of balancing its reverence with its individual style.
NO MORE SNEAKIN’
While Metal Gear Solid had you infiltrate a singular base to unravel the villain’s plot, No More Sneakin’ features procedurally laid out installations, making each playthrough slightly different. Very slightly. Your main goal is to sneak your way from the starting area to the elevator at the other end. Placed in your path is a series of near-sighted guards, poorly positioned cameras, and ineffective gun turrets; y’know, standard fare for stealth games. Along the way, you gather perks, supplies, and currency in the form of espionage (ESP) by hacking computers, opening lockers, and checking behind locked doors. The base is separated into groups of three levels capped off by a boss. After you build up your base of operations, you can penetrate further into another group of three, up to five stages in total.
Once you return from a mission, Guildenstern travels time and re-establishes his defenses, undoing all the work you did. Between missions you build up your base of operations by spending ESP, which equates to a world map and represents your progress. Far more frequently than you’ll probably be comfortable with, you’ll have to delve back into a mission to rescue someone or obtain an item before you can proceed with base preparations.
Thus concludes the gameplay loop. You infiltrate, gather ESP and objectives, build your base, and repeat. And repeat. And repeat.
Which is the start of where things go wrong.
Unlike the Metal Gear Solid series, which harshly punished discovery and forced you to take things slow, Never Stop Sneakin’ is incredibly lax and encourages you to sneak quickly. Enemies have rigid cones of detection and strict patrol routines, making them easy to get close to and take out. There are no button inputs, just directional, so all you have to do is touch a guard and they’re dead. If they spot you, you’ll automatically shoot them. If you have no bullets, you’ll drop a smoke grenade. If you don’t have those, either, well, you’ve got three hearts. Lose those and you still get everything you’ve collected, you’re just sent back to base.
To be fair, at the outset, this is a pretty fun gameplay loop. Changing things from a shadow op to a stealth sprint keeps gameplay moving at a good pace. You build your ESP multiplier by taking out enemies quickly and, at first, it’s a fun experience to jog through the base, hacking through everyone. Building out your base and rescuing prisoners provides you with new perks that can increase your survivablity or further speeds up gameplay.
PLEASE, LET ME STOP SNEAKIN’
So what length of game do you expect that sort of gameplay to support? One hour? Three hours?
It had me clocked at over fifteen hours when I finally reached the extremely disappointing finale.
There are three enemy types and five boss encounters. When you reach the maximum 5 stage configurations, that content stretches just enough to cover it. Once. But to reach the end of the game, you have to do it a few dozen times. When I’ve proven I can walk through the stages once, I can certainly assure you that I capable of doing it the next 50 times, so it would be nice if something new got thrown at me. It doesn’t even have to be a new obstacle or enemy. It could be reversed controls or no weapons, I don’t know. I don’t design games, I just complain about them.
There is nothing new between the opening chapter and the end. No new weapons, no new enemies, no new level types, just a bunch of easily avoidable cones of vision from start to finish. The only unlocks come from new perks and character skins, and the game can’t help but suck at providing those.
Occasionally, after defeating a boss, you’re given a chest to open that either contains a weapon skin, a new character, or a multiplier to increase the ESP you gain at the end of the level, and I swear that nine times out of ten I’d get that stupid multiplier. Midway through the game, I was absolutely turgid with ESP because my multiplier was so high, but characters and weapons would still just trickle in. Something that increases my currency — currency that is only used to advance the game and nothing else — isn’t a fun mechanic; new characters are a fun mechanic. Not that it matters. Near the end, I had received everything that could be unlocked, so every box from there on only had the multiplier increase.
Then there’s the perks. You start off with helpful stuff like increased health, ammo, and ESP pickups, and then it gets progressively worse as the game goes on. Why the hell do I need a perk that tells me which lockers the packages are in, what kind of monster doesn’t already opening every container in a level? What is the point of a perk that cause bullets to miss? There are already three mechanics in place to protect yourself with: health, armor, and bullets. And these perks just put more garbage in bins that you inevitably pick up instead of the actually useful perks, and there’s no way to disable the ones you don’t want.
At the very end of the game, you wind up with ultra powerful perks that instantly kill enemies around you, which then allows you to simply walk to the end of the level. Thanks, No More Sneakin’! I didn’t want to keep playing anyway.
NEVER. NEVER. NEVER. NEVER.
Playing Never Stop Sneakin’ is like having a bernese mountain dog sit on your chest. At first, it’s kind of enjoyable as you laugh at its slobbery face and tussle its fur. But then, hours pass, and you wish that dog would leave. You find yourself short of breath and can hear the distinct sound of ribs cracking, and you realize that this is it. This is how you die. That old gypsy woman was right.
To say that Never Stop Sneakin’ overstays its welcome is an understatement. The game has enough content and variety to sustain, like, three hours, but it keeps on trucking long after it has tipped its hand and shown you all its cards. It’s in desperate need of having the pruning sheers taken to its main adventure mode, as there’s so much redundant content that drags things out. Having to run the same locations, evade the same enemies, and battle the same bosses dozens of times isn’t fun. No matter what kind of plot is built around it, no matter how funny the jokes are, no matter what aesthetic is chosen to dress it up, it’s boring. It’s excruciatingly boring. I haven’t been this bored playing a video game since the time I played through The Tick on the SNES.
I’m absolutely astounded by how aggressively unimaginative Never Stop Sneakin’ is. There is so little involved in the game that it almost feels like a microtransaction laden mobile game that someone forgot to put the microtransactions into. The most positive thing I can say about the game is that if it was shorter, and I’m talking a lot shorter, I’d probably have been much kinder to it. In such an alternate timeline, I’d probably even find myself recommending Never Stop Sneakin’, but in this timeline — the darkest timeline — I’d recommend avoiding it, if you value your time.
This review was conducted on a Nintendo Switch using a digital copy of the game purchased from the Nintendo store. The game was paid for by the author.