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GameTyrant Roundtable: Best of Stealth

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The stealth genre has grown quite a bit since the days of sneaking past guards in Castle Wolfenstein on the Apple II, and while it’s had some ups and downs since then, the genre is still relatively healthy all these years later. Included in its growing ranks are classics like Metal Gear, Splinter Cell, Hitman, Thief, and Assassin’s Creed, as well as new takes on the genre such as recent releases Dishonored and Mark of the Ninja. We here at GameTyrant thought it would be worth a small roundtable discussion about the best, and admittedly our favorites, in the stealth genre. I’m up first, so let the opinion begin!

Matt’s Best: Batman: Arkham Origins

Matt Mueller: This almost went to either Splinter Cell: Conviction and Batman: Arkham City, but the improvements that were made in Arkham Origins just put it a nudge above both of those titles. No one does stealth quite like Batman, and the developers have refined the gameplay over three outings to give the player as many options as possible. Whether swiping thugs from the ground perched on Gothams various gargoyles, or knocking a poor henchmen’s face into the ground from a sewer grate, or if you’re up for a good time distracting a machine gun-toting lowlife by popping a batarang at a fire extinguisher. Regardless of style, your options are plentiful. All this is aside from the amazing array of smoke bombs, stun gloves, grapple guns, etc, at you disposal, though sadly, no shark repellent. The game gives you the freedom to experiment and adapt on the fly, and when things go awry and combat is your only option, you could argue that Arkham shines even brighter, with perhaps the most fluid and all out fun combat system in any action game period.

Plus, you know, you’re Batman. That’s almost enough by itself.

Lucas Lowman: Surprised by this choice as I actually don’t see Batman as a stealth title at all. The game is very action oriented with brawls taking center stage to show off the amazing free flow combat system that revolutionized fighting in action titles. I do realize that there are stealth aspects, though.

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Christian Mills: As well regarded as the Batman: Arkham games are, I could never get into them. The combat was always too mushy for me, and relied too much on button mashing instead of tactics for my tastes. I can see why they are loved, but I just was not buying what they were selling.

MM: Blasphemers! Just kidding. Well, not really. The game gives you the freedom to tackle most situations using either stealth or combat, though I know many people who just love beating the living daylights out of every thug in sight. I enjoyed finding fun ways to combine all of Bruce’s (Yeah, I call him Bruce, we’re tight like that) various gadgets to disarm and incapacitate the various guards and thugs in unique ways, all while remaining (for the most part anyway) out of sight. The game was much more challenging and fun that way. Can't say I agree with the combat being mushy, but hey, different strokes for different folks.

Also, see above comment – YOU ARE BATMAN! Not sure why that isn’t going over more.

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Christian’s Best: Dishonored

CM: I have played quite a few stealth games over the years, from Splinter Cell  to Thief, and every time they turn me into a neurotic perfectionist. Is there an achievement or bonus point for never being detected? Then I must do it on every level, even if it means hundreds of quick saves and numerous hours replaying levels. Dishonored is one of the few games that allowed me to fulfill my ninja stealth fantasy and was still incredibly fun while doing it. Unlike more traditional stealth games, the addition of magical powers opened the game up significantly. Now instead of always having to find a way to sneak into the building, I could sneak in, turn into a rat and run in, hijack a guard's body, and more. This, combined with the huge explorable levels for each of the missions, made Dishonored my favorite stealth game of all time and up there on my favorite games list.

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MM: I enjoyed the power set and freedom available in Dishonored, but even though I was having fun, I still couldn’t shake the perception that I didn’t have the utmost control over my character. In stealth games were every movement counts and even the smallest slip will cost you, I have to be able to see my entire character on screen to be any good. That’s more a me problem though, not necessarily Dishonored’s. Still, it hindered my enjoyment of the admittedly creative power set.

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Lucas’s Best: Mark of the Ninja

LL: The question seemed simple, what is your favorite stealth game?

Only when I started to think about it did I realize the gravity of what I had just been asked. I was trying to dwindle down my options. I originally had 5: Splinter Cell: Conviction, Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Dishonored, Hitman: Absolution, or Mark of the Ninja.

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Splinter Cell: Conviction was probably the most action heavy title in the series… it did retain the stealth aspect though, especially throughout the Co-op Campaign, but I couldn’t deny the fact that a guns blazing approach was favored in the single player story.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution and Dishonored are both considered stealth in my opinion because you can basically go throughout the entire game without killing anybody. But Deus Ex had more FPS and RPG elements then it did stealth, and Dishonored had one of the worst cover mechanics I have ever seen in a video game, which greatly impacted the stealth aspect.

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I was then left with two, Hitman or Ninja. Absolution is great. In fact it’s probably my favorite in the entire Hitman series. The story was great, and it had dropped some of the absurdness that was prevalent throughout Blood Money. The only downside is that the game and its levels are very linear in their approach compared to the others in the series.

So through this process of elimination I was left with one, Mark of the Ninja. This is a true stealth game. It is almost impossible to take out enemies head on. But who would? Killing enemies in complete silence in the darkness is way more satisfying. Throughout my multiple playthroughs I would punish myself restarting checkpoints and levels if I was spotted, much like when I played Absolution. I didn’t want that affecting my overall score, and it was also a fun little way to do a trial and error approach, seeing what routes work, etc. The game also has a very Metroidvania feel that gave the game a lot of depth. The art style and animation is also top notch.

I recommend all the above titles but only Mark of the Ninja to true stealth enthusiasts.

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MM: I’m more astonished by what was not in your list of titles, and noticed no one else brought it up either. Do you guys not consider Metal Gear Solid among the top stealth games anymore? I recently played Metal Gear Solid 4, and while it still looks amazing, time has not been so kind to its antiquated control scheme. Ground Zeroes and Phantom Pain look as if they are making some much needed improvements in this area. It’s just interesting since it is considered by so many to be a king in this genre.

LL: Metal Gear is fantastic. I’m currently replaying the HD Collection, but the story really pisses me off. It’s just so convoluted, which I think takes away from the overall experience.

MM: Yeah, as much as I have a soft spot for it, I couldn’t really tell you what actually happened in any coherent fashion. I have a great love for that series though, so high hopes abound for the upcoming sequel. As for Conviction, it really was almost my top pick. The gunplay finally caught up to the rest of the game, which has always excelled in it’s handling of stealth mechanics.

CM: As a fan of the Splinter Cell series, I was glad someone decided to give it a shout out, but I agree (with Lucas) that the game felt like it wanted the player to not be stealthy.

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MM: Hitman is on my rather long “need to play at some point” backlog list, and I do love just how many ways there are in that game to accomplish your objective. I enjoyed the demo for Mark of the Ninja, but sadly haven’t been able to experience much more than that.

LL: Mark of the Ninja is a classic ninja tale – redemption and all that jazz. It feels a bit pulpy as well, which I love.

CM: Hitman: Absolution is the only game on the list that has as extensive of disguise and multiple path mechanics, so it definitely deserves a shout out. Mark of the Ninja is an interesting pick because it is one of the only games that isn't really considered a AAA title. Sidescrolling, artistic platformers rarely get brought up in "Best of" discussions, so I support it for almost entirely Indie reasons. If you are willing to put in the effort for multiple playthroughs, Mark of the Ninja is the game for you.

Alright, so those were our thoughts, but this kind of thing is obviously open for debate, so let us know who you think the stealth crown for greatest of all time belongs to.

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