Stealth games are somewhat of an anomaly in the video game world. A game about hiding in shadows shouldn't be nearly as exciting as a game about dispatching hordes of enemies with high explosives, or cool-looking blade weapons. Somehow, though, when done well, stealth games can be every bit as intense and satisfying as a good shoot-'em-up. However, due to the nature of the genre, when done poorly, stealth games quickly become a lesson in tedium and frustration. Stolen, the first and last game from developer Blue 52, falls into the latter category, with an undeveloped plot, derivative gameplay, idiotic enemies, and boring presentation.
In Stolen, you play as Anya Romanov, a female thief with no discernable personality and some goofy, glowing glasses. She's supposedly the best thief in the crime-ridden Forge City, and she's in it for the thrill of the heist rather than the financial reward. Anya is backed up by an ex-security officer and tech geek, Louie, who designs all her stealth gear and coaches her during her missions. The game opens with a cutscene of a newscast detailing the upcoming mayoral election in Forge City. You aren't given much more of a backstory, and as you progress through the game you'll briefly meet a few characters and discover the dirty motivations of the one overtly sinister mayoral candidate. None of it matters though, because the story and characters aren't interesting enough to engage you in any way.
Despite the lack of any plot development, you won't have a problem knowing where to go, because the levels are linear and when you come to a new area Louie will chime in to tell you exactly what to do. Usually the objectives consist of simple tasks like stealing a key from a safe in one room to open a door in another room, or hacking a computer to shut down a security grid. There are four levels, but they look so similar they might as well be one. You'll see the same room, hallway, or air duct throughout the entire seven or eight hours it'll take you to complete the game.
The bland environments are made even worse by an abundance of dull textures and unsightly aliasing. Hard edges are horribly jagged, and some of the lighting effects are misplaced. For instance, you'll spend a lot of time hiding in shadows, but the shadows are exaggerated and conveniently placed throughout the levels, whether a light source is present or not. You'll crawl through a brightly lit ventilation duct, only later to be hidden completely in a shadow cast by a small bookshelf in an otherwise bright-as-day room. There is no gradient to the lighting in Stolen; it's either completely dark or completely light. There is even a gauge onscreen to show you just how concealed you are, but it's pointless, because it's either off or on and there's rarely any middle ground.
In addition to the light gauge, you're equipped with a variety of other high-tech tools to help you evade detection by the brain-dead sentries throughout each level. You can use a dart gun to tag guards, shut down security cameras, or to plant decoys. You'll rarely need to use any of it though, because you'll quickly pick apart the guards' patrol patterns and be able to move about easily without being detected. The only difficult part about Stolen is finding the patience to actually remain hidden when it's easier to just charge through the levels. The only penalty for doing so is that the guards will immediately start shooting at you once you're spotted, but you can easily lose them by running through the nearest door. You do have an option to fight the guards, but you can't use lethal force, so you're left with a poorly implemented punch-punch-kick melee combat system that looks and feels ridiculous. Once a guard is knocked out, you have about 30 seconds to hide, hack a computer, crack a safe, or pick a lock before he wakes up. If that isn't enough time, you can beat the guard down again and again to buy yourself time until you're ready to move on.
The one good thing about Stolen is that it offers a decent variety of gameplay, at least until the minigames and diversions begin to look the same. You will often have to pick locks, crack safes, hack computers, and cut through metal panels to access key items or areas. Each time you do this, a simple minigame is initiated. You can make as many attempts as necessary to get through the minigames, but guards continue patrolling while you're completing the challenges, so you'll want to be as quick as possible. In addition to the minigames, there are some platforming challenges where you'll have to jump gaps, swing from poles, run up walls, and perform various other Prince of Persia-inspired feats. The platforming and minigames do break up the monotony of creeping from one shadow to the next, but they're brief, and they only get challenging when you have to wrestle with odd controls or bad camera angles.
Each of the three versions of the game has the same fundamental problems, but the PC version looks and sounds better than the Xbox and PlayStation 2 versions. However, the keyboard controls of the PC are awkward, and some of the minigames are difficult when using directional keys rather than an analog stick. The Xbox version of Stolen is the worst of the three, with frequent loading times that often occur in the midst of gameplay, along with controls that aren't quite as intuitive as they are on the PlayStation 2.
Overall, Stolen just doesn't have much to offer to even the most diehard stealth fans. Once you complete the game there's no reason to ever play it again. There are no difficulty settings or interesting unlockables; there are only a few concept stills you can access by performing well in each level. In the end, Stolen feels like a budget title being sold at full price, and with so many good stealth games already available, there's simply no reason to play this one.