The first thing that comes to mind when talking about stealth games is that it involves a lot of sneaking around enemies while avoiding being detected by them. While that is indeed the most important mechanic to describe the genre, it isn’t, however, as simple as that. Sure, some games have a form of rudimentary stealth while belonging to another category, but stealth itself isn’t their core mechanic.
I’m talking about the other types of games like let’s say one of the open-world fantasy role-playing titles in the Elder Scrolls series. Skyrim, for example, has the option for you to play as a thief character if you so desire. There comes the point in that game when you have the opportunity to join the Thieves Guild. As a member of that Guild, you are given various jobs, not just thieving, that require you to avoid detection and getting caught.
In the World of Warcraft strategy game, you can acquire a stealth ability that prevents you as a level 5 Rogue from being detected by other creatures unless you get too close. There are gameplay segments in Zelda Wind Waker or even in an action game like Uncharted 2 that obliges you to sneak your way through them. Stealth in those games doesn’t always suck, and some of them are even enjoyable.
But playing stealthily in those games is sometimes just one of the many choices. Or it exists to help mix things up a bit, offering more gameplay variety or a change of pace, to break up the action and keep a game from being too monotonous. On the other hand, stealth in some of those other games can be more of an afterthought. Or worse, even shoehorned in there by the developers for different reasons. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it can be a frustrating ordeal to gamers.
What differentiates a real stealth game from others is that the main character is assigned a role, not as a choice, but one that obligates the player to complete the entire game’s objectives as stealthily as possible. Rather than going in with guns blazing and blasting your way through hordes of enemies like Rambo, the quiet and stealthy approach IS the main driving force of their underlying concept or at least an integral part of it.
You Can’t See Me
A stealth game thrusts you as a player in a role where concealment is vital, and where detection is disastrous and usually spells game over.
You can play as master thief sneaking in the shadows at night in a fictional, steampunk Victorian city to steal from the rich. Or maybe as a mercenary leader out to exact revenge from an evil organization that decimated his entire team. You could try your hand as a cloned hitman preventing a genetically-engineered girl from falling into the wrong hands. Or work as a top covert operative in a government counter-terrorism group. Maybe even play as a mischievous and foulmouthed little goblin as he infiltrates a massive hovering fortress.
The list of possibilities goes on, but the underlying similarity is a stealth-oriented main character. In other types of games like first-person shooters or action-adventure games, for example, the main protagonist is usually heavily protected by plot armor, if not invulnerable. You do tend to get hit a lot and take more damage, but it’s okay with these games leaning more towards more frantic action. More often than not, lead characters in stealth games are more vulnerable, which also doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing.
The primary reason why you, as a player, are motivated to try your best to keep your character hidden in a stealth game is to avoid combat. It is the exact opposite in other types of games where you are inviting confrontation by shooting your enemies down in an open fight. When playing a stealthy game, this can be a difficult mindset to unlearn sometimes.
In this type of gameplay, the lead character is usually vulnerable just as much as any average person. It’s through your wits and cunning as a player or when aided by your character’s specialized gear or powers that can avoid a quick death and very seldom by this character’s combat prowess. If ever multiple enemies are alerted to your character’s location, then they can quickly dispatch your vulnerable stealth avatar.
However, publishers for marketing reasons indeed classify games under more popular genres that cater to a broader gaming audience in the desire to sell more units.
However, the stealth mechanics and gameplay in some of these games are more effective and do play a more critical part in the whole experience so much that they warrant some respect and consideration. And these games could be about ordinary characters, not necessarily having a stealth-oriented role like a spy or something, but forced to sneak around to avoid being seen by the enemies for survival.
You can’t ignore the excellent stealth system they employed in their games, and it’s hard not to consider them in the list of best stealth titles. That’s the reason why the games on our list are not just pure stealth titles, but also games that offer the best stealth action and forms an indispensable part of their core gameplay. As long as the stealth is good and is often necessary to complete the game, it becomes the most important criteria for choosing the games with the best stealth gameplay.
The Birth of Stealth Gaming
Stealth games can trace its roots as far back as 1981 in arcade game machines with a title called 005. It was a game developed by SEGA, where you control a spy designated 005, which was inspired by James Bond 007. You had to guide him through warehouses while he’s trying to deliver a briefcase filled with secret documents to a helicopter outside waiting on standby. You had to dodge flashlight wielding enemies by using the crates scattered around for cover. Even the Guinness Book of World Records acknowledges it as the first stealth game.
