I discovered the stealth genre in the late '90s just as I was getting really tired of twitch-based FPS games like Quake and Unreal Tournament. Stealth games like Tenchu and Metal Gear Solid were the complete opposite of what was popular at the time, which is what I wanted. I can't tell you how much I enjoy skulking around in the shadows as I wait for the perfect time to strike, taking out enemies, and then disappearing into the darkness without being detected. Here are my picks for the eight best stealth video game franchises in random order.
While Thief: The Dark Project isn't the first stealth game to be released, it's considered by many to be the first true stealth game because it doesn't let players bully their way out after being discovered. That's why it's been jokingly dubbed a “first-person sneaker.” This series truly punishes players when they're detected, as the main character is extremely agile but not very skilled with weaponry. As a result, it's rare that players can stand toe-to-toe or sword-to-sword with enemies.
Sound and light play a major role in Thief because making noise and moving through well-lit areas are the most reliable way to alert enemies. In order to be a successful thief, players must pay attention to the detection gauge and adjust their movement accordingly. Special abilities, like shooting moss arrows on the ground to make it quiet to move through and dousing torches with water arrows, are very effective in staying hidden. It's also very challenging to loot different characters and tons of fun to watch their reaction when they discover that their gold has been stolen!
Metal Gear Solid
This iconic franchise is the first thing most gamers think of when they hear the word "stealth." It's the most popular stealth franchise of all time, and it's also the one with the most sequels. Chances are high that every gamer has assumed the role of Solid Snake, Liquid Snake, Big Boss, or any one of several technologically-enhanced characters from the series.
Not only has MGS introduced the gaming world to the seemingly magical properties of hiding under a cardboard box, but it also lets players complete games without killing anyone. I'm sure everyone's ears perk up when they hear the unique "!" sound when enemies are alerted (you just heard that sound in your mind, right?), and fans know that “metal gear” doesn't refer to manufacturing equipment. This series has come a long way in the last sixteen years, but its future is uncertain without Hideo Kojima at the helm and Konami committing more to pachinko machines.
It's not widely-known that Tenchu: Stealth Assassins actually came out several months before the original MGS. I remember seeing a video game with ninjas on the cover and thinking “this looks cool.” I bought the game and spent the next few months sneaking around several levels in medieval Japan looking for the right opportunity to perforate and sever my targets.
I couldn't believe the amount of blood that poured out of each enemy when I triggered different assassinations. It was also fun to use blowdarts to hit them from afar, but my favorite tool was the grappling hook. This was the first game that I ever played that had this feature, and it was fun to run around on the rooftops and literally get the drop on enemies. Too bad every game in the series is full of bugs, and I also don't like how difficult it is to kill enemies once they have been alerted.
There are some problems with the latest version (Splinter Cell Blacklist), but the first few games were so much fun! I appreciate how Tom Clancy created the world in which the series is based, but I refuse to prefix every damned game with his name. Anyway, this series really makes me feel like a total badass whenever I play and it doesn't punish me too much for getting detected.
There are so many tools at the player's disposal that it can be overwhelming at first. However, longtime fans appreciate how every sequel gives them new items, like the combat knife and sticky shocker, as well as new abilities like hanging upside-down and knocking out enemies. I remember how much fun it was the first time I played the online multiplayer mode, Spies vs. Mercs. Playing as a spy was my favorite thing to do because I truly felt a sense of anxiety, and I loved using the abilities I honed during the single-player adventure on Mercs in muliplayer.
The Chronicles of Riddick
Not everyone likes the Riddick movies (let's face it, the last one sucked), but The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay is one of the few games that's actually better than the movies it's loosely based upon. Not surprisingly, the first game is better than the sequel (Assault on Dark Athena), but it's still fun to play. Using stealth in these games isn't the only option, but in my opinion it's more enjoyable than the ballz-out shooting action.
This is mostly due to the unique way that stealth is executed. For starters, there's no HUD in this first-person game, so players see what Riddick would see. Eventually players unlock Riddick's infamous Eye Shine view that lets him see in the dark, which makes sneaking up behind clueless enemies much easier. I also like how players start out Escape from Butcher Bay with no weapons, so they're forced to find makeshift weapons, like shivs, to take out enemies. When you add in a great story and excellent visuals, the result is a must-play for stealth fans.
The Last of Us
With the sequel to The Last of Us currently in development, I can only hope that Naughty Dog doesn't make many changes. “Why is that?” you may ask. Simply put, the story is fantastic, and the balance between stealth and action is sublime. To be honest, this game doesn't even have a “stealth mode,” but that doesn't stop it from having great stealth gameplay. There also aren't any “stealth areas” because the motivation for avoiding confrontation is survival, plain and simple.
All players have to do to sneak around enemies is crouch down and use cover in a realistic manner. As such, slowly moving around while crouched and using large objects for cover has an organic feel that also adds tension because players know that they can be spotted at any moment. Randomly-placed bottles can be chucked to create much-needed distractions, but aside from that there aren't many tricks to fooling enemies. I also appreciate how players can run away when spotted, but enemies will be actively searching for players if they return to the area.
As a fan of steampunk, I was thrilled when Dishonored was released. I love how it takes place in an alternate version of a fictional European town in the 19th century and features advanced technology that was far-ahead of its time. In addition, Corvo's crazy metallic mask and magical abilities really make it a sight to behold, and play.
While the actual stealth gameplay is reminiscent of Assassin's Creed, subtle changes like adding numerous powers dramatically changes the options available. For example, traversing a large gap to assassinate an enemy is as easy as lining up the target, using Blink to quietly teleport over the gap, and then assassinating him in the manner you see fit. I also love upgrading abilities and I appreciate how it's impossible to gather all the powers and abilities in a single playthrough. This means that subsequent playthroughs can be completely different than the original one.
Deus Ex exploded onto the gaming scene in 2000 and was one of the few games to offer real choice in how to execute missions. Instead of offering the simple choice of whether to go stealth or guns blazing, this game lets players delve deep into each style, such as completing a mission via subtle conversation tactics rather than silently taking out enemies. As sequels were released, the core gameplay stayed the same but more and more abilities are offered.
One of my favorite features is the ability to combine nanotech enhancements with customizing my character in order to make him better at my preferred gameplay style (hint: it's stealth). For example, every stealthy player needs cloak to turn invisible and vision enhancement to see through walls, but investing points in hacking and getting the crossbow mod is also recommended. With Deus Ex: Mankind Divided being released later this year, I can't wait to see all of the nano-enhancements and abilities that I can play around with.