Clandestine is a game that can, technically, be played in single player. Doing so however is akin to eating a ready made steak slice cold. Sure you can do it, it even says so on the packaging, but it’s never a good idea and you’re really missing out on the true potential of the steak slice.
At it’s heart, Clandestine is a stealth game owing much to Deus Ex, Splinter Cell, and even Alpha Protocol. Where it differentiates itself is that you play as two separate characters. One has the third person view, sneaking around various facilities trying to do sneaky things and complete sneaky objectives. She can climb over some small things, knock people out or murder them, hide bodies, open simple doors, and even shoot. The other character is a hacker and all you see (except for the bits between missions) is his computer screen, separated into four quadrants. He has a message log, a camera view that can watch the player’s point of view or any camera in the level, a hacking network map (showing all the devices and how they are connected) and a real map of the area. On the real map he can see guards that are within view of the player or a camera, alongside a small group of enemies that can be targeted, thus staying on the map indefinitely.
In single player, you jump between these two at will. This does work and it is possible to complete missions this way, but it always feels silly when you have to leave your operative hiding in the corner so you can go and look at some computer files. In co-op though (clearly the mode the developers intended you to play) suddenly the game really comes alive.
At it’s best one player will be silently moving between boxes, timing her movements exactly while the hacker frantically searches for a door access code, keeping an eye out for who can see he has accessed sensitive files. The operative will sprint towards a door just as a hacker access the code to open it, screaming into her ear seconds before a guard rounds the corner. At it’s worst, one player spends most of the level trying to work out what his home node is while the operative murderises everyone in a warehouse with a pistol because the combat is too forgiving. This is a game where you have to play along a little because the freedom you have to approach things from different angles often tempts you towards taking the messier, and easier, option.
Made by a small team and working its way up through Early Access, Clandestine definitely takes on the appearance of a game from ten years ago. The graphics are incredibly unpolished and animations and dialogue are often bad to the point of comedy, but somehow this just adds to the game’s charm. Since you’ll be playing through it in co-op anyway, it’s easy to laugh off the rough edges and start really getting into the challenges that the game presents. As long as you agree to try and do things stealthily, there really is nothing like it. The hacking, which could have been an incredibly dull tacked-on feature, ends up being possibly even more compelling than the third person sneaking that we’ve seen many times before. As long as you have voice communication, the interplay between the two really adds to the drama as you try to calm down a frantic operative with your knowledge of what’s really around the next corner.
Overall, Clandestine is a brilliant little game for two players who are into their stealth. It’s definitely niche, and you need to be able to look past the dodgy art and engine, but the ideas here are more than worth your time.