In that same year, the top-down 2D stealth game Castle Wolfenstein was released for the Apple II and added more innovations to the gameplay mechanics. In it, players can avoid the enemy line-of-sight by hiding from within the walls of many rooms inside a Nazi-infested castle, or get past them by using their uniforms as a disguise. You can even sneak up right beside them by surprise and hold them at gunpoint.
Many consider these two games as the first prototypes of stealth gaming. From a gaming evolution standpoint, these were like the primitive ancestors of stealth games. Over the years, other titles of a similar nature followed, including Hideo Kojima’s first Metal Gear game that continued to add to and improve on the stealthy mechanics. However, It will not be until almost two decades later that stealth gaming would come into its own and become popular among the mainstream.
1998 An Important Milestone
In 1998, stealth gaming reached a significant milestone with the release of 3D stealth titles like Tenchu: Stealth Assassins, Metal Gear Solid, and Thief the Dark Project, which all helped define this type of gameplay into what we recognize as the stealth gaming today.
The aptly named Tenchu: Stealth Assassins, which came out early that year, has the distinction of being the first 3D stealth-oriented game. You play as either of two ninjas in 16th century feudal Japan trying to infiltrate enemy lairs to eliminate important targets. The game rewards you for completing levels as stealthy as possible with upgrades to your craft that make you even more effective in dispatching your foes.
You view your character from a third-person perspective, and it’s one of the first games that had a stealth meter on the user interface that informed you in realtime how close you were from being found out. It’s kind of ironic that it was also one of the first games that depicted ninjas who used stealth and subterfuge to their advantage, which traditionally was what these Japanese assassins were renowned for. It is one of the earliest games to utilize motion capture or mocap technology for animating in-game martial arts moves based on the movements of real live actors.
The Metal Gear Solid series is what made its creator Hideo Kojima a gaming icon. It’s too bad that only recently, he and the developer Konami had to part ways due to creative differences forcing him to abandon the franchise that he created and made famous. Not only did these games become some of the most important in stealth, but they also ended up belonging to one of the most revered franchises in all of gaming.
Metal Gear Solid was a continuation of the exploits of Solid Snake, the original protagonist from the old top-down Metal Gear games that first came out a decade earlier. Also, a 3D third-person game, your job was to try to neutralize a terrorist threat from a dangerous special forces group that had gone rogue. It’s up to you to infiltrate their nuclear installation and to sabotage their doomsday machine called Metal Gear by any means at your disposal, avoid being seen or captured at the same time.
It is one of the pioneer games that used numerous cutscenes that helped tell an engaging storyline to players and introduce them to many intriguing characters. The enemy AI or Artificial Intelligence uses vision cones as the method of detection. Avoiding their field of vision is paramount. While they’re patrolling around a mission area, you can get past them as soon as they turn their backs to you.
The game was also the first to introduce an alert mode that was triggered when you made a mistake. Enemies in the vicinity suddenly become aware of your presence. They then switch into a heightened alert status even if they haven’t figured yet precisely where you are. It was a clever way to keep you on your toes and would progressively make things harder for you if you continue to make mistakes.
It could reach the point it would be tough for you to complete your objectives, or until you eventually get discovered. The best option is to evade them and run away to find another hiding spot, because once the shooting starts, things can get pretty noisy, which would attract more enemy reinforcements. When that happens, you’re screwed.
Unlike the other two games, Thief the Dark Project was a PC stealth game that had a first-person point of view and was the first one to utilize in-game lighting effectively so that staying in the shadows and darkness was the most effective way to remain hidden. You play as a master thief named Garret, who has been trained by a secret cult to do their bidding. The missions happen during nighttime in a steampunk-themed medieval city. There are dark areas scattered throughout the map where the enemies will be oblivious to your presence. A handy light meter was your friend showing you how bright the spot is where you’re standing.
The sound design also played an essential role in detecting Garret. This game was the first to reproduce accurate sounds and noise levels based on the surface material that a character was walking over. Noise levels also depended on how fast he was moving across these surfaces. Wooden floor panels would creak, and it would be easier to hear footsteps on tiles but are hardly audible on carpets or rugs. You would have to move slower in the shadows as soon as you see or hear approaching guards. There’s also an ingenious way of using the bow for distracting the enemy or for vertical traversal with the use of rope arrows.
It’s undeniable these three games, which all came out in the same year along with all the gameplay innovations they introduced, had a profound influence on a slew of games from other stealth franchises that followed and found success in the next several years.
