Hide And Seek: Why Stealth Mechanics Need A Shake Up

Stealth has become a commonplace aspect of many games, with an increasing number of titles using it as an important mechanic. It’s an effective way to create tension and make the protagonist seem like less of an indestructible killing machine, with titles such as The Last of Us, Tomb Raider and even the recent BioShock Infinite DLC, Burial At Sea, using it to great effect.

I don’t like it; I never have. It just seems to me like a way to break immersion by making you repeat a section over again once you’ve been caught by the enemy forces, having to often repeat a large, difficult section due to the nature of the system. There’s no easy way to put checkpoints in a stealth game, and it’s often a section-by-section approach, which can often lead you to being reset quite far back.

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Playing Tomb Raider over the last few days, I’ve began to realise the reasons that I’m not a fan of sneaking around: the first time I’m taking on an area, it’s absolutely fine; I get into a rhythm of meticulously taking out enemies, and slowly weave my way through the forces to the invisible finishing line, enjoying it as I go.

But when I get close to that line, only to get spotted by a guard or fumble and make a few mistakes, which often leads to a restart, I lose all excitement for what I’m doing. I now have to go slow, again, through the enemy forces, doing the easy kills quietly and wasting my time until I get to the exciting bit again, where I have to do a bit of problem solving once more.

So, do I want a stealth game without the danger of being caught and forced to restart the section? Absolutely not – a huge part of stealth gameplay is the risk, and the reward is all the better when you’ve slaved through an extremely hard section. The same goes for tough sections of shooters: the bigger the challenge, the better the sense relief and the bigger the smile on your face when you’ve completed it.

Perhaps what I need is a stealth game that doesn’t follow the same path, but then again I’d get a bit annoyed by the environments being the same. Procedural generation, then? No, that probably wouldn’t work. It’s at this point in my thought process that I realise that these games aren’t the problem, but rather I’m the one with the problem.

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I’m honestly just being lazy. I should just play the section again, taking what I’ve learned from my failures into account, and eventually get through to the other side, with a sigh of relief as I progress to the next section without worrying about having to play the same bit again.

The biggest problem with this affliction is that most of the best story-focused game incorporate stealth in one way or the other. It can be optional, such as it is in Tomb Raider, be a central mechanic, as Metal Gear Solid shows, or be the only way to get through some sections, as with The Last of Us, which you’ll need to sneak through due to the clickers being able to take you out as soon as they make contact and ammo being extremely limited.

Except that I simply cannot enjoy the story when I’m being forced to do sections repeatedly with my only reward being a cutscene. As much as it might be a great feeling when I finally take that last guard out unnoticed, it’s more of a pain when I can’t take him out, and that’s one thing that will lead me to prematurely ejecting the disc from the machine I’m playing the game on.

I know that when I was playing and got deeper into The Last of Us, I really enjoyed getting through the harder rooms, but soon after I was finished, these sections seem extremely irritating and mundane. So, for now I’ll just have to put up with the increasing focus on stealth in many games – it’s just yet another form of challenge, and many others enjoy it – and maybe it’ll eventually grow on me. Or maybe someone will come up with a solution as, after all, the games industry is full of surprises.

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20 Comments

  1. I’m not a fan of stealth in most current games, maybe I’m getting impatient in my old age. I used to love the original Tenchu games on PS1 but you could always zip up to the roof tops if you were spotted and tackle things again. Similar to Arkham Asylum, if spotted you can still proceed and try another approach without starting from scratch. The only break in immersion with this approach is how stupid the guards are for forgetting you are there.

    • Ah, I love Arkham now that you mention that. Good shout!

    • Yeah, some games goes like “OMG, I took an arrow in the head! Where is he? Hmmm, guess it was just my imagination”

  2. I’m kind of with you on this, I mean I enjoy completing stealth sections in games, it makes me feel like a bit of a ninja! But the way it’s done when you get it wrong is often irritating. Take Watch Dogs for an example, there are some forced stealth sections where if you get seen, you have to start again. Why do I have to start again? Why doesn’t it let me play out the consequences? So I’ve been seen, now I’ve got to try and battle 80 guys! That would make sense, it would still be possible to complete the section even though I failed in my stealth approach. But just saying “woops, you got seen, please start again” doesn’t seem to make any sense to me at all.

    • This was exactly what I was thinking while reading this. Often in Watch Dogs stealth is the best tactic but you can screw it up a bit and still just about get away with a guns blazing fall-back. That makes it all the more annoying when a section arbitrarily decides you are not allowed to be seen at all.

