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Action video games

Stealth game is a video game genre in which the player must avoid detection, using stealth to evade or ambush antagonists. Games in the genre employ mechanics such as hiding in shade, disguises, and noise which can alert enemies. Some games allow the player to choose between a stealthy approach or directly attacking antagonists, perhaps rewarding the player for greater levels of stealth. The genre has employed espionage and counter-terrorism themes, with such protagonists as special forces operatives, spies, and ninjas. Some games have employed stealth game elements with those of other genres, such as first-person shooters or platform games.

Some of the early games revolving around stealth include Castle Wolfenstein (1981), Metal Gear (1987), and Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake (1990). However, the genre was not popularized until 1998, with the mainstream success of Metal Gear Solid as well as Tenchu: Stealth Assassins and Thief: The Dark Project. Tenchu: Stealth Assassins was the first 3D game in the genre, while Metal Gear Solid, released some months later, transformed the relatively obscure Metal Gear series into a highly acclaimed, profitable franchise with three further sequels. Thief: The Dark Project pioneered 3D stealth games on PC. These influential games inspired other successful series, such as Hitman and Splinter Cell. Later games in the genre have allowed the player to choose between, or combine, stealth tactics and direct confrontation. The genre's best selling game to date is Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty with 7 million in sales.[1]



Splinter Cell: the protagonist crouches behind a car to avoid being seen by the patrolling antagonists

Unlike most action games, stealth games challenge the player to avoid alerting enemies altogether.[2] The core gameplay elements of the modern stealth game are to avoid combat, minimize noise, and strike enemies from the shadows.[3] There are usually multiple ways to achieve a goal with different pathways or styles of play.[2] Some games offer a choice between killing or merely knocking out an enemy.[2] Players can hide behind objects or in shadows,[2][4] and can strike or run past an enemy when they are facing the other way.[4] If the player attracts the attention of enemies, they usually must hide and wait until the enemies abandon their search.[5] Thus, planning becomes important,[2][4] as does trial-and-error.[2][6] However, some stealth games put more emphasis on physical combat skill when the player is spotted.[5]

Game design

Because the player can hide in the dark,[2][4] light and shadow are important parts of the level design.[7] Usually the player is able to shoot and disable certain light sources.[5] Stealth games also emphasize carefully designed audio, because players must be able to hear the subtle sound effects that may alert enemies to their actions.[6][8] Noise will often vary as the player walks on different surfaces such as wood or metal.[2][9] Players who move recklessly will make more noise and attract more attention.[6]

Artificial intelligence is carefully crafted for the stealth game experience, and enemies must have logical reactions to what the player does, such as when the player turns off the lights.[8] Enemies typically have a line of sight which the player can avoid by hiding behind objects or staying in the shadows, and enemies will react if the player accidentally touches them.[10] Overall, stealth games vary in what player actions the AI will perceive and react to,[5] with more recent games offering a wider range of enemy reactions.[2] Often, the AI's movements are predictable and regular, allowing the player to devise a strategy to overcome his adversaries.[7]

Although games like Thief: The Dark Project are designed entirely around stealth gameplay, other games occasionally pose challenges where victory can only be achieved by stealth. In these situations, players must avoid discovery or combat to complete a mission. In order for a game to include stealth gameplay, the knowledge of the artificial intelligence must be restricted to make it ignorant to parts of the game world.[11]


Early stealth games

Castle Wolfenstein, originally available on the Apple II in 1981, employed stealth elements as a focus of the gameplay. Players were charged with traversing the levels of Castle Wolfenstein, stealing secret plans and escaping. Players could acquire uniforms to disguise themselves and walk by guards undetected.[12] The game spawned a sequel, Beyond Castle Wolfenstein, in 1984.[13] It included some additions such as a dagger for close-range kills and a greater emphasis on disguising in enemy uniform.[14]

The ability to crawl under tight spaces and hide from enemies was introduced in Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake (1990).