Enemy AI or Artificial Intelligence is one of these innovations that stealth game developers are continually trying to improve. Aside from the NPCs responding convincingly to your moves, they can also add to your immersion if they acted more realistically in the game.
Sometimes the enemy NPCs or Non-Player Characters would break into a conversation about some interesting tidbits regarding the plot or storyline. Some would even go as far as revealing clues on how the player could proceed. The point is to make them sound and act as authentically as possible in their designated roles.
The enemies could either be placed on static positions on the current map, like on a guard tower or gun emplacement. Often they are programmed to go on patrol following in a scripted pattern. It’s up to you to study these enemy habits or patterns and figure out the best route to take to avoid them as best you can. There is more thought required on your part to figure out the best plan of action before proceeding in the level.
The game may provide players a means to divert the AI’s attention either away or towards a spot that they pick. It could be in the form of arrows or various objects scattered by the level designers around the environment that players could throw into an area where you want the enemy to go to and look for the source of the noise. It opens up paths for the player to be able to reach their next destination.
Just as long as you don’t break into their line of sight or you don’t cause any noise through sudden movements, then you will be okay. It’s not perfect, and developers most of the time do make compromises by not making the AI too “smart” so that gameplay suffers and becomes too frustrating for the players. It’s about striking the right balance to ensure gamers would get the most fun out of these situations or scenarios without the AI looking inept.
Sometimes stealth involves a lot of trial and error. You don’t always get it right on your first attempt. Maybe you timed your movement wrong and blew your cover just when a guard turned into your direction. Or sometimes you didn’t realize someone was standing close by and witnessed you making a kill. Or you may not have covered your tracks well enough so that someone found a body you forgot to get rid of and triggered an alarm.
It is part of the challenge of dealing with the enemy AI that makes stealth games unique and a lot of fun to play. There’s a considerable amount of satisfaction that you can get from going through a level unscathed and undetected while managing to outwit several goons along the way. You will think you did something clever and it makes you feel good about yourself.
Most modern stealth games have a type of gameplay mechanic that warns you as a player if you’re close to being sniffed out or when it’s safe to proceed further in the world. Most game developers implement a stealth, light, or a sound meter that is an accurate representation of how much the enemy AI can see or hear you.
Top Ten Best Stealth Games
Metal Gear Solid: The Phantom Pain
For more than three decades, Konami has published all of the Metal gear games that creator Hideo Kojima had made. Sadly, Phantom Pain seems to be his curtain call in this 30-year long saga. Ironically, it turned out to be his best work in this series to date.
It is actually a prequel set before the time of the first Metal Gear Solid, and after the events that happened in its precursor Ground Zeroes. You as Solid Snake wake up on a hospital bed from a nine-year coma to find yourself no longer having your left arm, your Mother Base destroyed, and your private army is gone. Worst of all, supernatural freaks are trying to murder you!
Now known as Big Boss, your only recourse was to escape to Afghanistan, and together with Zaire, establish a new field of operations. To enable you to operate successfully in those two war-torn countries, you have to construct another offshore Mother Base and build your new mercenary army named Diamond Dogs. Eventually, you grow your new legend and emerge stronger in the hopes of someday exacting revenge on those who did you wrong.
I know it sounds outlandish, but that’s the basic premise of the game, and that’s where the gameplay is built around on. Your job is to find resources to build, equip, and expand your new Mother base and recruit quality personnel, most of whom would come from the different enemy factions that you face. The more you use stealth as the method for accomplishing your mission contracts, the more your legend grows, and the better the quality of troops that will willingly follow you into battle.
You earn funds finishing the many different types of mercenary contracts that become available to you and get progressively harder as your mercenary business continues to grow. Part of the fun is managing the various aspects of your private military corporation to ensure that it continues to run smoothly like a well-oiled machine. To help you do a better job at this, you can research and develop all sorts of weapons, vehicles, and equipment, as well as their upgrades. It’s a very complex mix of different interconnecting systems that somehow the developers managed to work seamlessly.
One of the most interesting and vital equipment that you can use is the Fulton Surface-To-Air Recovery System. This nifty piece of gear can extract all sorts of resources that you can find in the field. You can even recover large trucks and animals! The best use of this thing is for extracting high ranking enemy soldiers to recruit them into your army. It’s for this reason that you aren’t encouraged to kill, but rather stun or capture these enemy soldiers. You gain more respect and boost troop morale for this.
