by Murray Lewis
reviewed on PC
The Marvellous Miss Take is a gorgeously pastel-coloured stealth game from UK developers Wonderstruck. It puts you in control of one Miss Take, evading detection and reclaiming a number of artworks as you break into privately-owned art galleries across London.
With only a handful of artworks to steal in each location, missions are short but stressful, especially if you're trying for a fast time. The difficulty comes not from the number of objectives, but the comprehensiveness with which they are guarded. It takes a little while to get used to the play-style that Miss Take requires of you – rather than eliminating or out-manoeuvring guards, you must expertly divert and distract them. If you get spotted, it's almost always going to result in a level restart (the guards can run faster than the player), so it becomes an intricate dance as you guide the pieces into place as carefully as possible. If all goes well, you grab every piece and leave without even being seen.
The game is mouse-driven, with no keyboard input required at all. It's about as simple as you can imagine; just click on the ground to move your character, which works well enough despite the generously large cursor. Things like crouching behind cover are done automatically, which really slims down the number of controls required to navigate the spotlessly clean halls. Right-click uses an item if you have one, which is usually some kind of distracting decoy. These are great fun to use, although you are sometimes required to pick them back up again before you can leave the level, so discretion is required.
The small size of the levels and the quick-to-learn control scheme means Miss Take is an easy game to pick up and play, but it definitely doesn't pull its punches once you're hooked.
EVERYTHING YOU KNOW IS A LIE
The difficulty picks up abruptly after the first set of levels and I suspect it will catch most players off-guard. Here, the gloves come off completely, the game often stacking three or more elements (guards, dogs, cameras, etc.) up in the same area, making it a real struggle to outwit them all simultaneously.
The real kicker (and, again, a jarring departure from genre conventions) is that guards have random patrol paths, and wander wherever they please. This means you simply can't play the passive role – observing, anticipating, and exploiting patrol paths – normally expected of you in stealth games. Instead, you must act decisively, using tools and distractions to manipulate the guards in a much more organic manner.
This double-edged sword makes Miss Take a singularly unique game, but also one that's going to be very frustrating until you can unlearn everything drummed into you by games like Splinter Cell, Metal Gear Solid, and pretty much every other stealth game ever.
But does it work? Well, sort of. The random pathing means there's no point in sitting and waiting for the perfect opportunity – action must be taken rapidly. On the other hand, impatience will often lead you into a checkmate situation, caught out by the random nature of the enemies who happen to converge on you with no warning. If you can accept the fundamentally unfair nature of the mechanics, it's a refreshing change.
Provided you have the composure to make it through the later levels, there's an excellent sense of 'I can do better,' with plenty of optional goals available like aiming for a speed-run, or going for an optional, harder to steal item. They're never required to move on, but it's nice to have the extra objectives to come back to if stuck on a later level.
As you progress, you will unlock a couple of other characters. Each one has a different set of abilities, and the play styles they encourage feel very different from one another. This provides a lot of replayability, as they each get their own, unique version of every level – effectively tripling the content of the game.
The characters are all excellently represented, with oodles of flair squeezed out of every frame of animation. The voice work, although limited to nondescript mumbling, is also excellent at conveying a sense of each character – even the guards. You very quickly get a feel for each person, and no doubt will rapidly choose a favourite based on both their personality and play-style.
Graphically, Miss Take has a beautiful art style which reminds me of late 50s/early 60s animation, with clean lines and bold use of colour, and it looks great throughout. Unfortunately, the game engine offers very little in the way of video options to make it look its best. In particular, there are noticeably jagged edges visible, even with anti-aliasing turned on. Worst of all, the game suffers from an extremely choppy frame-rate, regularly diving below 30fps whenever the camera moves. It doesn't make the game unplayable, but it's very noticeable, and easily one of the game's biggest flaws.
A GAME OF TWO HALVES
With a radical take on stealth gameplay, and a gorgeous graphical style, The Marvellous Miss Take easily stands out from the crowd, but not always for the right reasons.
It offers gameplay which manages to be both novel and infuriating simultaneously. Players who enjoy a more sedate, thoughtful style of play will probably find Miss Take an extremely frustrating experience, but if you can stick with it you'll find something very original indeed.
Novel, fun gameplay. Looks and sounds great. Forces you to re-learn stealth games.
Punishing difficulty curve. Choppy frame-rate. Forces you to re-learn stealth games.