Stolen puts players in the role of a sly sylph named Anya Romanov, whose grace and cunning are designed to exemplify the "cat" in cat burglar. Through a combination of agile athletics and sneaky tactics, Anya makes her way as the most successful thief in the fictional Forge City game world, choosing the jobs she takes based on more on their challenge and notoriety than their financial payoff. Gameplay blends stealth, as in Metal Gear Solid or Splinter Cell, with third-person action as in Tomb Raider or the latter-day Prince of Persia games. Anya also has access to a wide variety of useful spy gadgets, provided by her silent partner in crime, a retired security officer with a penchant for engineering. Her combat skills are limited, however, so it's always best to avoid detection in the first place.
Stolen is just about the ugliest PC game I've ever come across. It uses light and shadow to try and hide some of the ugliest low resolution textures seen in a PC game since Duke Nukem 3D at its default resolution of 320x200, and though the shadowing itself isn't all bad, the lighting is a crime against humanity. Never before has bloom been overused to the point of rendering a scene as if it were illuminated with 2000 searchlights set on "Batman Forever", but Stolen does this in nearly every other scene. If you've ever seen the movie "The Crow", you'll remember fondly the beautiful noir lighting and shadow that overcast every plaintive, sorrowful scene, and though I'm loath to even mention such a powerful movie in a review of such a hideous, wretched game, it serves my purpose because it represents exactly the opposite of what the Stolen world looks like. Overbright textures, improperly illuminated rooms, piss poor shadowing, and by far the most obvious problem of all, the overpowering potency of washed-out ugliness that pervades the entire game from the moment you hit the start menu until the last scene fades to black. The game performs under par, and the mouse lag throughout the game is just atrocious, bordering on unplayable. The audio is irrelevant, with adequate voice acting for the heroine and passable sound effects. Nothing too great, but you notice the audio in this game much more without your vision, it having been eliminated by the aforementioned hideous bloom and lighting.
The gameplay category will always be the do-or-die for any PC game, as I can live with horrible graphics and audio if the gameplay knocks it up another notch. Take Oni, a bland and fairly ugly (but not as ugly as Stolen) 3rd person shooter with a female heroine that whirlwind kicked its way into my heart back in 2000, simply because the story was told well throughout the game and the combat proved addictive and enjoyable. It remains one of my fond memories of the year, and Stolen will likewise remain in my gaming memory for the coming years, simply because it is a living example of how to do everything wrong. The controls are about the worst I've had to deal with in recent memory, with horrendous mouse lag, poor keyboard remapping functions, and nonsensical options that often lie or contradict each other ("opposite" means different things depending which axis you're dealing with). The game's light meter that dictates how visible you are is buggy and often lies, and NPC behavior is totally unpredictable: Sometimes you can walk in front of someone and they'll flat ignore you, but far more often you'll get an NPC seeing you through a wall, around a corner, or in a shadow the meter claims he couldn't see into. It's a pity, too, because some of the acrobatic moves you can do in the title are quite cool looking, though nothing we've not seen in the recent Prince of Persia games (which were model animated far, far better). The simple fact is: Heists in Stolen are not fun. At all. They're a chore, and an ugly, buggy, sluggish, irritating chore at that. When the game is all about stealth (you can't even kill anyone) and the stealth doesn't even work right, you're in for pain. Lots of pain. Pulling the plug on this title (and their own further wasted attempts at making games) was absolutely the right thing for developer Blue 52 to do, it's just a pity this black mark on computer gaming history ever saw the light of day. It would have been much better for it to live only as a rumor of what "might" have been.
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