There are also mission companions aptly called buddies that you first meet at different points in the game. You can pick one to accompany you on a mission. Each of them has various traits and abilities that allow you to finish your objective in different ways. There’s DD who’s a fantastic dog companion, D-Horse that you can train to poop on command, and D-Walker, which is a mechanical bi-pedal machine. Then there’s the supernatural, bikini-clad Quiet, who’s a deadshot female sniper that plays an important part in the main story.
You can equip your gear and those of your companion for heavy combat, but it’s also the kind of game that rewards you the better you are at stealth and penalizes you the more people you kill. In fact, as the Big Boss of your newly established mercenary organization, you can direct your product development unit to specialize more on stealth-based weapons and equipment. It could be a sniper rifle, for example, equipped with a silencer, but loaded only with ammo that stuns enemies from afar instead of firing lethal rounds. That will enable you to pick them off from a distance one by one but only to incapacitate and not to kill them.
The terrific stealth gameplay is only interrupted occasionally when you’re forced to break cover or when one of the game’s action set pieces kicks in. The story is told through well produced and directed cut scenes and with audio cassette tapes. As can be expected from a Kojima game, the story can get weird but still very captivating. It’s not realized as well here compared to previous games in the series but presented in a very engaging style.
- Large open sandbox world and the freedom it brings
- Fully fleshed out weapons, equipment, and vehicle upgrading system
- Very gratifying stealth gameplay
- Although at times captivating, the story can be messy and seems unfinished
- Mission contract types can get repetitive after a while
Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory
Ubisoft took their cue from the Metal Gear Solid series and elevated the genre to whole new heights of sophistication and realism with their Splinter Cell series. Based on world-building endorsed by famous spy thriller novelist Tom Clancy, it is a fictional creation but not rooted in fantasy.
The world feels more authentic and grounded in realism. The developers went with realistic concepts about espionage and counter-terrorism, and how an imagined government covert ops sub-agency would deal with those threats to the country as discretely as possible. It’s like Mission Impossible but on a more plausible level.
That doesn’t make it less exciting to play. The very nature of their more realistic presentation and how close it is to real-world scenarios is what makes it even more compelling and for the stakes to feel higher. You’re not up against an over-the-top, super-secret organization, but against a group of enemies patterned after real-life terrorist threats that are trying to cause chaos and destruction on a broad scale, and threatening the lives of United States citizens.
Sam Fischer makes a return for the third time as the government tasked him with trying to thwart a private military conglomerate from provoking a war between Japan, China, North and South Korea, and the US, through the use of advanced information warfare.
Sam carries with him an array of highly specialized weapons and gadgets. His trademark equipment is the multi-vision goggles that have night vision allowing him to better see in the dark, and thermal imaging where he can see enemy heat signatures. He carries an optic cable he can slip under doors to see what’s in the room behind them. It’s an excellent way to get a drop on the enemies. He is also able to pick locks. A silenced sidearm and rifle that can fire lethal or non-lethal rounds come standard.
It is the first time a sound meter makes an appearance in a Splinter Cell game. Traditionally it was just the stealth meter that measured detection levels. It helps Sam to become stealthier when you know how to keep the noise he makes below that of the ambient noise levels in the surroundings.
It is a welcome addition that coincides with the significant overhaul to the enemy AI. Most of the kinks of the AI in the past games have been ironed out, making it more playable and enjoyable. As with the first two games, Sam can interrogate the enemy to extract useful information from them. Afterward, he can knock them unconscious and hide them away where they wouldn’t be easy to find.
It’s also the first time that they introduced a form of online cooperative multiplayer, which is also loads of fun. It’s simply the best entry that came out from the whole franchise, even counting the newer ones.
With excellent graphics and sound design, both of which were considered cutting-edge at the time, we think the game succeeded in making the world that Third Echelon works around in more believable. And for Sam Fischer to look and sound like a credible covert operative whose job it is to go out to the field and prevent these terrible things from happening.
- Very Immersive stealth gameplay
- Incredible and authentic world building
- Believable protagonist in Sam Fischer
- Improved AI
- Compelling storyline
- Realistic presentation
- Cutting-edge graphics
- Excellent sound design
- Not for everyone and can be slow and frustrating for some players
Hitman: Bloodmoney was a game that continues to be adored by its massive cult following. It is a tough act to follow even after the six long years it took for its developer IO Interactive to try to come up with a worthy sequel. But boy did they deliver.
This time, you, as Agent 47, are being hunted for trying to keep a genetically enhanced young female clone named Victoria from getting into the hands of some greedy government traitors out to sell her to the highest bidder. Naturally, more Hitman high jinks would ensue where you try to do your job, which is killing people, all while remaining as incognito as possible.
