All my life, I've loved stealth games. Stealth's among my favorite genres, and my enjoyment of stealth titles often contrasts against their sometimes poor public reception. From franchises as expansive as Far Cry to one-hit wonders as modest as Aragami, I love everything about the stealth puzzle, and at least a quarter of games among my top 100 are stealth games. To go beyond the call of duty with consistency, vigilance, and patience is to enjoy the stealth experience. If you're looking for an exceptional stealth game, some of the following may surprise you.
Skyrim barely reaches the bottom of this list. Why? Well, if your alteration level is high enough, you can turn stealth into cheating. Though Skyrim’s stealth mechanic isn’t challenging, it’s effective. The guy on the cover should be a Bosmer in Daedric gear, and we all know that. Clearing dungeons several times and selling your loot to the Riverwood Trader takes a long time to get old when you can shoot zombies in the head as soon as they come to life. Of course, it’s not exclusively a stealth game, but its stealth mechanic is one of many reasons why so many have been addicted to it for the last decade, myself included. Not even Todd Howard-san remembers Oblivion.
ECHO’s a gameplay-heavy stealth game, which is noteworthy because many stealth games involve a lot of dry lore. Not only does ECHO mercifully limit its lore, but it also separates lore from gameplay. You needn’t collect books or codices because you’ll listen to exposition as you move through the palace. It’s full of strategy, and securing a dependable route through each level is unusually unpredictable. According to the odd Steam review, there’s too much exposition in the beginning, and maybe there is, but bearing with it’s worth tons. Stick around.
8. Watch Dogs 2
Next is a far cry ( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°) from Watch Dogs, Watch Dogs 2. If you were sick of hearing about Aiden Pearce’s six-year-old niece whose narrative purpose was to die, then say, “Hello,” to Marcus Holloway, a young Black man who accidentally tases cops with grenade launchers. Doesn’t that sound like fun? Apart from mass-murdering people, he behaves like a normal person who doesn’t copy Christian Bale’s portrayal of Batman. Clearing bases rocks. You can be stealthy and lethal, be stealthy and non-lethal, or die. If you hate yourself, you can play on easy mode and shoot everybody without consequence, though you might as well play Skyrim. I wouldn’t advise a non-lethal approach because being stealthy and lethal is a lot easier, but it’s what Watch Dogs should have been in the first place. Ubisoft cleaned up its act on the narrative front.
7. Arkham City
Next is BATMAN! My favorite is Arkham Knight, which I realize is fundamentally incorrect, but my point is that they all have incredible stealth mechanics. You might not notice how amazing the stealth is unless you crank up the difficulty, but stealth is central to competent performance in the Arkham series. While some reviews say that the development team failed to integrate the Batmobile into the rest of the game, I didn’t notice it that much. I saw it as a convenient way of moving to places to which I couldn’t fast-travel. It’s a tool. It’s fast, and you can pivot at every intersection. That feeling when you finally incapacitate the sixth guy in that one level that’s stumped you is amazing. Everyone needs to play Arkham City if not all other games in the series. I say, “Arkham City,” because you don’t need to take that from me. It won GOTY in 2010. Generally, it’s been more popular than Arkham Knight, but it’s not my favorite.
6. Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey
I love to clear bases without guards seeing me. Nobody offers bases to clear like Ubisoft does. For those who haven’t played Odyssey, its dynamic world allows players to clear bases ad infinitum. If Ubisoft had waited five more minutes to release Unity, maybe it would’ve kept the awesome downward parkour mechanic, as well. The downward parkour mechanic in Odyssey isn’t as fast, but it still works. In Assassin’s Creed, the parkour isn’t part of the challenge, anyway. It’s part of your arsenal, and being able to go where bad guys can’t makes for awesome stealth gameplay. In many Assassin’s Creed games, stealth tactics are no more useful than an associate’s degree in photography. The piece de resistance in Odyssey, of course, is the button-mashy Dark Souls bosses. Kidding. It’s the fact that all forms of play are effective in overcoming the game’s challenges. You can be blades-blazing, sneaky, or far away, as long as you master available skills and cultivate a strong loadout in terms of both gear and abilities.
