Is Stealth Becoming Mistreated In Video Games?

Is the fine art of virtual sneaking under threat?

I love stealth games. It’s one of my favourite genres. But something is creeping up unsuspected behind the back of the stealth games of today; their mechanics are not only being stolen and incorporated into more action-orientated games, but implemented by these games in a manner that does a disservice to what stealth is all about.

Pure stealth games are an acquired taste, for sure; but what they offer is like nothing else in gaming. They require a patient and methodical approach, but reward this with an extreme level of satisfaction upon making even the smallest level of progress.  They offer replayability and completionism, not through the menial task of getting every collectible, but through the gameplay itself; in that there are often so many paths the gamer can take in completing their task.  Most importantly however, they allow the player to be as quiet or as loud as they want and are never unfair to the gamer. In other words, a good stealth game makes sure that if you are spotted or killed, it is always your own fault. Games like Dishonoured, or franchises like Metal Gear Solid and Splinter Cell all come to mind when describing these pure stealth experiences.

Player character sneaking up on an unaware guard in Dishonored.
Sneakiness as it should be.

However, it appears as though half-baked forms of stealth are entering their way into every platformer, first person shooter and action game on the modern market. This is most likely a response by game developers to the increasing opposition to linearity in gaming and, don’t get me wrong, sometimes it’s worked. Games like Far Cry 3 and the Arkham franchise effectively incorporated decent stealth mechanics into what were primarily action games, which allowed a freedom of approach to gameplay scenarios whilst also ensuring that the stealth experience, whilst not as in-depth or robust as that found in pure stealth games, was satisfying enough for stealth-lovers like me to use it as their main approach throughout the game. Yet, sadly, these were the exceptions to the tragic rule.

In a lot of the titles the stealth might as well not even be there, simply because it either encourages you not to use it or it just doesn’t work. I relentlessly and repeatedly tried to complete just one scenario in Killzone: Shadow Fall in a covert manner (which, by the way, is limited to just pressing R3 behind an enemy’s back to cue a knifing VT; a one-trick pony that many first person shooters now use) but to no avail. It always ended in a fire fight. This is because Killzone isn’t a stealth game, and that’s fine. But this is the exact reason why developers like Guerrilla Games shouldn’t put lazily-formulated stealth mechanics in their experiences; not only does it feel out of place, but it does an injustice to the stealth gameplay that I know and love.

Does this look like a stealth game to you?
Does this look like a stealth game to you?

It’s as if developers feel as though stealth mechanics can be added into their game as easily and quickly as other small features like mini-maps can, but this is a sore underestimation of what makes a good stealth game. To list just a few members of this guilty party isn’t hard; Battlefield 4, Uncharted 3 and State Of Decay come to mind. Perhaps my avid passion for stealth results in a limited and bias definition of what a stealth game should be, but it can’t be denied that the “Stealthization” (the campaign to make that a real word starts here!) of video games is a very real trajectory in the modern game industry, and I can’t help but feel that this is a bad thing.



Published by

Alex Avard

Born and raised in the UK, Alex brings an island mentality to all things gaming. He also loves puppies and. Three word sentences.

  • I actually think Arkham is the best current series for stealth gameplay. So many options. Sometimes I avoid taking the bad guys down just so I can jerk them around and watch them freak out.

    It’s kind of disappointing to me how some RPG’s handle it, though. If you get your sneak rating even moderately high you can just crouch and literally walk up to a guy and rub against the front of him without him seeing you. The point of stealth is the challenge; it’s supposed to take finesse and timing. It’s totally pointless if you can just beef up your stats and become invisible to enemies by clicking a button. At least make me use a spell or something.

    What I’d really love to see in the genre is a reboot of the Tenchu franchise. The original was one of my favorite games on the PS1, but the core gameplay didn’t change for generations and now it’s just a cheap joke. If they beefed that series up to modern Assassin’s Creed/Arkham levels, it’d be amazing.

  • My most recent crime of the was in Lords of Shadow 2. I guess in effort to provide a break from the mindless action, Mercury Stream wanted to use various gameplay styles, but the stealth felt so unnatural and more of a chore than an intricate part of the quest.
    The Last of Us was pretty decent, though it did very little to do anything original with the stealth style (I personally thought the Clickers were spot on a little too often with their tracking of my movements. Even when sitting very still, they found me anyway!!).