The game puts you in massive sandboxed levels that grants you the freedom to choose from a generous number of possible ways to carry out your assassination missions. Your patience is rewarded as you slowly and deliberately try to figure out the best way to tackle situations presented to you. You could try a different approach every time you replay the game. And replay it you will just to find out what or how much you can get away with.
This game pretty does everything that its predecessor did but many times better and is more polished. It improved on a lot of problems that Bloodmoney devotees were willing to gloss over conveniently. Gone are the clunky controls even when trying to sneak towards a victim to strangle him. Agent 47 moves more fluidly when carrying out his dirty deeds, and often in dark but funny situations.
What we get is a more refined version resulting in much more fulfilling gameplay. It also adds many features like Instinct, which lights up things in the environment that players can interact with. Or Point Shooting, which is a sort of bullet-time ability that allows for pinpoint accuracy when gunning down multiple targets. Fortunately for players who want more of a challenge, features like these can be turned off entirely in the highly adjustable difficulty settings. There’s also a new cover mechanic in combat that makes the previous method with Agent 47 strafing from side to side trying to dodge bullets look ridiculous.
Absolution looks very good with an in-house graphics engine that is capable of rendering large and colorful environments with a considerable amount of detail and a large number of people. This ability to handle copious amounts of detail and NPCs becomes evident in scenes involving huge crowds, like an underground cage fight, a packed strip club, or even a fashion event in Paris.
Sound design is also top-notch, with an enjoyable musical soundtrack and audio effects that pop particularly from the weapons. Voice acting is also well done with an impressive cast, including Powers Booth and David Caradine, especially during the games highly produced cutscenes.
- Large sandbox to play around
- Excellent replayability
- Funny dark humor
- Comprehensive difficulty settings
- Purists might not like features like Instinct or Point Shooting that drastically makes the game easier to play
- Some disguises look unconvincing
Dishonored 2 is an action-adventure game, but playing it, you can choose a stealthy approach or a more combat-centric manner, or both. And because of the versatility it allows, you will get very fulfilling gameplay out of it no matter what alternative you choose and how many times you replay it. The quality of the stealth gameplay and how varied and fun the mechanics involved are, is the reason we have included this game on our list of the best stealth games.
It plays a lot like its predecessor, and that’s already a plus. But it also builds upon it in many ways. It follows the events of the first game 15 years later when in the City of Kamaka, Duke Luca Abele of Serkonos successfully overthrows the Empress Emily Kaldwin during a ceremony commemorating her mother’s death anniversary. She was replaced by the witch Delilah Copperspoon who claimed to be the rightful heir to the throne.
You chose to play as either Emily or her father and Royal Protector Corvo Attano, with the ultimate objective of regaining control of the empire. To accomplish this, you set out on mostly superb missions to assassinate all the prominent traitors involved in Emily’s ouster. These targets are well guarded, and it’s up to the player to decide which approach he or she thinks would be successful.
What makes it more interesting is that both Emily and her dad each have special powers and abilities. It’s a different set of abilities for each playable character doubling the variety of powerful and sometimes murderous options that are available to you. And as I mentioned before you could go about it by stealth or combat, so the possibilities are numerous, and not just in a single playthrough!
These powers can vary from Emily’s ability to control hypnotize people through one power called Mesmerize and let you walk past them undetected. There’s also Far Reach that allows her to jump further than usual. Shadow Walk is like an invisibility cloak. Doppelganger is a power she uses to confuse guards with a copy of herself. Or one called Domino where she’s able to connect individuals in a way so that what happens to one would also affect the others in the same way.
With Corvo, there’s Blink, which allows him to teleport to another position in an instant. Possession grants him the power to possess animals, people, and even corpses, mainly to enable him to move around without being detected. Devouring Swarm lets him summon rats to eat his enemies! Bend Time increases your health, damage, and stealth.
Both protagonists share the Dark Vision power, which shows what direction their enemies are facing. It also allows them to see through walls. You can even combine some of these powers to magnify the effect, just as long as it made sense in that universe. Not only that, but you are also able to upgrade some of them fully with skill points you get from collecting runes. It invites experimentation on the player’s part just to see how the combination would play out.
There may be performance hiccups in some crowded open areas, but the world looks vast and stunning in its design and immerses you in its unique atmosphere.
