The stealth genre gives players the chance to either rise up as an apex predator, or fall prey to the enemies and elements around them.
This type of intellectual stimulation is distinctive to stealth games. Among the most celebrated stealth titles are the likes of Hitman, Deus Ex, Dishonored, Metal Gear Solid, Assassin’s Creed, and the Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell games. Plenty of stealth titles offer a choice between pure stealth and action gameplay, allowing players to approach situations however they feel is best. Stealth approaches reward players for patience and planning. Sneaking around to find alternate routes, outsmarting powerful enemies, and escaping tense, near-impossible situations without ever getting spotted—these are each rewarding in their own ways, validating anyone who enjoys thinking outside the box. You don’t always have to go in guns blazing to solve a problem.
Hitman Trilogy: Agent 47’s Infinite Mission Approaches and Disguises
The recent release of Hitman 3 concludes IO Interactive’s outstanding trilogy, featuring the professional and lethal Agent 47. As an emotionless assassin, Agent 47 dons his fine suits and gets to work sniping, choking, drowning, electrocuting, and exploding his targets to death. The Hitman games have a certain flair for drama and spectacle, but not just with the many ways Agent 47 can kill his enemies. Players travel the globe to flashy locations—New York City, Paris, Dubai, Sapienza—upending the ruthless, corrupt machinations of the global elite. Infiltrating the glitz and glam of their galas and fashion shows, you’re tasked with finding the best approach to kill your targets, then escaping the area in one piece.
Each map is your own personal sandbox, filled with hidden hints and mission stories for you to find. There are multiple ways to locate and assassinate your targets in Hitman. You might overhear two people speaking about a target’s upcoming location, and a mission story will begin, guiding you to take advantage of the chance. Sometimes your target will roam around freely right in front of you, handling their own business—and often surrounded by several guards and witnesses. It’s up to you to create the best opportunity to strike. One of the simplest ways to do this is to don a disguise. Agent 47’s identity as a bald, blue-eyed, blank-faced individual allows him to infiltrate spaces anonymously in disguise.
Disguises allow Agent 47 to travel to otherwise-restricted locations, opening up the map to further exploration. Players must first incapacitate a person wearing the clothes they want, and then put on the disguise. Disguising yourself as a guard lets you pretend you’re on your target’s security detail—then you can simply follow them and wait for an assassination opportunity. Dressing up as a chef allows you to infiltrate the kitchen, possibly to poison your target’s food to make them throw up—and then you can follow them to the bathroom, shoving their head into the toilet to drown them. There are an endless amount of disguises in the Hitman games: detective, fashion model, artist, winery worker, lab technician, ninja, surgeon, and many more. How you disguise Agent 47 can lead to unique, dramatic, and hilarious assassinations, ensuring that no two playthroughs of the same map will ever be the same.
Deus Ex: Dual Approaches to Stealth and Action
Following the original Deus Ex games in the early 2000s, developer Eidos-Montréal took on the franchise with Square Enix as their publisher. They released Deus Ex: Human Revolution in 2011 and Deus Ex: Mankind Divided in 2016, both praised for their thought-provoking stories about the dangers of human augmentation, and their fluid gameplay approaches to stealth and action. The main protagonist, Adam Jensen, takes down members of the shadowy Illuminati organization. Adam infiltrates government and corporate buildings to take down these sinister figures, saving the world from the Illuminati’s dangerous and devious schemes. Players can seamlessly switch between sneaking around levels unseen, to breaking out huge guns to take down enemies, then disappearing as a ghost to complete the mission.
Adam has a number of augmentations players can customize, enhancing his stealth or combat skills. These skill trees allow players to tailor their strengths to their gameplay preferences. Players can also unlock new skills, such as temporary invisibility, the Icarus Landing System for surviving long falls, and the powerful Typhoon weapon for quickly eliminating surrounding enemies. Armed with these skills and systems, Adam has the choice of either charging into a building’s front door, or taking the long, silent approach. The stealth option isn’t always readily available, often times requiring some searching and clever tactics to locate. Players can then crawl through a building’s vents and hack through locked doors, bypassing enemies altogether. Aside from mandatory boss battles, it is possible to beat the Deus Ex games without killing any enemies or setting off any alarms. The “Foxiest of the Hounds” achievement in Human Revolution and Mankind Divided rewards these crafty players for their patience and skill.
Assassin’s Creed: Historical Social Stealth and Hiding in Plain Sight
The first Assassin’s Creed released in 2007 saw Ubisoft taking a creative step forward with the stealth genre. Historical period pieces mixed with science fiction and modern day elements combined into a wonderful formula—for a time. The earlier Assassin’s Creed games featured a strong focus on impressive set pieces, social stealth, and unseen assassinations. Modern day man Desmond Miles enters the Animus to live as his ancestors, most notably the charming Ezio Auditore from Renaissance Italy.
Following the astounding success of Assassin’s Creed II with Desmond and Ezio, Ubisoft released a sequel, Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood. Set during the reign of the notorious Borgia family, Ezio gathers members of the Brotherhood of the Assassin to take down the corrupt rulers. Improving on the trends from the first two Assassin’s Creed games, Brotherhood continues with Ezio’s ability to seamlessly blend in with crowds while incognito, hiding in plain sight, with his hidden blade ready to strike. This social stealth aspect lends intensity to assassination missions, as Ezio is the definition of a blade hidden in a crowd. Players tail their target and infiltrate grand historical structures like the Roman Colosseum, the Pantheon, and the Vatican. Sneaking past every single guard unseen, silently assassinating the target, and then getting away scot free—a staple reward from stealth games, equally as satisfying in the Assassin’s Creed universe.
One of the most successful ventures from the franchise is the multiplayer. Taking on the base concepts from the single-player games, Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood was the first to try out this experiment. Players group up in teams or play solo, depending on the game mode, place onto a map from the single-player experience, and then start playing.
The Wanted mode pits eight players against each other, though not all at the same time. Each player has a contract, or a specific character on the map they must kill by any means necessary. Killing this player silently without being seen is ideal, as up to three targets are also hunting you, so you don’t want to draw attention to yourself. Meanwhile, the Manhunt mode groups players into two groups of four. In one round, one group is the hunted and the other is the prey. The hunters must kill their targets, and the prey must defend themselves in any way they can—setting traps, spotting their hunters and stunning them, or just plain running away. These games of cat and mouse are always unpredictable and always fun, challenging players to outwitting their enemies by thinking two or more steps ahead.
Although the Hitman trilogy is finished, the next Deus Ex game in the works is a mere rumor, and the early days of Assassin’s Creed are no more, the stealth genre isn’t going anywhere. Trends come and go, but certain demographics of players will forever crave these cerebral experiences unique to stealth games. The dual approach to stealth and action is still on display today, with games like FromSoftware’s Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice pulling in vast audiences in 2019. In the same year, players found an unexpected stealth and puzzle adventure terrorizing unsuspecting villagers as a goose in the joyful Untitled Goose Game. With upcoming releases of pure stealth in Aragami 2 and the blend of both worlds with Horizon: Forbidden West, everyone has much more to look forward to in the future.