  3. I’m sure the stealth sections in a lot of games are only there to make the game longer. Take a game that might last 10 hours, add some stealth bits that could drag out 10 minutes of that time to last 4 or 5 hours, and people might be convinced it’s a longer game. Add a few hours for the dreaded “retrying the whole sodding section for the 42nd time because they somehow spotted you for no readily apparent reason” and you’ve doubled the length of the game.

    The Assassin’s Creed games (as much as I love them all) makes things even worse. You’ve got the stealth sections where you have to follow someone who walks far too slow, with the added bonus of annoying warnings if you lose sight of them for anything longer than a picosecond.

    Still, they only make it to second place on the list of things I never want inflicted on me in a game. Not as annoying as having to “escort” someone who is obviously part snail. And an idiot. And made of glass.

    • Strange that they haven’t simply gone with a “follow this ambassador to learn the location of the treasure” and actually STOPPED you listening to him if you’re too far away. They can drown him out with ambient sound FX so turning the volume up will do sod all. Also, subtitles wouldn’t appear on screen until you’re near enough. Heck, throw in a little gem like him whispering something on top of the usual location for the people who’ve stayed really close. Motivational, rewarding and utterly realistic.

      Wish I did game development sometimes.

  4. So sorry to hear about your prematurely ejecting problem, Blair. Best of luck.

  5. The best games do stealth as an option but one that it’s pretty foolhardy not to take.

    Most of Watch Dogs does this, you can run in, guns blazing, and take them all on but they are fairly clever, call for backup, and flank you while you are pretty soft and vulnerable as game protagonists go.
    As a result, it’s just sensible to choose the stealth approach which lets you disable the radios that call reinforcements and sneakily take them out with traps, takedowns, or silenced weapons.

    When it goes wrong and you are spotted, you can still fight your way out of it and, if you planned well and disabled the guys who can call reinforcements, it’s manageable.

    Unfortunately, as Tony points out above, there are some sections where the game decides you CANNOT be spotted at all and they do spoil it a little.

    • I’m finding Sniper Elite 3 to be very well balanced for this. Just playing it last night and I managed to take down everyone in the first half of the level silently. Sadly, my titting around (read: throwing a corpse over some rocks) meant that I was rumbled and all hell broke loose. Injured and in a rotten way, I managed to pacify the incoming buggers and relocate so things settled down once more.

      It had the feeling of “if I do this correctly, I can control the situation and get through things accordingly” whilst being simultaneously coupled with “and if I slip up I’ll need a new pair of boxers and some seriously good fortune to make it through” which was perfect, from my perspective.

  6. Oh and what about when you silently kill someone but then the corpse gets spotted so they go on high alert but 30 seconds later when they haven’t found you they forget they found their mates body and just go back to their old routine. What bollocks is that?

    • He obviously just dropped down dead. Probably that hole in his forehead that did it. Poor old Bob. Ah well, back to work.

      • … Whilst noting to himself to have a word with the union as employees seem to be getting a strange condition of ‘hole in head’ due to being overworked.

        Good days work.

  7. I completely love stealth games. Metal Gear Solid and the feeling of Hide and Seek, tension building, then that moment you reach the checkpoint, the cut scene kicks in and the foes know nothing. Love em :-)

  8. It’s no secret that I pretty much hate stealth in games – Sure, on occasions there is a genuine reason for it to be there or it makes that particular section easier to complete, but there should always be a choice. You should never see ‘retry?’ simply from being seen by someone.

    I completely avoid ‘full’ stealth games. I’m not being constrained to a play style I hate for an entire game. Funk dat shiz.

    Basically, if I cannot stab or shoot someone in the face without repercussions or being concerned about whether someone heard me, I’m simply not interested. Its a game at the end of the day – If I have to hide in the shadows like a small child rather than trudging my way through with a gatling gun in each hand leaving a trail of death in my wake & feeling like a badass, you can keep it!

  9. I can’t stand stealth games myself, and have a particular dislike for non-stealth games that force stealth sections on the player. Far Cry 3 did this and it annoyed me so much I just stopped playing the game. I was tempted to play The Last of Us but ultimately didn’t simply because of the stealth elements present.

  10. I’ve only played a few stealth games, probably 3/4 of them had Metal Gear in the title. What I love about the Metal Gear games is that while you’re playing them (not so much in the story saturated cutscenes) they don’t take themselves too seriously, there’s plenty of acknowledgement that you’re playing a game and once I got used to that it added to the charm massively. Gameplay wise, because they’re not trying to be truly immersive, it quickly becomes obvious what the rules are and so the games become a pleasure to play as you start to win. Even better is when you start going for S-Rank scores, stealth becomes a tool to beat very challenging patterns with precision and speed, and it was whilst going for the Platinum in Peace Walker that I realised I was enjoying a much less immersive but more obvious and self aware gameplay experience.

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