- Allows for flexibility in the use of powers when combining them
- An open sandbox that allows you to choose your own path
- Very good missions
- All the game mechanics whether for stealth or combat are very polished and a lot of fun
- The world-building is unique and impressive
- The storytelling is a bit weaker than the last game
In this game, you play as Ellen Ripley’s daughter Amanda, after she’s invited to go to a space station that someone told her is where she could find the flight recorder of her mother’s spaceship, the Nostromo. She was hoping that the recorder would contain information about what happened to her missing mother.
Graphically it’s not the most impressive looking game to me. It looks rather simplistic, and even a bit dated even for a 2014 game. Don’t get me wrong, though. The graphics engine does an adequate job depicting the environment and atmosphere of the original late seventies movie.
It’s just that I think that they could’ve gotten better results with the lighting and details if they had used a proven graphics engine like the Unreal Engine, instead of that proprietary engine they built from scratch. Still, the art design tries to incorporate the look of the original movie to good effect, which is a plus. I guess it’s good enough looking game for VR but doesn’t hold a candle to other games released in the same year on other popular gaming platforms.
The one thing that sets this apart from all of the stealth games mentioned here is the AI of the lone enemy xenomorph. You aren’t trying to sneak past a horde of unsuspecting enemy guards, who all follow a set routine that you can study and take advantage of.
Instead, you will be dealing with a deadly and unrelenting alien monster whose only purpose is to try to find you so it can kill you. It doesn’t follow any scripted patterns or routines, but just straight out stalks you to your death. This game is like Pac Man on steroids, and just like that old classic, you can’t sit in one spot hoping that the monster would go away and leave you alone, because it’s programmed to look into every nook and cranny to find out where you are hiding.
And that makes for one terrifying and stressful experience that forces you to move around and increase the risk of detection! Damned if you do and damned if you don’t. If it does see you, then most of the time, it’s pretty much game over. You can try to disorient it a few times with a flamethrower. Still, most likely, you’re alone, vulnerable, and desperate to find a way to outwit the creature, with only a motion detector in your hand warning you if it’s getting closer.
You don’t have much that you can use against it. Occasionally you find dead bodies, and you’re able to salvage stuff to fabricate medkits. Eventually, you also find weapons, but they are too few and far between and offer only a temporary means of escape. Reaching that emergency phone to save your game is a victory in itself because it’s your only lifeline to advance to the next area.
Luckily, the dated-looking graphics don’t detract from the awesome gameplay and feeling of utter helplessness and fright that it captures when stalked by a deadly alien monster. And for that reason alone, it deserves to be on any Best Stealth Games list. Heck, it also deserves to be on the Best Survival Horror Games lists.
- Very convincing alien xenomorph AI
- Genuinely scary
- Dated looking graphics
- Can be very frustrating to play
Deus Ex: Mankind Divided
The game’s setting is a futuristic steampunk version of the city of Prague. As the title suggests, there a growing division in this cybernetic dystopia on how to deal with augmented humans. On one side, there’s growing dissent against these augments, but on the other sees them as a part of the continuing human evolution. It is a direct sequel to Human Revolution, following the events that led augmented people to go crazy and go on a murderous rampage.
You get to role-play as Adam Jensen, who became an augmented cyborg himself in the first game, and who is trying to prevent the Illuminati-backed Human Restoration Act from being enacted into law. If he fails, it would mean the segregation of augmented people from the rest of the human race in some “mechanical apartheid.”
What’s special about this game is that you, as the player, are given a ton of options in carrying out your objectives. Jensen has the augments in his body that are entirely sufficient for him to face his enemies head-on, in a shootout to the death. They could give you bullet time abilities or temporary health and armor buffs, for example. Or you could also go the quiet route avoiding as much confrontation as you can. Added to the robust stealth mechanics are an effective cover-to-cover system, temporary invisibility, and the ability to see the enemy’s line-of-sight, that all help you sneak around with more ease.
These are just a few of the possibilities that you can unlock when you level up, depending on the augments that you install on Jensen. The choice is yours, and this system allows you great flexibility on how to go about it, either stealthily or more combative. This freedom keeps the gameplay varied and allows for high replayability. For me, the stealth gameplay remains a compelling reason to play it again.
Except for the plot execution with a sudden anticlimactic ending, Mankind Divided has improved on its predecessor in all other aspects, from the environment design that encourages you to explore more of the world, to the impressive character designs and animations, and the cutscenes, among a host of others. Production values are high, with a beautiful and distinct art style and convincing futuristic concepts and advanced technologies, all of which help draw you more into the world of Deus Ex.
