It’s the thrill of the hunt: just you and your prey as you skulk in the shadows planning your next move, and you memorize theirs. One wrong move and it’s all over and when you successfully carry out your plan, there are few feelings like it in gaming. The stealth genre is totally underappreciated, and while it may see some big titles, they rarely do as well as games that allow you to simply go in guns blazing.
Stealth games require patience and depending on the game, a certain level of wit. I wanted to highlight my top ten favorite stealth games that do well by the genre and push it forward. Now let’s peer into the shadows and see what could be hiding there.
Splinter Cell: Conviction
Splinter Cell: Conviction romanticizes the darkness with a unique mechanic that turns the screen black and white when Sam Fisher is hidden in shadows. It helps to really set the tone when you are hiding in an air vent waiting to surprise your next target, and everything takes on the serious black and white look of a noir film. Sam Fisher actually feels like a secret agent in this game and not just some super soldier running through government buildings (though he can still feel like that at times).
Shooting out lights and keeping the enemy AI guessing as to where you truly are is so much fun. This is one of those games where only using the silenced pistol is all you really need to have a memorable playthrough, and that is exactly what you want in a true stealth game.
The Hitman series is a little bit different when it comes to stealth. Instead of hiding in cardboard boxes or in the shadows, Agent 47 will often hide in plain sight. He might be dressed as a guard, a famous chef, or even a clown, but you can bet that he will get his target. This ability to change one’s outward appearance in the Hitman games, especially Hitman 3, is what makes it such an engaging, creative, and replayable stealth game.
The amount of freedom that you are given to figure out your own path in these scenarios can be mind-boggling. You will be watching people move and learning their patterns, thinking you will go for the straight assassination when you notice that the target takes his meals at a very specific location with a small group of friends. So you decide to poison the food, and by the time the meal gets there, you are already on your way home.
Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time
Ah, one of the original console mascots also so happens to be one of the best primers for the stealth genre. While many might think of this as just another furry platformer, Sly Cooper has always had an emphasis on sneaking around levels and is one of the few stealth games that kids can play.
It’s always best to stick to the shadows rather than go for head-on combat in this game. And there is nothing more satisfying than emptying an enemy’s pockets of all their coin while they obliviously carry on with their day.
Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice
Sekiro is a part of the Soulsborne series, but it has something the other games don’t emphasize nearly as much: stealth. Sekiro can be just as difficult as any souls game, but learning how to navigate the levels without being seen or taking out unaware targets not only can feel super rewarding with special animations but it can make the entire game much easier.
Sprinting across rooftops to bring your sword down on a waiting enemy or diving off a tower as if you were Ezio himself, Sekiro’s stealth mechanics offer up a big change to the pacing of these games while retaining the all too familiar difficulty.
Batman: Arkham City
While Arkham Asylum is my favorite Batman game, I have to give it to Arkham City for the sheer amount of opportunities it gives you to be Batman. In Arkham Asylum, you are given one room at a time that you can navigate, which makes it much more condensed and straightforward to figure out from a stealth perspective; however, in Arkham City, the entire city needs to be figured out.
While it might be easy to simply charge in, when you are able to pull off an entire stealth maneuver with the thugs all screaming into the darkness in fear, it feels like you are Batman. Skulking about in the rafters of a building as henchmen scream they are going to get you while their heart rate begins to spike is just cathartic.
The Last of Us: Part 2
The Last of Us does its best to make you feel like you are trying to survive in a bleak and hostile environment. From zombies to people, it’s in your best interest to sneak around confrontations, whether it’s to avoid it altogether or to get a better drop on your target.
There is also a sense of visceral brutality as Ellie or Abby run up behind people and, with only a little struggling, shoves a shiv into the neck of their victim. It captures the realistic reasons for wanting to stay hidden but the gritty consequences of your actions when you need to break away from the shadows to guarantee another day alive.
Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain
Metal Gear Solid is one of the most influential stealth franchises right alongside Thief. Metal Gear Solid 5 gives the player all of the stealth choices of the original games but with a massively expanded sandbox that gives the player more freedom than ever before.
Scenarios in Metal Gear Solid 5 can turn into complete warzones at the drop of a hat so it can be imperative to approach each situation with care and carefully consider how to complete an objective before the missiles start flying. You feel like a true hero when you are able to take down an entire base without an alarm every sounding. A phantom passing in and out without a word.
Thief 2: The Metal Age
I think what continues to stick out to me about this entry in the Thief series is just how effective the ambiance is in delivering an experience where you really do feel like you are part of the shadows. And with every torch that you shoot out with a low hiss, and with each step you take seems to ring down the halls. It really makes you hold back and check your corners as you aren’t sure if the guard heard you trip over a body or not.
The secrets that you can find in the map that enhance your ability to sneak around the map can make this an incredibly entertaining title to return to. It can be a little tricky to learn the nuances of the map, but once you get it, there’s no stopping you. A thief should work in the dark but that doesn’t mean it comes easy to them.
I have finally managed to play Dishonored 2 recently and I was blown away at how much better it felt to sneak around than in the original game due to the improved level designs. Dishonored not only gives you a variety of ways to approach a situation, but by throwing in “superpowers” it expands the possibilities and allows an almost limitless amount of player creativity. These levels use verticality in a way that few other games do.
Arkham City might use heights but Dishonored uses different heights for a more intimate level design. Each balcony or rooftop holds a new potential vantage point or workaround for a problem that you are trying to figure out. Dishonored holds the crown for everything an assassin game should be.
The entire premise of this game is just perfect for the Alien franchise. The thing about the Alien movies that made them so terrifying was that you never knew where the Xenomorph was lurking. It could be literally anywhere, so if you were placed in that environment, you know the first that you are gonna do is move around the ship slowly while checking every corner, vent, and room.
Unlike many of the other games on this list, stealth in Alien: Isolation is first and foremost a form of defense and that’s not a bad thing. Peering around corners, through vents, and over counters will leave you feeling like your eyes are dashing all over the screen, looking for some sort of movement. It enhances the tension and makes this just as much a horror game as it is a stealth game.