It would be hard for anyone to explain the appeal of original PlayStation era graphics. These were the necessary stepping stones to the incredibly vivid worlds we now take for granted, and they've aged about as gracefully as a banana left on your kitchen counter for two months. Despite that, for those who were there, the interpretive polygonal nonsense is heartwarming. It harkens back to a simpler time, a more stylish time. This is the only frame of mind that really makes Never Stop Sneakin' work. A visual pastiche of Solid Snake's adventures on Shadow Moses Island, this simplistic stealth game from Humble Hearts grabs players from the jump with its overwhelming flair. That initial drive will get you through a good chunk of the game, but there's little reason to push forward once you've acclimated to your surroundings.
Things start off with an opening cinematic involving skydiving without a parachute that sets the game's goofy tone perfectly. A madman has traveled through time and kidnapped all the Presidents, and you have to sneak through his facility, gather data, and build a time machine of your own in order to counter his nefarious plan. Of course, since your opponent already possesses time travel technology, you can't stop him with any sort of frontal assault. Each enemy you dispatch, each computer you hack, they'll be instantly reset at the end of a run, and you'll return home with nothing but the intelligence you've gained on your sneaking mission. This setup is a clever narrative way to explain the game's simplified roguelite structure, and I wish I saw that complexity elsewhere.
Simplicity is really the name of the game here. Never Stop Sneakin' is a top-down affair similar to the original Metal Gear Solid. Everything from moving to shooting to hacking only requires a single joystick (or the Switch's touchscreen) to function, with actions automatically determined by your character's placement. Stumble into a camera's field of view, and you'll automatically throw an EMP. Stand in front of a computer long enough and you'll be compelled to pound on the keyboard and claim its secrets. Lock eyes with an enemy soldier and you'll fire your handgun their way. Risk detection when you're out of usable items, and you'll likely fail your mission, although game overs only differ from victories based on how much currency you bring back to your home base.
This control system works very well, and I was eager to see how many different obstacles I'd have to maneuver around. Sadly, additions to the formula never really materialize. There are a handful of enemies introduced in your first run and you'll still be backstabbing those same soldiers hours into your playthrough. Each set of levels ends with a boss fight, with an opponent randomly selected from five or so options. Each one is amusing the first time through, but you'll quickly memorize their patterns and blast through them without getting hit as you see the same fights over and over again. The same goes for the game's procedural levels, which barely present a challenge to start and get easier and easier as you learn every trick the game has to throw at you. By the end of my playthrough, I was mindlessly perfecting each run without a hint of satisfaction.
Now, this repetitive gameplay formula could have been changed up if you were given any meaningful customization options, but they're not to be found here. Character and weapons skins are frequent unlocks, but they're purely cosmetic. The same goes for base upgrades, which exist only to string you along with the tiniest bit of progression before being thrown back into the same game you've been playing for hours. I rescued countless kidnapped officers over my playtime, and none of them became meaningful characters or changed how I played the game. The only thing that altered gameplay at all were the powerups you occasionally unlock, but they mostly serve to make the game easier rather than more complicated, and the base game is already a breeze.
The story is another way that the game could have strung players along, but I wouldn't really use that definition to describe what's here. Outside of the opening few levels, cutscenes are sparse, and the drive of whatever plot they initially had is lost as you repeat the same objectives over and over with no variation. The writing is clever but unimaginative, and there's not enough of it to avoid repeats before you reach the halfway point. Never Stop Sneakin' acts like it has a story initially, but quickly falls back to metajokes and puns in place of anything else meaningful. This would be fine if the gameplay was engaging in the slightest, but it's absolutely painful as it stands.
I really wanted to like Never Stop Sneakin'. It has a stellar presentation that really captures the look of 3D games in 1998 in a way that others haven't. Its musical score gets as repetitive as anything else, but its a highlight early on, especially the catchy Snake Eater-esque ballad. The simple stealth idea and the reduced control scheme are appealing concepts that are wasted on a game that seems to have no greater ambitions. Even though this is currently a Switch exclusive, I'd expect it to show up on mobile devices sooner rather than later, and that's where it really belongs. The quick runs and ultra simplistic gameplay patterns could perhaps find a home on a platform where the player's only expectation is to waste a few minutes of their day. Anything beyond that, and you'll want to stop sneaking in a hurry.
Our Never Stop Sneakin' review was conducted on Nintendo Switch with a copy provided by the developer.
A stylish introduction and grand presentation can't save this slog of a stealth game. Never Stop Sneakin' plays all its cards in the opening hand and then never follows up.(Review Policy)
- Reverence for PS1 Glory Days
- Goofy Attitude
- Intuitive Control Scheme
- Maddening Repetition
- Lack of Difficulty
- Paper-Thin Progression