Stealth games used to be a pretty rare and hardly developed game style. Mostly because of the actual point of a stealth game which is to avoid playing the game proper. You don’t interact directly with the action in a stealth game, you avoid it. This is perfectly fine, however we could argue that it causes a lot of problems. In being that the difficulty is much too hard for the average gamer. Now I know that this isn’t true for everyone, but compare Hitman Contracts to the Hitman Absolution, and we see some major differences. This isn’t to say that all stealth games made quite this dramatic of a change, some stay the same. Some don’t.
I was recently reminded of this when I purchased I game that I thought I would actually hate. Styx: Shards of Darkness. I had played the original game and wasn’t too impressed. It was okay, but it was a really rough experience overall. The newest one was being pretty well reviewed and what little footage of it I had seen reminded me of an old school stealth game. Which in my book is always good. I used to be a huge fan of games like Tenchu because of their ridiculous difficulty curves. As well as an interesting set piece. Then games like Sly Cooper always appealed to my more kid centric side. Sure the stealth isn’t difficult by any means, but it’s setting was cool and introduced the idea of stealth to a much younger audience.
(Innovative Stealth Gameplay? I think not….)
However it begs the question. What happened to stealth games? Games like Tenchu certainly don’t release anymore, and stealth games that are difficult such as Thief, Metal Gear Solid 1-3, Deus Ex or even The Chronicles of Riddick. These are all excellent examples of Stealth genre games, except the most recent entry in thief….it’s not all that good. I know you are asking me, what do you mean what happened to them? They just evolved? Did they evolve though? Or did they Devolve. My theory is quite simple, to make up for the exclusivity of a stealth game they have been dumbed down.
That’s not to say that the average gamer couldn’t learn to play the harder versions, rather it took more dedication. The average gamer can pick up Hitman Absolution and blast their way through the level. If you ever tried that on the original Hitman, oh buddy were you in for a nasty surprise. These games forced you to learn how to play them properly, not just pick up the controller and when you messed up blow the brains of every single guard in sight. It required patience, timing, as well as something that is disappearing in the modern game developer world…intelligence.
You see a stealth game was hard because it required you to learn a lot. How fast do certain guards move, how often do they stop at a certain point, are dialogues with other NPC’s scripted? All of these questions would be running through your head at break neck speeds, and you were supposed to figure them out without being told. Now stealth games break the idea of you figuring it out by giving you too many options. Games like Hitman : Absolution completely break away from difficulty by giving you special sight to see everything that is happening. You are given a pretty non-lenient way on how to kill someone and then to top it all of it’s not really that difficult.
Even something like dishonored, which is near and dear to my heart, takes the idea of stealth and puts superpowers in it. I’m not going to say that Dishonored is a bad game, it’s not, it’s an absolutely brilliant experience and one that I loved playing time and time again. Comparing it to older Stealth games though? It doesn’t even come close. Dishonored gives you as the player too many options on how to escape and figure things out. Being able to possess a rat or suddenly blink out of danger defeats a lot of the purpose of a stealth game. You are supposed to be sweating bullets when a guard passes by you.
(How about you press Square to get me the hell out of here!)
Think about outlast. Outlast is one of my favorite horror games of all time and I can’t wait to finally play the second entry, however what makes outlast so good is your lack of knowledge on what the enemy is going to do. At any moment the baddie can open up the locker you are hiding in, or peek under the bed. That is true stealth. In Metal Gear Solid when you hide in a locker there is always a chance that an enemy will just open the door to look at that poster on the inside door of the locker. Then boom…The game changes. It’s about running and getting away, not killing.
That is what makes a good stealth game. I thought about this while I was playing Styx : Shards of Darkness because it reminded me of a time when stealth games were pretty difficult experiences. Now Styx : SoD is a pretty close representation of those style games, it’s not perfect by any means, but it’ll do. The game is constantly throwing new little difficulty curves and want’s you to honestly figure out how to play it properly. You can’t go and attack everything, if you want to kill someone you can, but it comes at a high price of possibly being discovered.
(Truth hurts, hide better next time.)
That type of price is one that games should be offering more of now. In Dishonored I would have loved for some more options with true stealth gameplay. One of my favorite games of 2015, Metal Gear Solid V is one of my favorite stealth games of all time. You don’t have to play it as a stealth game, but I played it on my personal favorite way to play steal game genres. No kills. The open structure of areas and missions really fit the way I wanted to play that game overall. I loved the way it worked and it really led to some great experiences. However, it still isn’t the same stealth genre that used to exist.
I don’t want them to be just like the games of old, however I don’t want the improvements in the genre to make them easier. I know that they are trying to appeal to wider audiences, but have you ever heard of a game called dark souls? It’s not exactly for everyone, and I think it sells better because of it. Whenever someone hears from Software and Bloodborne or any game in the souls series we instantly get excited. We know it’s going to be a great game. Sure the series has made some sacrifices, but for the most part it is the same cruel mistress as what released over 6 years ago.
(No I said cruel mistresses? Well I guess it still works?)
I love the stealth genre. I don’t want to see it disappear and I still want games that embody that old style of gameplay. I still want the Hitman Absolutions and Dishonored to exist as well because they are stepping-stones in the genre. I just simply ask this, let’s not forget what makes a great stealth game? Mmmmkay?