Sometimes the lowest stakes are the most relatable. Few of us have ever fought dragons with swords for the fate of the world, nor do we often ignore our plumbing jobs to save princesses from turtles. But getting in late to work? Worrying for our jobs? That’s something we can all relate to. Level 22 takes these low stakes and meshes it with great art design and gameplay to produce something quite compelling.
In Level 22, you play as Gary, an employee of a large company who woke up late due to a night out drinking. Worse, this isn’t his first time: he needs to get into work without anyone seeing him, or he’ll get fired. Unfortunately, he works on level 22 – which means he needs to travel through floor after floor of fellow workers and security guards. It’s a simple, endearing story that sets a cheery, humorous, low stakes tone. You will have a partner who will talk to you on the phone, and while none of the dialogue is legitimately funny – I found myself skimming through it most of the time – it is relatively well written and keeps the humorous tone going.
Level 22 is a top down stealth game. You’ll walk past others at your company, staying out of their line of sight. To do this you will have to use increasingly complex methods, finding and using items just right to distract others or disguise yourself. It’s quite fun! The controls are mostly simple and easy to use, and level designs are generally quite good, if rarely all that memorable. With the occasional puzzle or boss fight mixing things up, this is a very enjoyable title to work your way through.
That said, it does have its issues. Occasionally, an enemy will grow briefly suspicious, and his pattern will go out of sync with other adversaries because of this. Suddenly, the level is unbeatable. Additionally, the controls for using items are ridiculous: you have to use the various directions on the D-Pad. That means you have to take your hand of the left stick that is controlling Gary, and it is also hard to remember which button to push. In stressful situations, that’s not good; why the developers did not use the face buttons on the right side is a baffling design decision. There are optional touch controls, but these obviously are not as optimal as physical buttons.
It is a pretty challenging game, too. Certainly Level 22 is not unfair, but I found myself needing several attempts even early on, at times not knowing quite how to proceed. Fortunately, checkpoints are numerous, so it’s not a pain to figure things out and master the levels.
There is a pretty reasonable amount of content, and it will last you multiple hours. With secrets to discover and safes to unlock in every level (these are particularly brutal at times), there is quite a bit to do in Level 22. You’ll likely get your seven dollars’ worth. Nor will the game outstay its welcome; there is enough to the gameplay for it to last all the way through.
The visuals are an instant standout. The art style brought to mind a Saturday morning comic strip, of all things, and it works really well. It is charming, allows for expressive character designs, and sets a perfect tone for the game. The music is rather less excellent; gameplay features a quiet, repetitive loop that initially doesn’t make any impression whatsoever, and then as time goes on gets quite stale.
All in all, Level 22 is a very worthwhile purchase if you are in the market for a top down stealth game. It is loaded with charm and has some well designed gameplay. It’s not perfect – what game is? – but many will find a lot to enjoy from Level 22. You might be one of them. Just don’t stay up too late playing, or your boss could get mad.