The Problem With Stealth Games

By Callum Rushworth

I love video games, but I particularly love stealth video games. Though throughout my years of hiding in shadows and being held in the tender embrace of a convenient bush, I do have to pull out my critical comb and pull apart what really, really, annoys me about stealth games.

A problem for me with stealth games is the A.I. In many stealth titles, it seems the guards you are up against are a bit of a dumb bunch. If you leave a dead body in the open for them to see, they will acknowledge the fact that a fellow colleague has died by a not so subtle head shot wound, or by the dagger which protrudes from their forehead in the fashion of a unicorn horn, and then they will carry on their duty as if it were a mild inconvenience. There are a few games that make the exception to the rule — such as the Metal Gear games in which the guards will be on constant alert, or Payday when the cavalry will storm on in — but overall, it's a common feature. This amusing little concept can be seen in Styx: Master of Shadows andthough not particularly stealth games by name, the Elder Scrolls and Fallout series.

Bad A.I. is the perfect way to ruin player immersion. One example of this experience is in Sniper Elite 3. I was hiding in a bush and scoping out the enemy patrols, trying to decide whether it was necessary to eliminate any of the guards. After concluding my reconnaissance, I proceeded to remorselessly put a round between the eyes of one guard who posed the most potential threat, only to have him noticed by another guard (thanks to my incompetence as a spotter). Thankfully, my location had not been compromised. I was biding my time for an opening to a nearby building, which was now cleared of patrolling guards, though still a little tricky to get to without being spotted. After several minutes of counting the grass blades around me, I had noticed that no one now seemed to care about the man with the high-calibre lobotomy or the surgeon responsible, allowing me to waltz over grinning like a lunatic.

I understand coding a game this way can be difficult, though it has been done before to have guards on alert when something like my own experience happens. To have an entrant of this current gaming generation which perfectly implements this behaviour could make it a true contender for one of the best games of the genre.

Another issue I have with the genre of shadow-prowling is that it rarely feels like it is a necessity. Many of the titles under this banner will have maybe just one or two missions within them that absolutely require you to stick to dark corners of blacked-out obscurity, though they are flooded by the ‘stealth is an option’ mode. This means if you get bored, you can put on your best John Wu impression and go berserk. Sure, the difficulty may ramp up a little, but it ruins the immersion of being Captain Super Spy McGee, espionage king. A couple of wild west shootouts for story purpose is fine, but to be able to overrule the core idea of the game is a bit of a slap in the face. More recent entries to the Splinter Cell series are big offenders for this, as well as the Sniper Elite series.

A huge example of this comes from our Editor-In-Chief herself, Shelby, who had to say this about the given option: "In Dishonored, I've been running along rooftops when I suddenly mis-clicked and jumped into the road. A bunch of guards were immediately alerted to my presence, and that started the chain of events which led to me having to kill them all."

Dishonored took the stealth genre, improved on it, then screwed the pooch by making it 'optional'. This is a shame as the game offers many upgradeable abilities to enhance the stealth appeal. With Dark Vision offering the ability to see through walls, Blink allowing you to teleport short distances in the manner of vengeance-driven Nightcrawler, and Possession (I shouldn’t have to tell you what this does), these abilities allow you to navigate and plan in the heat of the moment. Though, as stated, one wrong move or poorly timed click and all of these abilities have to be reintegrated into a first-person samurai/cowboy showdown.

One of the main issues that plague Dishonored and the genre as a whole is being able to rectify your screw up. This could involve putting on your Usain Bolt legs and taking to the hills or preparing your body for a twenty-versus-one battle royale, thus removing the chance of potential achievements/trophies that could grace your profile. As satisfying as it is to defeat the odds and stand among the corpses in mountains of bones, it doesn’t hold the gratification of slipping your rear end through a window of unmatched obscurity.

It is about time that stealth games finally had a fully, true-to-the-name entrant. This means that when things go loud, it is a fail, no questions asked. The only way to succeed is to be stealthy and plan your route. To just be able to walk into a room and show off your John Wick impression takes the stealth away from otherwise fantastically-crafted games.

I do love the genre, but these little things definitely kill some of the immersion. If you think there are any other problems with stealth games, we would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

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