Sneaky Sneaky. An open love letter to Stealth games

I’ve never been much of a fighter. You’d think growing up with two older brothers I would have learnt to counter them when I was subjected to their WWE tryouts but, well, I was more of a runner.

I’m just not one for confrontation, and it seems that attitude of ‘don’t be seen, don’t get on the wrong end of a poorly executed Walls of Jericho’ has transcended into my gaming play style.

You see I love stealth games, I enjoy the often berated compulsory stealth sections in games because, well, I’ve usually spent the last few hours in the shadows anyway, keeping a note of where the enemies have been, will be and are going. Admittedly I’m not the most entertaining gamer to watch.

And of course stealth sections can be done poorly; bad AI, a completely contrived change in pace and tone, time limits, these things can turn a stealth section into an exercise in how deep into your wall you can lodge your controller.

But in today’s market, games will often give you a choice; go in guns blazing or sneak in through the vents, kill everything that moves or make it seem like you were never there. Some games see the world evolving with the choices you’ve made; Dishonored rewards stealthy and compassionate players with less rats and less crazy plague killers, while it gives merciless players more bodies to fell.

Far Cry 3 allows you to sneakily attack enemy bases...

Far Cry 3 allows you to sneakily attack enemy bases…

I absolutely love the choice in mechanics, sure that machine gun rocket launcher looks great, but this bow and arrow is a whisper on the breeze, a really pointy whisper. But this binary choice system does have its drawbacks, you often have to go to one extreme or the other.

I was so excited when I fired up Deus Ex Human Revolution; from early one it was clear that I could hack, hide, and even talk my way out of the restricted sections, I was in stealth heaven. Then the boss fight came along. Now I hadn’t killed a soul so far, I hadn’t needed to, no one had seen me. Suddenly I was forced to fight one on one with a man with a Gatling gun for one arm and a grenade launcher for the other. There weren’t enough vents in the world to save me from this one.

But I persevered, I managed to get one up on the brute, and then it was back to sneaking into people’s houses and stealing their chocolate bars. Then I was faced with another Boss fight, once again, an incredibly powerful foe I had to face one on one.

I was done.

By this point my character was effectively a ghost, but ghost can’t kill invisible electro women. I was miffed to say the least, my character just didn’t kill people, and it made me severely question how I’d been playing the game, did the makers not want me to be stealthy? I’ve still never finished that game.

... Or you can test the effects of high levels of TNT on the human body

… Or you can test the effects of high levels of TNT on the human body

The way you feel playing a good stealth game is far different to the power you feel when you face a room with a flamethrower, or that one weapon in every game that makes mincemeat of anything that looks at you oddly, but it’s still a sense of power. It’s the feeling of a plan coming together and of thinking two steps ahead of your enemies so that you keep them on their toes, and if you do it right, knock them off their feet. The Batman Arkham series does this well, it sets you up with a room of enemies and says ‘go nuts’. The series invites you to use the skills you’ve honed as you see fit, that can be picking them off one by one or jumping down and beating them senseless.

Games like the Arkham series are a great example of how in your face action and shadow skulking can work together to create something dynamic and so much fun.

Another series that won me over with a great combination of the two was the Assassin’s Creed series. To this day the second in that series is still one of my favourite games of all time. It married fluid, badass action with the tension of just avoiding a patrol in just the right way.

So that’s my love affair with stealth games; the meticulous planning of an infiltration, the study of enemies and their habits, and the swelling pride of having cleared a room with no witnesses, alive or not. I have a lot more I could say, but I’ve already taken enough of your time, so thanks for reading, and remember, just because you’re not in the fray doesn’t mean you can’t kick vast amounts of ass. I mean guys think about it, Ninjas.

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