Stealth games these days are a dime a dozen. Guys like Solid Snake and Sam Fisher are practically household names, but rarely does an unknown title break the mold and really show what can be done with the genre. For the most part stealth games drop you into the role of a one-man-army trying to infiltrate a highly guarded military base and steal some secret plans all for the good of the common man. Rarely do we get to see the darker side of this mechanic; rarely do we get to take on the role of the bad guy.
Crave Entertainment’s latest PlayStation 2 game fuses some of the best elements from the genre all while allowing you to finally see what it would be like use these skills for financial gain. While there have been a few attempts to do this before, they never really captured the essence and feel of other top-tier titles. It took an obscure budget title to finally introduce the gaming world to a new and interesting take on the stealth genre.
The Plan begins with a group of three highly-intelligent thieves assigned with the task of stealing two priceless pieces of artwork. After an alarm is triggered and one of the members is left holding the bag the game flashes forward five years later where the two thieves who escaped are planning a breakout of their imprisoned comrade. This begins a tale of camaraderie and revenge that is told through static cut-scenes and above average dialogue.
The opening level of the game has you taking on the roles of Alan “Poker” Siegel and Valerie “The Cat” Carrera as you attempt to free your incarcerated teammate. This introduces you to many of the game’s mechanics which are frankly the heart and soul of this title. You can use Valerie to distract guards as your partner sneaks by and even pickpocket unsuspecting victims to obtain key items along the way.
In this introductory level you will also be able to control the imprisoned teammate Robert “The Mind” Taylor. This introduces the game’s biggest and most innovative mechanic: split screenplay. You will have simultaneous control of all three characters at all times via a three-way split view. Your current controlled protagonist will obviously be displayed in the top with a wider view, but you have a visual on the two other characters in the bottom split visor. You can manually switch between screens at will by simply pressing a button, or you can take control of them within the smaller window by simply holding down one of the shoulder buttons.
While all of this may sound convoluted it’s actually rather simple thanks to the game’s intuitive controls. Each character has special abilities and traits that are required to progress. Just like any other stealth title patience is virtue here; carefully planning a mission is much more effective than the traditional trial and error, and trust me it helps.
Every level is also chock full of new experiences designed to fully utilize each character’s ability. For instance Valerie is great a diversions allowing the other two members to sneak by unnoticed. You will also stumble onto some clever lock picking puzzles, having to disable security systems, and of course a plethora of gadgets to aid you in your journey, all of which seem to be ripped from every classic spy movie and game ever created.
If there is one area that The Plan really screams budget title it comes in the form of visuals. Stale character animations and poor texture work are commonplace and compared to most games on the system it simply falls flat. While this is obviously due to low development budgets you can’t help but wonder what a game with so much ambition could have looked like on the next-gen systems. Perhaps if enough word of mouth gets out about how clever this cheap title is we can get a follow-up, but for now the visuals will leave you severely disappointed.
At the end of the day The Plan is a great addition to the PS2 library at a budget price. If you haven’t upgraded to the next-gen systems and are looking for a cheap game with a big value then look no further than this hidden gem. For under $20 you simply won’t find a better game to spruce up your dusty PS2 and if you aren’t careful you may end up having some serious fun. Definitely recommended to anyone who enjoys the stealth genre or anyone looking for something fresh and new without having to worry about dropping fifty bucks on a dud.