A quirky and extremely unique stealth game with a hilarious premise, that offers a short but sweet blast of fun.
Moving Player; Noego
World-building & Story
You’ve just woken up from a heavy drinking session, looked at your clock and realised you’ve overslept and are late for work. Worse still, your boss told you one more tardy appearance would cost you your job – sounds relate-able right? Level 22 crafts this familiar scenario into a hilarious stealth game, never losing its keen sense of humour or enviable style.
You play as Gary, who has to sneak up to his desk on the 22nd floor without being seen or he’ll incur the wrath of his dictator of a boss. He enlists the help of his slacker friend Marty, who recently left the company and seems to know the ins and outs of how to slip by unnoticed – it all comes together to create a brief but memorable plot that’s certainly one of the unique I’ve come across, that works extremely well until the hilarious conclusion.
Part of the reason it works so well is the banter between Gary and Marty – they’re both likeable characters (despite being lazy slackers) who interact in an amusing yet believable way. Comparatively, the boss is portrayed as a megalomaniac hiding the dark secrets of the company and wanting full control over everything – but this exaggerated characterisation works so well in the setting.
The world here is a similar heightened reality – it begins in a somewhat realistic multi-story corporate tower full of coffee machines and water coolers, but quickly gives way robot assembly lines and hidden cellars where confidential paperwork is shovelled into an incinerator. It’s a fantastic setting, one I definitely wanted to see more of after the game was done.
Presentation & Sound
Level 22 has a fairly interesting presentation – block-headed characters and levels stuffed with items and details are good, but some of the pixel graphic cutscenes are fairly ugly, meaning it’s an overall mixed package.
The characters are all pretty funny looking – Gary has big glasses that take up his entire face while some late-game androids have piercing eyes that make walking near them a little scary. They fit well in this world, although the pixelated portraits used for conversation scenes look less impressive, not matching the overall aesthetic and appearing a bit blurry to boot.
As Gary is making his way up an office block you can expect to find all sorts of common workplace items along the way – desks, computers, water machines etc. Level 22 stuffs its environments with objects which make them feel authentic, meaning that even if the perspective is top-down (that somewhat reminded me of Habbo Hotel) it feels familiar – although there’s nothing special here it gets the job done.
Music is a selection of cute chiptune tracks – again, they fit the overall aesthetic well and some add a nice sense of urgency or tension to Gary’s mission.
Gameplay & Content
A really smart take on stealth mechanics, Level 22 is a surprisingly fun time let down by a couple of dud levels and a short run time. Still, you can get an enjoyable afternoon’s distraction from it and what is here is very well thought-out.
Gary’s journey will begin on the basement of the skyscraper he works in – the car park to be precise, which acts as a tutorial on how to play. Your goal is to sneak by your co-workers without being spotted by means of hiding, distracting them and in some cases knocking them out – levels are designed to be solved as puzzles rather than free-form sandboxes, meaning there’s always just one solution you need to figure out. A handy peeking mechanic can be used with the right analogue stick, which does wonders for helping you figure out the layout of the level and get a feel for your surroundings.
Gary is fairly defenceless on his own and naive to the quirks of this building, so he phones his friend Marty in times of need. This is similar to the codec from Metal Gear Solid in that you’ll get cryptic hints about what to do next which is nice – although sadly it only triggers at pre-determined points rather than being something you can use at any time, meaning it acts more as a means to push the story forward.
Each room you run through is usually filled with a number of objects you can interact with – hiding is done by diving into an open cupboard or car boot, but equally can be achieved by just hiding out of the line of sight of an enemy. Thankfully when you’re spotted a cone of vision will briefly pop up and allow you to run out of it if you react quick enough, which is a nice buffer to help if you mess up (although the game is filled with generous checkpoints anyway, meaning that being spotted will never wipe out too much progress).
The other interactive objects are items – these vary depending on the level you’re in, but range from cups of coffee (which you can spill on electrical equipment to disable it) to laxatives (which you can put in the drinks of your co-worker to make them dash for the toilet). They always have one specific purpose (usually to distract someone) and figuring this out is fun, particularly when it’s something bizarre like a 3D printed lightsaber (although the trusty cardboard box is here too).
Each set of five levels end with a boss battle – these are pretty inventive, usually relying on a gimmick based around stealth. I did find them a little on the easy side (the main difficulty being figuring out what they actually wanted me to do) but they at least provided some enjoyable variety to the gameplay and didn’t overstay their welcome by repeating the same actions over and over.
Sadly, some of the other mechanics don’t work quite as well – climbing through vents is alright for example, but a pair of levels based on running around in the dark were pretty terrible as they relied on trial-and-error more than anything else. It’s more noticeable because the game is so short anyway (around 2-3 hours), meaning any stretch that isn’t quite as good stands out.
Longevity is added through collectables – Marty asks you to find his collection of toys (one in each level) and there’s also a safe for you to crack, although the passwords for these are incredibly cryptic and you’re going to struggle immensely without a guide. Still, this is just a small blemish on an otherwise impressive package – one that you should definitely try out if you have any passing interest.
A charming stealth-puzzle game with a funny story and some enjoyable gameplay, Level 22 may not last very long (and some of that brief content isn’t the best), but the majority of what is here is smart and fun. A good time-waster and one that’s worth checking out if you need an afternoon’s distraction.