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Let's Talk Stealth
by Nate Paolasso on 02/05/13 07:30:00 am   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


This article was originally posted on N4G.

Recently, I purchased the Hitman HD Trilogy. After playing through the three games that it had to offer, I went back to Hitman: Absolution. Hitman: Absolution is the main reason why I am writing this blog; it reignited my love for the stealth genre. And even though I have already obtained the platinum, as I am replaying it, I am finding new ways to complete levels with more than 40 hours of playtime. It got me thinking about why I love the stealth genre so much, and I've come here to flesh out my thoughts through writing for all of you people to read!
One of the greatest aspects about video games is their ability adapt to different styles and genres of play. No matter the players preference, there is sure to be a game that suits them; be it shooting fools in the head, exploring an alternate realm, or shooting fools in the head in an alternate realm. Every gamer has their personal favorite and when asked about it, they could go on for hours about why it's the best. One of the most involving genres has to be stealth. Now, I don't plan on spending hours explaining why the stealth genre is easily one of the most engaging of all the video game genres, but I do intend to spend the duration of this blog doing so.

Deception, albeit dastardly, is a skill that few master in real life. And like life, being sneaky is one of gaming’s most refined skill sets. Learning when to walk around a corner and when to simply peak around it, or whether to poison the guard or simply subdue him, takes time. Patience is the name of the stealth game, and without it the player will find themselves on the first train to Being-SpottedVille. The act of being stealthy engages the brain like no other play style. Tension builds with each step towards the final goal out of fear of being caught. The horror genre used to give players these feelings of stress and uneasiness, but it seems to have strayed from its' roots. That isn't too say that stealth also hasn't wavered from its' original state, but some games (Dishonored, Hitman, Deus Ex) still get it right; no other genre provides the same tension and anxiety than stealth.

Solving puzzles is by far one of the most rewarding experiences in gaming when it's done without too much guidance. Games that grab the player by the hand and guide them to the answers never get much afterthought or praise. Every gamer wants to feel like they're in control and that the game is treating them with respect. Stealth does this fantastically; figuring out ways to stay anonymous and ghostly is one of gaming's ultimate puzzles. And the fantastic thing about this puzzle is that, more often than not, there are multiple ways of completing it. Should the player stick to the high ground, or should they go below? To the left or right? Lethal or nonlethal? Making these decisions effect the final outcome and rewards the player with a sense of accomplishment; knowing that this puzzle was solved by their own actions and choices.
Stealth games really go back to what gaming is; a challenge. Not just a broken, ridiculous kind of challenge, but a fair and rewarding kind. Games like Mario and Mega-Man were like this. The levels were set and the player was given their tools, and if they died, time to restart and do it again. Through trial and error they would get better. There's no finer feeling than failing so many times at something then finally succeeding. Stealth games do this exceedingly well. Not once have I been caught in a stealth game and said to myself, “Oh well, I'll just accept being caught and continue on with my overwhelming sense of failure.” I've always restarted the instant I got caught, even if there were methods of coming back from the capture. The player wants to feel triumphant. And when they completely ghost a level, I would say that there isn't any better way of feeling just that.

The stealth genre is among the top genres that engage the player fantastically; it is however, an acquired taste. Patience and endurance are not only required, but must be mastered to succeed. Mastering these rewards the player with the ability to solve some of stealth's most challenging puzzles. Not many video games can immerse the player so deeply and definitely. It makes me wish that more stealth games existed. But to be honest, no matter how many stealth come to pass, I don't think my sneaky appetite will ever be full.

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Abby Friesen
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I'm surprised Absolution is what reignited your love for stealth. As a longtime Hitman fan, I found that one to be my least favorite one. The level design was very linear in places (the tiny "mini-levels" between the big ones really rustled my jimmies.) I want to slap whoever designed the disguise system. But that's a conversation for another day!

I will always be a stealth game fan. The patience and endurance you mention really strike home and it's what keeps me coming back to this genre, yet pushes many others away. It's satisfying to see stealth options in games, or characters that are best played in a careful / methodical way.

Nate Paolasso
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The mini-levels between the regular levels really got to me as well. And while I agree that levels were more linear, the ones that weren't, to me, just felt like how I've always wanted a Hitman game to play. I just imagine having those mechanical controls on levels from Blood Money and how amazing it'd be.

Oh yeah, and the disguise system was really useless... the 1.02 update on consoles fixed it to an extent, but definitely could have been better.

Luis Guimaraes
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Very good article.

Luis Guimaraes
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You're totally right on the stealth-horror relationship. The point is not specifically horror, but suspense.

Those creepy enemies slowly closing the distance to you while you put out all your ammo, back to the wall (that doesn't work well nowadays because horror games turned into power fantasies, and then slow enemies don't give tension anymore because of that), stealth gives that suspense naturally, and blending the two genres together is one of the best thing that can happen to horror/non-power-fantasy games.

That's exactly what I was studying in the article about the true nature of classic survival horror games: