16 Oct 2013

Media - Top 'Stealth' Games

I like Game Trailers for videos and some of their shows are pretty brilliant. Final Bossman is pretty much the cream of their crop.

Recently they posted a 'top 5 stealth games' video and I was disappointed. When GT or Screw Attack do a Top 5, Top 10, or Top 20 they always come with a grain of salt. Some of the games are a nice selection and call back to early games in past generations.

This time they really failed. Watch the video and see you after the break.

Metal Gear won top prize? I know it's not much of a prize and the stealth portion of the game really got it's chops in the last two games when the whole stealth camouflage options. Otherwise it was always the option of non-violence. Yet I feel the game chosen are good and strangely obvious... there was no work in this one. The effort was lazy and quite a few missing titles from the list. To correct this I've come up with my own list.

My list will also mention which game of the series was the best and which is the runner up. It will also include where the series is the worst before going into the praise.

For once, Suck it GT! oh and Mark of the Ninja came in 6th... now for the list.

The Game that had some sneaking and lots of stealthy killing

5. Assassin's Creed
Top: Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood, Assassin's Creed 3
Bottom: Assassin's Creed

So jumping and running. Huge historic cities to explore and plan hits. This was the stealth game dream. Plagued by the common pitfalls of the open world games of the generation. Poor and repeated mini missions, and a disconnected feel of open world to main quest. Yet the Creed series had some magic that showed in that first game. When they moved to the next iterations of the series that made it better and better, allowing players to participate in murder while reliving some realistic history.

Brotherhood was the best elements of the open world while keeping the series grounded in the Ezio story arc. Now established, Ezio was rebuilding the Assassins in Rome and the whole recruiting mechanic was fun to use. Calling in your assassins to help out was brilliant. I would have liked more detail to outfitting each assassin and making each one unique. The uniformed white cloak is iconic but I had no connection to the assassins other then getting them up levels so they could pull harder jobs. AC:3 was addictive. As much as the story fell apart during the revolution the world was fun to explore, the items addictive to hunt, ship was brilliant to sail and the layout great to romp around in. The introduction was long but never tedious and really got me absorbed in the game. I hope AC:4 Blackflag really does the same with the intro and runs a good end game.

The Game that played dress up and had you sneaking in the open

4. Hitman
Top: Hitman: Blood Money, Hitman 2: Silent Assassin
Bottom: Hitman: Absolution

The odd ball humour and in the open stealth was interesting and fresh when Hitman: Agent 47 was released. The open mission concept was even better. Folks in chicken suits, the constant pantless - stars and stripes boxer wearing CIA agents, and the dumb sexy parties are things that keep popping up in humour. The focus on doing a mission over and over again looking for that really neat way to end the target is the real crux of the series. So many options are laid out in the mission that the level is a science experiment of murder.

Blood Money was the step into next gen and it was a great culmination of the games strengths. 47 had some great level design and the controls had grown nicely over the iterations. Hitman had aged well. The second game of the series Silent Assassin was the strongest of the early games, setting up the goal of what the series wanted to be like. It had moments of being the perfect Hitman and those moments were expressed in the later Blood Money. Absolution is the worst and latest. Whole missions dedicated to running from the cops? Not Hitman. Some of the open murder levels like the Market and the Gun shop were brilliant but the condo entrance was boring. The orphanage, the small time town and the penthouse apartment are excellent. The real moment for me was when I stopped and longed for the Sniper mini game you got for pre-ordering the game rather than the game itself.

The Game that let you dance with the devil in the pale moon light

3. Batman Arkham
Top: Batman: Arkham City, Batman: Arkham Asylum
Bottom: nothing yet...

With the third game in the pipe and due to drop in a few weeks, the Arkham series has been a hallmark of three genres. Metroidvania where you explore worlds and end up going back with new gameplay elements to explore previous inaccessible areas. Stealth where you sneak around and bypass or subdue enemies in order to reach your goal. Comic Book using a comic character and their supporting cast to create an interactive experience... the Arkham series does all three so well.

Arkham Asylum was awesome and well paced. You felt you were Batman. You took on dozens of foes at a time, seemingly with easy unless you were the one holding the controller where you mastered stuns, jumps, dodges, counters and strikes and weaved them in the tableau of the combat. You collected more tools in the game to explore the house that was Arkham Asylum. It was hard to beat yet alone follow until you got Arkham City. Now a full city section is open to you to explore, collect Riddler's clues and interact with other folks. Villains were minor or major but there was plenty of them. More enemy types added challenge to the flawless combat system making it more interesting. Keeping the hunting predator aspect as Batman used fear to manipulate and distract groups of enemies while he hunted them one by one only got better between games. I hope the latest game meets the same standard of play.

The Game that made Ninja more awesome then mutant turtles

2. Tenchu Top: Tenchu 2: Birth of the Stealth Assassins, Tenchu: Wrath of Heaven
Bottom: Tenchu Z

Huge sprawling levels open, tons of ancient ninja tools, great sneak attack sequences and a Bat Rope! Done and done. One of the earliest stealth games on the first go of Playstation, the game was a little rough when it came to controls but no more so than others of that generation. Tenchu had multiple characters, excellent level scoring system (now being emulated by Splinter Cell: Blacklist and other current gen stealth games over the years) and plenty of variety of the missions. It's too bad the game did not get any good releases since the second Playstation.

Tenchu 2 was the awesome first game with even more awesome. Add in the background story that actually made sense and you were really enjoying the twice as large game. Extra stealth kills, more gadgets, and larger levels made Tenchu 2 a perfect sequel. It was better in everyway and the controls got smoother. Wrath of Heaven was the generation leap and really claimed the old house with my and my flat mates. Improved graphics, classic detection system and plenty of mission options, Wrath of Heaven was Tenchu 1 but on the Playstation 2. We longed for the follow up... Tenchu Z was bad in every way. Shity story, shity controls, and horrid gameplay issues along the lines of popup and collision detection. Tenchu Z was a shit game without the series comparison.

The Game that currently has kept the crown due to fifth freedomes

1. Splinter Cell
Top: Splinter Cell: Double Agent, Splinter Cell: Conviction
Bottom: Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow

Splinter Cell is a hard game to get around when it first came out. It was the clunky stealth that had a odd pace about it. As the series grew it became more streamlined. More and more things were added to smooth Sam Fisher's movements. The knife was the first big item. Quickly open the door or take your time and pick the lock. Shut off the engine or pop the fuel line and it can never come back on... but that's noisy.

Double Agent had the best between mission hud I've played. A place for you to complete small tasks and other objectives. In mission you have conflicting assignments but that's ok, being undercover is a razor thin line and walking it was brilliant. Conviction was the last big push and recent shift in gameplay. Sam goes from Spy to Panther with the 'mark and execute' feature non stealth players were able to jump in while purists like me were still able to get our stealth on. The only reason Pandora Tomorrow is on the short stick is because it was forgettable when compared to the rest of the series and that's not all that bad. Gives you an idea on the quality of the series...

The Games that were never finished...

Metal Gear
Top: Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, Metal Gear Solid Portable Ops
Bottom: Metal Gear Solid 2

One of the best stealth action games in the bunch yet hampered my overblown stories and overly complex control schemes. When the game is going, you dread those exclamation moments and you jump and scream when you get succeed in passing that enemy laden room unnoticed. Say what you will about Kojima and his characters, you don't forget them. He demand for detail like melting ice cubes in levels are nice. He pushes his game and makes you think outside the box as much as puts you in a box... chuckle with me folks. I never got around to Metal Gear Solid 4 and I'm ok with that but the series has a place in my list.

Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater followed the genesis of Kojima's convoluted tale of spies, clones and WMD's. Snake Eater you played as Big Boss (the villain and raison d'etre for the rest of the series) as he is a new operative in the cold war. Working the jungles, keeping fed, rested and healthy was a chore but an enjoyable chore. The non-leathal option along side large maps to explore was a brilliant twist that the second game was lacking in lots of places. The bosses were great and the story the best of the series. Portable Ops carried the story along a few years later with a neat recruitment mechanic and shorter missions where you convinced folks to join your side and they built up the various resources for your new growing covert army.

Top: Thief: Deadly Shadows
Bottom: Thief

Not my favorite of the all the games on this list. In fact I almost cut it if not for the fact that I played these games. What they did for the genre was forcing players to think about light, shadows and sound. For once a game wasn't all about the kill, the moving a body... it was about no body, no kill and just get in and get out. A true stealth game. I found it boring and tedious most of the time but I still played through most of the third installment.

I honestly never finished any of the games but Deadly Shadows was the one that took me deeper into the series then the rest. It felt less tedious without dropping the challenge compared to the rest of the series. It was the most fun out of the whole lot that've experienced and showed that the game designers were trying to balance the game to include more players. Th4if or Theif 4 is due in Feb next year and looks to be getting closer to Deus Ex in gameplay. I'm willing to try out the upcoming game but the series is not top of my list.

The Game that was only done once

Top: Dishonoured, Dishonoured: DLC
Bottom: nothing yet...

Yes I'm including the DLC which follow Daud as a separate entry in the Dishonored Series. Yes it re-uses some of the main games levels but it's a whole new set of powers with a few new levels. If they were made as one DLC you could have had a whole game (a short one mind you).

Dishonored gave players a sandbox for the missions to complete. Plenty of side quests and optional ways to complete missions. Organix information gathering simply by listening in to guards as they chatted. Brilliant and well crafted Dishonored had one more thing... a slew of tools, mechanical and magical. The options were not embedded in the levels but also in the mode of play that the user could apply to the level. The developers were always surprised when a player would pick up the controller at the E3 and do something without breaking the game. The freedom to play the way you want with the tools you want is hard to pull and not have the game falter. High Jumping into a Teleport to get in range of a Possession was epic and allowed me to bypass entire sections of the game. That reward was there for players that searched out and explored not only the vast and detailed levels but the deep mechanics and tools given to the players. 

Games that did it so well they wanted on the list

Deus Ex
Top: Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Deus Ex
Bottom: Deus Ex: The Fall

Few first person games had the level of RPG style character development and options in levels and gameplay. Deus Ex lets you play the Tank Agent allowing you pick up the big guys, upgrade combat mods and load up on defensive systems blowing you way through the game like a character from the Expendables franchise (yeah it's a franchise now... 3rd movie in the words). Or you can load up on hacking tools, stealth systems and silence your selection of weapons to creep and crawl through the missions leaving no trace and if possible no bodies. Deus Ex in all it's games has tried to give players the option of stealth. It's done well and can't be ignored.

Far Cry
Top: Far Cry 3, Far Cry 2
Bottom: Far Cry: Instincts

Some would say this is not a stealth game. Well you can go guns blazing in Metal Gear and Splinter Cell. The Far Cry series lets you decide to go stealthy and rewards you well for the efforts. Far Cry 3's stealth takedowns are brilliant. They get better with the chain effects that really let a player start to combo up the stealth kills. Going into the mission with silenced weapons slowly and quietly dropping sentries as you close in on the objective, that's a stealth game and it's yours in Far Cry. If you want it.