Hideo Kojima's Metal Gear, released in 1987 for the MSX2[15] and the Nintendo Entertainment System in 1988,[16] utilized stealth elements within an action-adventure framework, and was the first mainstream stealth game to be released on consoles.[12] Since the MSX2 was not available in North America, only the NES version was released there.[16] Metal Gear placed a greater emphasis on stealth than earlier games, with the player character Solid Snake beginning without any weapons (requiring him to avoid confrontation until weapons are found), enemies able to see from a distance (using a line-of-sight mechanic) and hear gunshots from non-silenced weapons, security cameras and sensors at various locations, and a security alarm which sounds whenever Snake is spotted and causes all enemies on screen to chase him.[14] Snake could, however, disguise in enemy uniforms and cardboard boxes.[17]

A sequel, Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake, was released in 1990 for the MSX2. It was the first game to coin a name for the genre, "Tactical Espionage Game",[18] and it further evolved the stealth gameplay of its predecessor. The player had more abilities, such as crouching, crawling into hiding spots and air ducts, distracting guards by knocking on surfaces, and using a radar to plan ahead. The enemies had improved AI, including a 45-degree field of vision, turning their heads left and right to see diagonally, the detection of various different noises, being able to move from screen to screen (they were limited to a single screen in earlier games), and a three-phase security alarm (where reinforcements are called in to chase the intruder, then remain on the lookout for some time after losing sight of the intruder, and then leave the area). The game also had a complex storyline and improved graphics.[17][19][20] It was only released for the MSX2 in Japan, however, which limited its accessibility to US gamers.[16] Instead, an alternative Metal Gear sequel named Snake's Revenge was released for the NES in the US, also in 1990. Kojima was not involved in its development, which was instead conducted by another Konami team, resulting in a game that was more action based and not part of the Metal Gear canon.[16]

Alien vs Predator, released in 1994 for the Atari Jaguar, allowed the player to become invisible and stalk enemies. 1997's PlayStation game Oddworld: Abe's Oddysee rarely required the player to combat enemies, while certain levels in first-person shooter GoldenEye 007 (released the same year) could be completed via hand-to-hand combat and the destruction of surveillance cameras.[12]

Establishing a genre: 1998–today

Metal Gear Solid (1998) was responsible for popularizing the stealth game genre.

Although stealth gameplay had appeared in a several games in the 1980s and 1990s, 1998 is seen as a turning point in gaming history because of the release of Metal Gear Solid, Tenchu: Stealth Assassins, and Thief: The Dark Project.[4][21] The ninja-themed game Tenchu: Stealth Assassins was released several months before Metal Gear Solid, making it the first 3D stealth based-game.[12] The highly anticipated Metal Gear Solid transformed its modestly successful franchise into a large mainstream success. The increased power of the PlayStation console over previous platforms allowed for greater immersion in terms of both story and game environment.[16] Metal Gear Solid has been credited with popularizing the stealth genre.[2][22] Thief: The Dark Project, which featured devices such as burglary and lock-picking, is also credited as a pioneer in the stealth game genre.[3][8][21] The core elements of these games, such as avoiding confrontation, minimizing noise, and attacking antagonists from "the shadows", influenced many future stealth game series.[3]

With further releases, many games in the genre have drifted towards action by allowing the option of direct confrontations.[23] The Hitman series, the first installment of which was released in 2000, allowed this play style,[23] but rewarded the player for stealthy and elaborate assassination of antagonists. Hitman: Codename 47 was also the first 3D game to employ the genre's device of disguises.[12] No One Lives Forever, an espionage themed parody also released in 2000, again allowed the player to combine or choose between stealth and overt violence.[12]

The acclaimed Metal Gear series continued with Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty (PlayStation 2; 2001)[24] which further evolved the stealth gameplay. It featured an array of new abilities, including "leaping over and hanging off of railings, opening and hiding in storage lockers," and sneaking up behind enemies to "hold them at gunpoint for items and ammunition."[25] The game also introduced a collective enemy AI,[12] where, unlike previous games in the genre, the enemy guards in Metal Gear Solid 2 work together in squads, can communicate with one another,[26] and react in a more realistic manner towards the player. The game's enemy AI is still considered one of the finest examples in the genre.[27] Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty became the genre's best selling game with 7 million in sales, followed by Metal Gear Solid with 6 million in sales.[1][28] They were followed by two more sequels, Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater (PlayStation 2; 2004),[29] which introduced camouflage to the genre,[12] and Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots (PlayStation 3; 2008).[30]

2002 saw the first installment of the Tom Clancy licensed Splinter Cell series, an attempt at a more realistic game in the vein of Metal Gear.[12] Sly Cooper, a cel-shaded game released in 2002, was a "stealth platformer",[12] while 2003's Siren combined the survival horror genre with the stealth genre.[4] The controversial Manhunt (also 2003) employed a snuff movie theme and allowed the player to kill antagonists with varying levels of violence, dependant on how much time was spent sneaking behind them.[31] In 2007, Assassin's Creed introduced a social element to the stealth game, where the player is able to hide among a crowd of civilians if they take care to blend in.[32]