- Makes you feel like a total cyborg badass
- Excellent production values
- New fun cyborg augments
- Great replayability
- Has a weaker plot than its predecessor
Styx: Shards of Darkness
It’s a sequel to the underrated Master of Shadows and improves for the most part things that were lacking in its predecessor, and that’s the reason we think it’s an improvement over that game and worth a look from the avid stealth fan.
You see, at its core, Shards of Darkness is a pure stealth game with mechanics similar to Thief: The Dark Project, which was a pioneer in this genre. Developer Cyanide based it on the world of their role-playing game Of Orcs and Men that bears many similarities to Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings universe.
You control Styx, a tiny foul-mouthed goblin who goes into a Dark Elf city called Körangar to find out what they and the Dwarves are scheming. I didn’t like this character too much mainly because he comes off as a jerk that makes a lot of snide remarks and jokes that mostly fall flat. Your primary focus is to stalk within the shadows and keep out of sight, where you can sneak past enemies or drop on unsuspecting prey and slit their throat. But once discovered and forced into skirmishes, don’t expect to always come out on top.
Fortunately, Styx has many things he can pull out of his little bag of stealthy tricks. These include an array of stealth moves, equipment, and magical abilities that will help him survive and navigate a city where virtually everybody is out to get him. You can go invisible for a while. You Styx can vomit out a copy of himself as a means of distraction. He can also vomit on food to poison his enemies. He has a grappling hook that helps him reach higher areas on the map. Because of his small size, he can hide under tables, in barrels, slip in and out of windows, hug walls and perform other moves in his repertoire of skills that are all well animated.
And there will be plenty of opportunities for you to try out all of these tricks as you move around the vast open-ended and wonderfully realized levels filled with branching pathways. The areas you will encounter are varied and are well designed. The Unreal Engine renders these levels beautifully.
There’s also a greater emphasis on crafting, and most of the time, you’ll be on the constant lookout for items you need. Also, a significant improvement is the skill tree with new and useful abilities you can obtain with skill points awarded to you for finishing the side missions. Some of the missions though can become quite repetitive in later levels when you realize you’ve done something similar earlier in the game.
It’s in the stealth gameplay where this title shines, and the varied ways you can solve a mission is very gratifying.
- Beautifully realized fantasy world
- Great level design
- Useful skill tree
- Very enjoyable and varied stealth gameplay
- Some missions types are repeated
- Combat AI is the same for all types of enemies except bosses
- Overall AI can be rather dumb
- A lot of the jokes from Styx fall flat
Touted as a reboot of the grandfather of first-person PC stealth gaming that was Thief: The Dark Project released back in 1998, this newer one that came out in 2014 simply called Thief had some big silent shoes to fill.
You play as a master thief named Garret who wanders at night in a place referred to only as The City and stealing from wealthy folks. Things get more interesting when Garret is hired to steal something from the leader of this slum. It’s a dark fantasy urban setting in the Victorian period with a mixture of steampunk and gothic influences.
Graphically it is understandably way better than the original in depicting light and shadows, which is good because those are still the most important elements that make up the cover mechanic in both games. Just as long as you keep Garret in the shadows, then he would be almost invisible to the enemy.
The City is the central hub that branches out to other mission areas. The downside of this Metroidvania-like hub is the loading times as you branch off to another level, which kind of breaks the illusion that you’re a big open world. Gameplay happens exclusively at night, and the City is laid out in such a way that there are dark shadowy branching paths in the map where our master thief can navigate through without being seen.
Of course, there’s the occasional unavoidable patch of light to add a little more danger and difficulty. Garret, however, has a swoop ability, which is like a silent ninja dash that enables him to dart between dark covers virtually undetected. It also allows for quick evasive maneuvers when he runs into trouble. Garret also has rope arrows that can be used to reach higher areas but shot at anchor points in predetermined routes meant for you to follow, so their use is limited. He also has water arrows that can douse torches to add more dark areas he can pass. Regular arrows can be used to strike electrical switches.
Forget melee combat whenever Garret breaks cover. You may be able to overcome a single guard, but against two or more would just be an exercise in futility. And if there’s a ranged crossbow attack coming from somewhere in the vicinity, then you will be out of luck. Stealth is the way to play this game, just like how a real thief would do it.
The animations are so good, while Garret is traversing the environment. It does wonders to make him look more convincing, especially in the movement of his hands as he touches things in the world. Things don’t just disappear, and there’s an animation showing him picking up items with his hands or when he’s climbing up ledges.
