Ill-informed whiny Brit Joel Windels and the three-fingered spastic Eric Frederiksen took 20 minutes the day before this was due to hastily cobble together a piece on the arbitrarily-chosen topic of stealth games. ENJOY!
10. Tenchu: Stealth Assassins
Kicking off our sneaky list in true ninja style is the 1998 PlayStation assassination game Tenchu: Stealth Assassins. This Sony-exclusive raised a few eyebrows at the time with its graphically violent finishing moves; these killing animations that paved the way for countless imitators in the stealth genre. The player is given a choice between two distinctly different but archetypal warrior types and is then tasked with essentially taking out a serious amount of enemies, with the mask of stealth making the job considerably easier. Clambering over feudal-Japanese rooftops was the name of the game, with much of the stealthier elements performed in the cover of night; a novel and interesting feature in the underdeveloped console stealth market at the time.
9. Assassin’s Creed 2
Building on the limited successes of the original Assassin’s Creed, Ubisoft took everything that was great about the first game and added to it. With arguably the best animation we’ve seen in a game and surely one of the most beautiful and graphically outstanding environments to roam in, Assassin’s Creed 2 is a joy to behold. In control of the super-assassin Ezio, players are given a fairly broad realm of choice regarding how best to kill the designated targets and stealth is one of the most potent and popular approaches. Equipped with the deadly hidden blades, pocketfuls of crowd-controlling florins, awesome free running skills and the ability to blend in with the streets of 1400s Italy, killing Templars and getting away with it has never been so easy, or indeed fun.
8. Batman: Arkham Asylum
No game has ever made Batman look so badass. Or so holey. While a room full of armed thugs was no problem for Batsy, give one of them a gun and suddenly it's a whole new ball game. Instead of jumping out and showing off his ju-jitsu, Batman digs into his utility belt for grappling hooks, explosives and all manner of projectile to frighten and confuse his enemies. The stealth elements of Arkham Asylum are a big part of what made Rocksteady's take on the Dark Knight feel so authentic. Now Batman is not only a brawler, but a hunter and a thinker.
7. Hitman 2: Silent Assassin
Another title that improves upon its predecessor substantially, Hitman 2 allowed players to take out the assigned target in a vast number of ways, but the real aim was to achieve the eponymous ‘Silent Assassin’ award. This meant navigating the entire locale and assassinating the bad-guy without taking any other lives at all, though the game did allow progress through a more traditional run-and-gun method - but instead awarded controllers of Agent 47’s spree with the label ‘Mass Murderer’. The sheer number of options and techniques available was staggering; meaning every player usually concluded each assassination with a totally unique set of experiences.
One of the first games to use shadows for stealth in a platform game, it seems unreal that this seemingly simple and currently ubiquitous concept was once heralded as revolutionary. In Abe’s Odyssey, it was extremely tough to take on enemies, what with the (excellent) story dictating that the poor old Mudokon Abe was very much a slave to the bastard Sligs, so he often had to look for alternative ways to progress. Stealth was key to bypassing the fuckers, so players would have to move Abe into the dimly lit shadow sections before sneaking past. The game was also a visual and literary treat, with the HUD-free pre-rendered still backdrops truly showing the power of the young PlayStation at the time.
I'm going to admit that I didn't play this one nearly as much as I should have. The Escapist's Yahtzee says of Thief 2, "The sneaks were the sneaksiest and the sprawls were the sprawliest." Open levels and an unflinching emphasis on stealth helped separate the title and series mechanically while the magic/steampunk style gave it a different look and atmosphere to anything encountered before. Thief also boasted a number of innovations – it was the first game to use light and sound as a stealth tool, it was the first stealth game to use a first-person perspective and it also had an impressively advanced artificial intelligence ruleset which allowed for emergent gameplay and a wide scope for player experimentation.
4. The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay
Riddick has the simultaneous distinctions of being not only one of the better movie-licensed games ever, but also one of the very few first-person stealth games. Riddick is all about cunning and and resourcefulness. A smart player knows to keep the fights intimate and brief, putting a guard down and disappearing back into the shadows just as quickly. Long before Sam Fisher had become a predator, Riddick was hunting down guards in much the same way.
3. Deus Ex
Warren Spector's famously open first-person game certainly didn't obligate players to use stealth, but it rewarded creativity with always-interesting results. Hacking computers and turrets and picking your futuristic enhancements carefully could keep you from ever having to fire a gun with your own hands. The game is so well-loved that it maintains a vibrant community that has produced patches, graphical enhancements and even new stories. Like Thief, a new Deus Ex has been announced along with a great-looking preview video. Hopefully the developers can capture the fresh feeling of the original and leave the light-bloomy short-sightedness of the sequel behind.
2. Metal Gear Solid
Metal Gear Solid. Such a divisive title amongst gamers, this game only didn’t take the number one slot because the features director happens to be a Splinter Cell fanboy and because the editorialist writing this only has a little brain and thusly cannot comprehend the storyline. Nevertheless, Metal Gear Solid certainly defined the stealth genre as we know it today. Somewhere underneath all the endless cutscenes, telecommunications, conversations, ‘revelations’ and other huge vats of bullshit was a killer game, as player’s took on the role of sneaking past guards with a new enthusiasm and skillset never seen before. Climbing into cardboard boxes, ‘reading’ magazines, toying with dart guns and messing with the AI pathfinding was all bucketfuls of fun at the time and it is unlikely that any other game has ever done so much for the stealth genre than Solid Snake and chums.
1. Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow
Splinter Cell pioneered realistic stealth on the original Xbox, but it wasn't until Pandora Tomorrow that it really left its mark. Spies vs. Mercenaries took stealth action from a solitary experience to a heart-pumping combination of cooperative and versus gameplay that still hasn't been replicated to date. Outthinking your opponents and working with your partner to accomplish the mission is some of the most fun you can have in the dark. Even Splinter Cell: Conviction's fabulous co-op gameplay isn't up to the level of Spies Vs. Mercs and the resulting fan uproar over the omission of the game mode is testament to the quality of Pandora Tomorrow’s multiplayer.