5. Mark of the Ninja
Next is the uncontroversially wonderful Mark of the Ninja. There’s no adjustable difficulty. While it’s not particularly difficult, it’s not particularly easy, either. Somehow, the difficulty offers a perfect balance. I don’t know how Klei did that, but playing is believing. Furthermore, you learn so much about the game’s world through play, so as with ECHO, you needn’t pick up any books to understand how the world works. Slowly dispatching enemies to make an area safe is challenging and engaging. The game feels fairly tame and reasonable if nobody sees you, but if a guard catches you, you’re dead. This feature gives the game a bit of a bite that passionately rewards patience. While it’s not at the top of the list, it’s nearly perfect.
4. Cyberpunk: 2077
Now, we arrive at a game that’s only nearly perfect if you have a 2,000-dollar box with Christmas lights in it: Cyberpunk: 2077. I can appreciate that I was one of few people to enjoy it as intended. I loved using Intelligence and Cool to overload transformers and break people’s necks. Clearing bases is challenging. Detection cues are fair. They’re crystal-clear and unobtrusive, complete with descriptive audio that independently lets you know how close guards are to detecting you. If you think Cyberpunk sucks because its code is broken, then you may be as dense as this rich, fun world. Programmers are human beings who pay for our literal sins. Coding is worse than working at McDonald’s and having someone demand pictures of your feet because you didn’t give him his Szechuan sauce, especially for those who do low-level stuff in CPP, as if you know what that means. Give these people a break. They’re just chippin’ in, and they happen to be breathtaking.
Onto Dishonored. Obviously, you’re gonna run into some books, but I love Dishonored’s lore because I’m a warlock who doodled pentagrams on his class notes in high school. I don’t find the narrative as interesting as the general lore, but Dishonored’s an easy sell. Do you like Harry Potter? Do you like ninjas? Put ‘em together. Simple. This isn’t peanut butter and chocolate. It’s chocolate and chocolate. I loved distilling each of Dishonored’s puzzling levels to a perverse science until I became a grandmaster Satanic ninja. Tell me it’s not fun to be a Satanic ninja. You can’t do it.
2. The Last of Us
Next is the only good zombie-related piece of media ever made: The Last of Us. When I started the game, I expected shallow gameplay and a strong narrative experience, but I experienced kickass gameplay, too, and if you crank up the difficulty, you choose between invisibility or death. The excellent stealth mechanic encourages you to take out zombies or humans quickly and silently. Because the enemy behavior is so authentic, you feel like you’re accomplishing something instead of sitting on your couch with a bag of nasty Takis. Just because they’re bad doesn’t mean they’re spicy. These PlayStation one-hit wonders market themselves as narrative masterpieces, but they actually offer so much more, in particular excellent, balanced gameplay. These companies have budgets for days. That’s what happens.
1. Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice
The best stealth game? I’m sorry, but that’s definitely Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. Sekiro’s the best From Software game to date. The stealth is effectively simple. You can’t use it all the time; it’s only part of a game about fighting, but Mount Kongo, what’s effectively a “stealth dungeon,” is a huge part of the game that even features a boss who challenges your stealth abilities. I’ve heard people say “The gameplay’s derivative, man. Play Nioh with its overwhelming UI instead.” Yes. Video games are derivative. This entire z-targeting business started with a boring top-down game from 1986. At a more fundamental level, Sekiro is Dark Souls with a tenth of the complexity. Dark Souls drives me crazy because I know there’s some Russian guy out there who can one-shot the boss with some random staff, and I don’t have time to figure that out. I want to kill people my way, and that’s exactly what Sekiro lets me do.
If something better is not on this list, then I probably haven’t played it! I haven’t gotten around to Hitman, Splinter Cell, or Metal Gear Solid, for example.
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