The core stealth gameplay of Thief is pretty good, but the other elements in the game are a bit uninspiring. Still, it is a challenge to get away with a good haul undetected, so that can be a gratifying part of playing like a master thief.
- Challenging missions
- Very good implementation of light and shadow stealth mechanics
- Inconsistent level design
- Lots of loading
Mark of the Ninja
Who says that a stealth game has to be in 3D graphics for it to be enjoyable? Not Klei Entertainment, who are the developers of Mark of the Ninja. It is a 2D side-scrolling stealth video game that had received wide critical acclaim when it released back in 2012.
The 2D perspective might put off some purists, but don’t knock it until you’ve tried it because underneath that cartoonish exterior is a well designed stealth-oriented game meant to entertain even the hardest to please stealth gaming aficionado.
The story isn’t the main focus here and is nothing special, although told through some very well-made cutscenes that may have come straight out of the Cartoon Network. The real draw is the stealth gameplay, playing as a badass ninja, which is pretty awesome. You’re out to take revenge on an evil private military corporation that attacked your clan’s dojo. It’s a pretty simple premise.
Most of the legwork involves infiltrating a facility and overcoming obstacles in levels that grow harder as you proceed. You’ll have plenty of opportunities to hide by hanging under the ceiling or clinging o walls, dropping into grates on the floor, or slipping out of sight into doorways.
You will encounter stronger types of enemies as you go along, but you’ll have many gadgets and tricks at your disposal that can help you stealthily deal with them, of course. You have things like grappling hooks to traverse lighting fixtures above and drop on an unsuspecting enemy and drive your sword into his back. Or you could toss a smoke bomb to where he’s standing or near sensors and pass by them unseen.
You could also set traps like mines and distract enemies with noisemakers. The game has a lot of options that you can try and different ways to approach a room. After you finish the levels, including minor mission objectives, the game rewards you with new moves that add more fun and adds further to the possibilities. Do yourself a big favor and put this game on your digital download list.
- A very enjoyable combination of stealth and action gameplay
- Excellent presentation
- Gorgeous art design
- The animation is on point
- Controls and movements are on point
- Beautiful cutscenes
- Good replayability
- Some AI glitches
- Needs more killing animations
- Anticlimactic ending
It’s another departure from 3D game graphics, and this time you’re presented with a semi-3D isometric view. In the future, governments are now passé, and giant corporations control the world. Invisible, Inc. is like a private version of the CIA, providing these mega-companies data intelligence services.
At the start of the game, an evil corporation launches an attack on Invisible, Inc., and its spy network gets compromised. It is the job of the player to direct two of their spies in a series of missions to get what they need in preparation for the final mission. Their ultimate objective is to save their AI computer called Incognita by inserting it into a supercomputer of the enemy corporation so you can launch a counterattack on them. They only have 72 hours to do it.
This game is a turn-based take on stealth that is simple but also elegantly executed. From your base of operations, you can equip two agents and pick one of several missions. Each of the mission areas is in a facility owned by these corporations and present you with different challenges and security measures. You can pick agents with the right specialties that handle those threats. You can also customize their abilities with various augments that suit mission requirements.
Once you have equipped your agents, they can infiltrate the mission area. Each agent has a limited amount of action points for each turn that allows them to do specific tasks based on the player’s commands. It may be for movement, or to perform a silent kill, or simply to open and close doors. This direction coming from you help the agents get closer to the objective, while you try to figure it how best to avoid being seen by the enemies.
When you do get spotted, it means either you have escaped or instant death. Either way, It makes for very tense gameplay. A forgiving feature is the Rewind button that returns you to the start of your last turn, where you can contemplate your mistake. You can only do this a limited number of times, of course. It can really help you get out of a tight situation without having to start over.
- A unique take on stealth
- Very good presentation
- Tense but gratifying gameplay
- Maybe too novel for some purists
Stealth has always been a part of gaming since the beginning. It even reached the point in the early 2000s where the genre had huge mainstream success, with some titles even dominating the market.
Over the years, stealth has found its way into almost any other type of game. It has come closer to the point where different types of triple-A titles have started to incorporate good stealth mechanics into their gameplay so that the line between them and true stealth games is getting blurry. Even stealth games in the Hitman series have gravitated towards action by allowing direct combat.
Nowadays, the production and release of new stealth-centric triple-A titles have eased. In the end, maybe it’s the gameplay that matters more than the genre as long as we can still enjoy great stealth.