Level 22 from Moving Player Games is a stealth game with a twist. No saving the world here. No Earth-shattering meteors. Not even a mighty megaweapon to disable. Just Gary. And he’s late to work. Hide under the cardboard box with us as we review this unusual game of trying to get to the desk before anyone notices we’re gone.
I’m sure you all saw in the news last week the story of the Spanish civil servant who had been not showing up at his office for a number of years, and the only reason he was found out was because he was to have been presented a long-time service award. The hero of Level 22 is not quite as bad as this, but he is ridiculously late to work one morning after going out on a birthday bender the night before. It’s up to you to help Gary along as much as possible, and use every trick in the book–and the book itself in some cases–to help Gary sneak to his desk unnoticed. Because if he’s caught being late one more time, he’s out of a job!
Moving Player are the guys who had a hand in two games we’d previously reviewed, Rakoo and Friends and Cosmophony, so I was quite interested to see what the next game was going to be. Level 22 is just as much about the puzzle of not getting caught as it is about the stealth. I’d go so far as to say that the stealth is a mechanic in what is essentially a puzzle game. Along the way, you’ll find objects that will help you hide or distract the staff members who will rat you out for being late. Because it’s a puzzle game, you’ll seldom find a level where what you’re given isn’t going to be used in the level in some form or another. For instance, if you find yourself holding a cup of coffee, odds are you’re going to be using it to sabotage a copier or a computer somewhere in that level. My favourite object is the heavy book of accounting, which you use to whack co-workers upside the backs of their heads to knock them out cold. It’s delightful without being outright bloody.
Level 22’s graphical aesthetic is that of a 16-bit era game, with charming, pixel-art animation. It’s a bit odd seeing these graphics used for such mundane environments, but I enjoyed the change of pace. It’s nice to have a personal, relatable story for once; not all of us can relate to having to save the galaxy once or twice a week. The game’s music matches the graphics of the game, and the tunes, while initially toe-tapping and funky, soon got a bit samey. Some variation in the music would have been nice.
The game’s difficulty curve seems to ramp up slightly early in the game, but then it goes all over the place for different parts of the game. For instance, simply finding and getting to the exit is easy. Finding each of the toys in every level is a little bit harder, but certainly not outside of reach, and hunting for the toys was actually a lot of fun. Opening every safe? Good luck there, mate. The clues are apparently scattered around each level, but I’ve only managed to find a handful of clues and I’ve yet to open a safe. Some form of hint system or highlighting might work here, because some of the clues can be ridiculously hard to find. I suppose it adds in some measure to replayability, but at a certain point of frustration, a player is just going go “oh sod this” and play the game to semi-completion.
Weirdly, the weakest aspect of the game is the control system, at least on console. While moving Gary is done via the analog stick and interacting with the environment is achieved with the main face button (X on PS4/3/Vita and A on XB1 and Wii U), items are mapped to the D-pad. This is both unconventional and a bit of a stretch on the fingers. Why not map the items to the face buttons, and the interaction button to one of the shoulder buttons? This makes way more sense. There’s also no way to remap the controller so you’re stuck with the unwieldy controls. Furthermore, in some places, trying to manoeuvre Gary around some walls and corners was made difficult, either by the controls , the collision box, or Gary’s massive head; I’m not sure which.
Still, for what it is, it’s a great, fun little game, and it’s something the average gaming demographic can relate to. The graphics aren’t pushing any boundaries here, but indie games are more about the game’s concept and playability than about the ability to break new boundaries in graphical and audio finesse. Gary’s likeable, and I could easily empathize with his situation. There has been the odd occasion I’ve had to sneak into the office, too. The stealth and the puzzles make for a great interplay, and I don’t think either mechanic would have worked as effectively without the other. And now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go hide: here comes the boss.