In an effort to cram even more gaming goodness into this column and offer a broad look at the current landscape, going forward I will sometimes do multiple minireviews of products that are similar in both narrative genre and game play instead of a single in-depth evaluation. The first focus of this treatment is stealth.
Often rooted in stories of military intrigue, the stealth area favors staying in the shadows and striking from a distance over the more traditional intense, in-your-face-action of video games. In the past decade, the stealth field has evolved into one rooted in creative thinking, tactical planning, and problem solving. Players must examine an objective and decide how best to pursue it, often working with limited information. Most stealth games allow the player to use brute force to power through obstacles, but they also offer severe penalties for doing so, either in the form of enemies with heightened senses and aggression or a more oppressive game environment.
The first entry in this style was the original Metal Gear (1987), in which lone soldier Solid Snake was sent to infiltrate a heavily fortified enemy base. The game’s 1999 follow-up, Metal Gear Solid, was a critical and commercial hit, and multiple titles with a similar flavor came in its wake. Syphon Filter was more combat-oriented and less grand in scope, but it still had a strong element of covert action. Tenchu: Stealth Assassins was set in feudal Japan and upped the ante with brutal melee combat that punished the player for being seen or heard by the enemy.
The famous “Thief” series for the PC married narrative relevance with mechanics, casting the player as a masterly burglar in a medieval setting. Participants could choose to engage enemies in combat or use gadgets and nonlethal weapons to avoid or subdue the opposition, making Thief an early example of the modern action game that allows for a less violent approach. There’s also a new entry in the series, but unless the gaming PCs in your library are monster rigs, be prepared for a compromised experience, as this game was intended as a showcase for the capabilities of the series’ native format. It’s worth checking out on consoles or an appropriately powered PC, however.
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Dishonored offers steampunk fans, political intrigue aficionados, and horror/fantasy buffs lots to love in a unique game world. Players are set loose in an open-ended cityscape and given a target for assassination, which sounds like by-the-book stealth game play except that the game includes ways to take out the targets via nonlethal means. Enemies can be sneaked past or eliminated in the most brutal fashion; the more bodies player leave in their wake, the more wary guards in later levels grow.
All three recent Batman games (Arkham Asylum; Arkham City; and Arkham Origins) balance all-out brawling with segments in which Batman must cling to the darkness to take out armed thugs and prevent the executions of hostages. The more enemies the player eliminates while remaining unseen, the more panicked and distracted the remaining enemies grow. The final part of the series, Arkham Knight, has just been announced for next-gen consoles.
Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell was touted as a more grounded and less cinematic thriller; main character Sam Fisher is an easy pick for the Badass Video Game Hero Hall of Fame. As a “splinter cell” he executes black ops intelligence missions single-handedly. The most recent game in the consistently excellent series, Blacklist, has a story line relevant to the tech-and-terrorism present day, gives the player a host of gadgets to revel in, and presents some of the most satisfying stealth game play yet. While not quite open-ended, the environment features plenty of options for strategy and rarely makes gamers feel as though they have been pushed into a design corner. Fans of tactical shooters and all things special forces will also enjoy the “Ghost Recon” series.
Goldeneye 007 was based on the James Bond movie of the same name. It may be an action-packed shooter, but it rewards the player for using more subtle tactics; some missions are noticeably less punishing if handled through a measured pace and calculated strikes. It was recently remade as a 360/PS3 title featuring the current Bond, Daniel Craig, in the title role. With modern shooter mechanics familiar to fans of the “Call of Duty” series and intriguing Bond-inspired action, this is a game that will surely please fans of the franchise and secret agent intrigue in general.
Finally, the “Metal Gear Solid” series is still going strong. Not only is every game since the original classic available in one package (the Metal Gear Solid Legacy collection), but in March, a new entry in the series was released set in an open-world environment that allows for even more stealth tactics. Gamers who love anime will be attracted to this series as well, since the story structure, tone, and themes are similar to those in many anime and manga works.
Those are the big-name titles that most of your patrons will be asking for, but there’s a wealth of stealth out there. Until next month, keep telling yourself—just one more level!