One of the most fascinating genres in gaming is perhaps the stealth game; unlike the more easily marketable and widely accessible action games that basically revolve around you killing as many things as possible in the least subtle ways imaginable, stealth games try to encourage you to take a more nuanced approach in dealing with your enemies. Of course, that’s not to say that stealth games outright prohibit you from seeking violent solutions to all of your problems, but committing to such a course typically results in a drastically increased difficulty, if not failure. Unfortunately, thanks to a wide variety of factors ranging from evolving gameplay mechanics to creative design decisions, there is often a question that must be asked when examining such games: is the game a stealth game with action sequences or is it an action game with stealth mechanics?
Perhaps one of the best examples of this conundrum is Dishonored, a stealth game that gives you an option to play as a pacifist and kill no one, but it is generally accepted that going around and stabbing everyone is much more gratifying; the fact that a number of the magical abilities and tools in the game exist only to help you kill people in some decidedly gruesome ways certainly added to the temptation to murder everyone. The game’s fairly well-received sequel, Dishonored 2, generally improves upon every gameplay mechanic that was introduced in the first game, but it similarly didn’t really do much in regards to making stealthy pacifist and loud and lethal playthroughs equally enticing (partly thanks to all the new kill animations). Sure, you can now jump off a roof and smash someone’s face into the ground to render them unconscious, or simply choke them silly or shoot them with a sleep dart, but wouldn’t it be way more exciting and visually pleasing to fight off a whole group of guards, leaving them bloodied and dismembered in ways that would probably make your average Game of Thrones character blush? Granted, the number of corpses that you leave behind does affect the story, so there is some sort of a discouragement from getting too stab happy.
There are certainly no shortage of other game series that have toed the line between encouraging people to be stealthy or turning the game into a hack and slash or shooter clone. Some have ended up relegating stealth to be a more of secondary feature of their games (although one can argue it can make for better gameplay), the most notable (and obvious) of which would be Assassin’s Creed. Originally, you had to play much like you would expect, hiding in crowds and generally trying to avoid being stabbed to death by angry guards. As the series progressed, however, it was somewhat expected that you would be able to kill dozens of guards with impunity, turning a game that was once known for letting you hide in plain sight to a game that makes stealth more of a hassle than anything else. Other games, like Hitman, are more true to their roots by making it difficult to survive direct conflict, although you can still (somewhat amusingly) create a literal mountain of bodies with a bit of creativity and luck. The reasoning behind such wildly different gameplay changes, even within the same series, is up to interpretation, though for most people the only thing that matters is whether or not you will end up having to hide in a box for minutes on end to avoid having to repeat a mission and see the same loading screen over and over again.
To their credit, though, despite Dishonored 2’s flaws and strengths, Arkane Studios may have stumbled upon (or perhaps more accurately, refined) the formula for making a stealth based game relatively popular in a market where more and more games are concerned about explosions and multiplayer microtransactions than anything else. Nowadays, you might not be able to release a game that forces you to use stealth 100% of the time and expect it to be a hit with the general audience, but as long as you create a compelling single player experience that can offer dozens of hours of replayable gameplay, even if your average person has no patience for stealth mechanics, they will at least be more receptive to the fact that you can’t just go around guns blazing. Such a formula worked well for other single player titles in the past (such as Bioshock), and it may very well play a key part in the development of future games that cater to solo experiences.More About This Game