As a game development student I think it’s important that I play many different kinds of games in order gain experience in making those games. Just like a director should watch many different kinds of movies to hone his talents. But ever since I started gaming one genre of games stands out in my mind: Stealth games. There is often nothing more fun
than creeping through the corridors of a heavily guarded installation somewhere looking for some sort of mcguffin or attempting to eliminate a high value target. As it stands you don’t often find that many stealth games. Games like Splinter Cell and Thief are few and far between. But some gamers like myself still cling to stealth games like a spider monkey to a tree in a wind storm. You know who you are stealth fans. You max out your sneak and lock picking in games like Oblivion, you have five rogues on World of Warcraft and you can’t bring yourself to make anything other than an assassin in Dungeons and Dragons.
What makes stealth games good?
Game developers continuously try to match their plots to their gameplay. This brings the player closer to the game and ensures there are no jarring disconnects between a cut scene or a plot advancing moment and regular gameplay. Stealth games usually don’t have this problem as their plots often revolve around lots of suspense. There is nothing more suspenseful than sneaking through the shadows as quietly as possible only a few feet away from an enemy patrol. In fact other than horror games (Horror games that do it right: Amnesia) no other genre has been able to use suspense effectively on a regular basis.
Stealth games put the player in the shoes of either a predator or prey in the truest sense of the roles. In games like Splinter Cell and Silent Hunter (yes, its a stealth game) often found yourself stalking your prey through the alleyways of a third world nation, or the corridors of an off the map compound. In this role you needed to continuously find different ways to ambush the waiting prey. It would require the perfect speed and timing and you knew that if you messed this up you could wind up the prey yourself. Your heart would beat faster as you crept closer, hugging the shadows. You try to remain as quiet as possible as you draw your knife, inching ever closer. You muffle his mouth and bring him down. Your heart stops as you wait and listen, hoping nobody heard you.
Being the predator is a really good way to get the adrenalin flowing in the player and really engages them, making each new situation a problem to be solved with multiple solutions and pitfalls. Each guard presents a unique challenge. Perhaps you could shoot out a light and club him in the back of the head while he tries to find out what happened. You could grab him and use him as a human shield while you take down his comrade, or perhaps bypass the whole scene. Stealth games give the player the choice to solve the problem the way they want and usually provides enough challenge for the game to not be too easy.
I’ve always found it more fun to sneak around accomplishing my objectives in silence rather than storming through slaughtering everything in my path. It takes more skill to ensure nobody even knew you were even there and it’s a lot more fun because because of the challenge it provides. Stealth games challenge the player in a way that other game genres often can’t. Not only is every encounter a new problem to be solved in a creative way but there are actual penalties for screwing things up. In your average Call of Duty clone if you die in an encounter the worst you have to worry about it starting over at the beginning. In a stealth game, even though you save every few seconds and most of us stealth fans have our index finger glued to the quick save button and our middle finger glued to the quick load button, failing calls down a horde of enemies you can’t hope to take on by yourself. In addition to this stealth game developers build their combat around stealth, meaning that if you find yourself in a fire fight, your probably screwed. This is a really good way to punish players for killing indiscriminately and makes sure you don’t fall into the Splinter Cell: Conviction trap of making the game too easy and having no consequences for being discovered.
Games That Did It right
Splinter cell (not conviction)
By now I’m sure your well aware that I’m a fan of the older Splinter Cell games by the way I’ve been praising the series. In many ways games like Pandora Tomorrow and Chaos Theory are quintessential stealth games. I mean when you think of stealth games who’s face pops into mind? For me, it’s Sam Fisher. Their plots were full of mystery like any good spy thriller and their characters are very well acted. It’s clear that real thought went into the development of Sam fisher as a character. He’s more then just a mindless throat slitting, all American killing machine. He has a family and a back story that’s real and relatable. When he talks over the com with Lambert you get a real sense of who he is.
One of my very favorite stealth game series is Silent Hunter. When you’re on patrol just under the surface, waiting for some enemy shipping to fall into your trap, it really makes you feel like a hunter. Then when you catch a sighting you’re predator instincts take over. You close the distance, trying to remain undiscovered, like a lion stalking through the grass. You try to line up the perfect angle so the torpedo detonates properly. As you sight in your periscope you glance at your battery charge, you don’t have much time. Then you launch them, you hedge your bets by sending three torpedoes. You’re adrenalin pumps as you wait, one eye on the periscope the other on your stop watch. Suddenly a plume of water shoots up from your target signifying your victory. The Silent Hunter games combine thrill and suspense in their core gameplay, making them incredibly addictive to play. Like a heroin junkie pacing behind the 7-11 you patrol your designated zone, waiting for the next shipping convoy to slaughter.
Games that did it wrong
One of the worst things you can do to ruin a good stealth game is to make it frustrating. That’s not to say that its hard, stealth games should be hard, they should force you to thank about what your doing. But a game the punishes you for not doing something perfect while only providing one way to solve each problem is a broken game
Okay so making smell a method for dedication is pretty cool but there is a lot about this game that really isn’t good. The guards are down right stupid, completely forgetting about you if you disappear for more then a few seconds. In good stealth games when a guard sees you and then looses you they will often have a higher state of awareness afterward. Thus making it harder to complete your goal. allowing the guards to simply go back to their regular patrols makes the game much to easy. The items don’t really make any sense, are hard to use and most are unnecessary. Even giving them a description would at least clear up some of the confusion over their use. The plot of the game is boring and cliche and doesn’t match the gameplay at all. In a stealth game, you can’t make boss battles pitched death matches, they should reflect the rest of the gameplay.