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.
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.
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.