The Stumbling Shadow: The Problem With Stealth in Video Games

The use of stealth in combat has always been depicted as a rather flashy affair, especially when the practitioner of the art is Batman. The cape, the helmet, the inverted takedown….he's like a one man Broadway production of stealth combat. It's only natural therefore that we should like to produce this effect in the games we play, and many games have done this exceedingly well…Assassin's Creed, Metal Gear Solid, and last but not least the two Batman games that were released by Rocksteady Studios. The stealth game, however, can often be one of the most irritating types to play because, much like the practitioner of stealth themselves, they seem to dance on the line between success and failure.

Take the recently released Dishonored, for instance, which came in the mail from Gamefly earlier this month. I was excited to get ahold of this, not just because I saved 60 bucks, but  also by the fact that you could play the game anyway you wanted. If your way to play was to leave a trail of blood soaked bodies in your wake, that's fine. If you'd prefer to leave the carpets undamaged by blood stains and just knock your enemies out, that's fine too. All fine and dandy…or is it?

This is what happens when you dance over the failure line.

Well, yes, mostly it is, but there was something I still found troubling about the game. The trouble lies in the fact that, beyond the gloss of the game, it's still the same old thing. Smashing your way through what's in front of you is easy; not doing that is the trick, but it's the same trick I've been performing in so many stealth games over the years. Sneak up on the baddie, incapacitate him, then stuff him in some handy place of concealment. It used to be a thrill, but now it's gotten dull.

Instead of a stealth game that gives the possibility of an entire nonlethal gameplay experience, but then gives you a wink before handing you a heavy arsenal of weapons and abilities, why not create a game where both nonlethal and lethal abilities don't have to vie for space, but each have it's own space to flourish in? This has already been done successfully in Deus Ex: Human Revolution where the player can tailor their weapons loadout for application of lethal or nonlethal force. The ability tree of Human Revolution also allows you a choice of abilities that can be used to take down opponents without ending their lives.

I'm sure his insurance will pay for this...well, maybe.

I'd like to see this change because, honestly, I often find the current way to play  frustrating. Dishonored does carry through on it's promise that you can play through the game without killing a single soul, but only if you can keep up that cloak of stealth wrapped tightly around you. If you have trouble with that sort of delicacy in games like these (as I do), you'll have to either reload, run away, or resort to violence. In actual gameplay terms, it seems that Corvo's descent from a protector to a cold blooded killer is already set, as many of his abilities are aimed at producing as much bedlam as possible. The Dark Shadows, Blink, and Possession abilities are nods toward a less messy solution, but they are only a few tools in the arsenal of minimal force.

This is what happens when you cross a bridge on foot; it's worse in a car

Deus Ex set a solid foundation, but I would like it see taken farther. What if a game like Dishonored could be created where it would allow players to take a more aggressive stance, if needed, but without causing loss of life? The scenario I see is something like this…in Dishonored, I have just knocked a guard unconscious, but I have been surprised by another guard who just came up the stairs behind me. I have been discovered, and I can either retreat while he runs for help, or kill him where he stands. Instead of that, though, why isn't there an option to close in on him and knock him out, either with a punch, or the use of some non lethal part of a weapon, or a weapon itself that is itself nonlethal?

I would like to see stealth games move in this direction because, as it stands now, games allow for the option of stealth in a way that often leaves it overshadowed by the potential for dishing out violence. That, to me, would seem to better fit the persona of the person who uses stealth to complete their objectives. Anybody can run (or sneak) around, gun in one hand hand, knife in the other, and use those to perforate the bodies of their enemies to reach their objective. Imagine the feeling of satisfaction that would come from not only sneaking to your objective, but having a character skilled enough that they can subdue their opponents without having no other choice but to apply a killing stroke.

Batman, eat your heart out.

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About 

I am a 33 year old librarian, part time writer, all time gamer, and what my cousin refers to as an intellectual badasss. Normally I wouldn't brag, but I like that so much I feel compelled to.

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