  1. ^ a b "Konami of America and Sony Computer Entertainment America Announce That Metal Gear Solid 3 Will Be Available Exclusively for PlayStation 2". Contact Music. Retrieved 2006-11-26.  
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Scott Beattie (2007). IE2007: Proceedings of the Fourth Australasian Conference on Interactive Entertainment. RMIT University.  
  3. ^ a b c Sid Shuman. "Net Ten: The 10 Most Important Modern Shooters (page 1)". Retrieved 2009-03-16.  
  4. ^ a b c d e f Charles Herold (2004-06-24). "GAME THEORY; First Use Your Brain, Then Unleash Your Brawn". New York Times. Retrieved 2009-03-16.  
  5. ^ a b c d Dale Nardozzi (2004-06-01). "Thief: Deadly Shadows Review (Xbox)". Team Xbox. Retrieved 2009-03-16.  
  6. ^ a b c Greg Kasavin (2003-04-04). "Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell (PlayStation 2)". CNET.;page. Retrieved 2009-03-16.  
  7. ^ a b Edward Byrne (2005). Game level design. Charles River Media.  
  8. ^ a b c César A. Berardini (2004-04-16). "Thief Deadly Shadows: Paul Weaver Interview". Team Xbox. Retrieved 2009-03-16.  
  9. ^ Geoff King, Tanya Krzywinska (2006). Tomb Raiders and Space Invaders. Palgrave Macmillan.  
  10. ^ Ian Millington (2006). Artificial Intelligence for Games. Morgan Kaufmann.  
  11. ^ Andrew Rollings & Ernest Adams (2006), Fundamentals of Game Design, Prentice Hall
  12. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Shane Patterson (2009-02-03), The Sneaky History of Stealth Games, GamesRadar, Retrieved 2009-06-21
  13. ^ Kat Bailey, Top 5 Overlooked Prequels, 1UP, Retrieved on 2009-06-24
  14. ^ a b Jason Cisarano (April 11, 2007). "The Unseen History of the Stealth Game". Gaming Target. Retrieved 2009-08-27.  
  15. ^ "List of Metal Gear games from Kojima Production".  
  16. ^ a b c d e Shoemaker, Brad (1998-09-29). The History of Metal Gear, GameSpot, Retrieved 2009-06-23
  17. ^ a b Paul Soth. "GOTW: Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake". GameSpy. Retrieved 2009-08-27.  
  18. ^ Konami. Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake. MSX2. Level/area: Front packaging. (see image)
  19. ^ Mark Ryan Sallee. "Kojima's Legacy: We reflect on the influence of Hideo Kojima's 20 years in gaming". IGN. Retrieved 2009-08-20.  
  20. ^ Retro Gamer, 2005, p. 32   [1]
  21. ^ a b Thomas L. McDonald (2004-08). PCs and Consoles: Unlikely Bedfellows?. Maximum PC.  
  22. ^ Hop (2008-06-10). "Top 10 Stealth Games". GameZone. Retrieved 2009-03-16.  
  23. ^ a b Tom McNamara (2004-05-25). "Thief: Deadly Shadows Review". IGN. Retrieved 2009-03-16.  
  24. ^ Greg Kasavin (2001-11-13), Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty Review, GameSpot, Retrieved on 2009-06-29
  25. ^ "Metal Gear Solid 2 PS2 Game Guide". Absolute PlayStation. Retrieved 2009-08-20.  
  26. ^ "Metal Gear Solid 2 R review". NTSC-UK. Retrieved 2009-08-20.  
  27. ^ Mark Ryan Sallee. "Kojima's Legacy". Retrieved 2009-08-20.  
  28. ^ "Item 4. Information on the Company". Konami Corp - KNM Annual and Transition Report (foreign private issuer) (20-F). Konami. 2004-07-22. Retrieved 2008-01-14.  
  29. ^ Greg Kasavin (2004-11-17), Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater Review, GameSpot, Retrieved on 2009-06-29
  30. ^ Kevin VanOrd (2008-06-13), Metal Gear Solid 4 Review, GameSpot, Retrieved on 2009-06-29
  31. ^ Greg Kasavin (2004-04-20), Manhunt Review, GameSpot, Retrieved on 2009-4-20
  32. ^ Review of Assassin's Creed. GameAxis Unwired. 2007-09.  

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