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5 games that champion the stealth genre (and 5 that left stealth fans unsatisfied)

Although they're from the same developer, Dishonored 2 and Deathloop differ a lot when it comes to stealth mechanics (Image via Bethesda Softworks and Steam)
Although they're from the same developer, Dishonored 2 and Deathloop differ a lot when it comes to stealth mechanics (Image via Bethesda Softworks and Steam)

The stealth genre has always struggled to find a mainstream audience. Why would someone sneak their way through a level actively avoiding combat, which is arguably the best part of a video game?

Video games are all about fulfilling one’s power fantasies. Mowing down every single enemy with raw strength and artillery is a staple of video games. Sneaking around and avoiding the line of sight of enemies does not feel equally powerful. Yet, there are games that employ the art of stealth so well that skulking around in the shadows feels more powerful than going in guns blazing.

Here are five such games that champion the stealth genre, with unique mechanics facilitating stealth gameplay. This article will also list five games that left fans of the stealth genre deeply unsatisfied.


5 games that are among the very best in the stealth genre

1) Dishonored 2

Dishonored 2 is more like an immersive sim with a heavy emphasis on stealth. Developed by Arkane Studios, Dishonored 2 practically improved on almost every aspect of the original game, which was already a masterclass in the stealth genre.

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Dishonored 2 sees players taking control of returning protagonist Corvo Attano and new blood Emily Kaldwin to dethrone an otherworldly usurper. Both characters are equipped with their own set of magical abilities and tools. Dishonored 2 revels in giving players options for every scenario.

The missions in Dishonored 2 are large open sandboxes, with every mission feeling uniquely distinct from the others. In one such mission, players find themselves sneaking around guards in a mansion that changes its layout with the push of a lever. In another, players will travel between the past and the present to collect an artifact.

Players have the freedom to approach objectives in any manner they please. With a host of amazing magical abilities, robust stealth mechanics, and unparalleled level design, Dishonored 2 is the perfect stealth sandbox.


2) Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain

What more can be said about the excellence of Metal Gear and its influence on the stealth genre? The brainchild of Hideo Kojima, the Metal Gear games are pioneers of the stealth genre. In an era where every other game was either a military shooter or an action role-playing game, Metal Gear, with its stealth gameplay, was a breath of fresh air.

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Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is the ninth and canonical final installment of the series. Released in 2015, the game garnered universal praise for its polished stealth mechanics. The game is set in an open world where players are free to tackle missions and side-missions in whatever order they decide.

Player freedom is at the forefront of Metal Gear. The game allows players to approach a mission however they see fit, and although stealth is encouraged, it is never forced. Players can even go in guns blazing should they choose to do so.

Whether it's asking the D-Horse to poo on command to make vehicular patrols skid on said horse feces or sneaking around unsuspecting soldiers to recruit for Boss' own base via the Fulton recovery device, there's always something fun to experiment with in the game.

Players can also adopt a wolf pup with a missing right eye, give it an eyepatch (just like Snake), and take it on missions. Yes, that's also one of the selling points of the game.


3) Hitman 3

Hitman 3 is the final installment in the soft reboot of the franchise and the final chapter in the 'World of Assassination' trilogy. Hitman is the poster child of hiding in plain sight. The Hitman games employ the social stealth aspect of the stealth genre as its primary gameplay mechanic.

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Social stealth is defined as being inconspicuous while in a public environment. Agent 47 is genetically modified and trained in the art of staying hidden in a crowd without anyone ever sensing his presence.

Hitman 3 sees Agent 47 travel to multiple locations across the globe to hunt down members of a shadowy organization with links to his past. Each mission is a mini-open-world in itself. Players are at complete liberty to tackle the missions however they want. They can dress up as a detective to solve an elaborate murder mystery, with 47 playing the part of the killer once the investigation is over. Or maybe dress up as a tour guide and squish the target under a grape press without anyone batting an eye. The options are endless.

Hitman 3 also allows players to play all the missions of the previous two games within Hitman 3 itself, given they already own the previous two games on the same platform. Making Hitman 3 the definitive social stealth experience and an equally excellent game in the stealth genre.


4) Deus Ex: Mankind Divided

Developed by Eidos Montreal, Deus Ex: Mankind Divided is a unique game in the stealth genre. In fact, it's more of an action stealth game with mild RPG mechanics. It is the fourth main title in the Deus Ex series and a direct sequel to Deus Ex: Human Revolution.

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Deus Ex: Mankind Divided mixed sci-fi, cyberpunk, and stealth elements to create the most immersive Deus Ex experience to date. Open combat is massively overhauled as a viable option, but it's always more fun to stick to the shadows in these games. Sneaking up on the enemy and completing objectives without ever alerting a single NPC is the most rewarding experience.

Mankind Divided sees players take control of Adam Jensen, who is equipped with cybernetic augmentations. With an arsenal of stealth gadgets all built into Jensen's own cybernetic body, including retractable arm blades and sunglasses that allow him to see through walls, Jensen is the perfect stealth protagonist.

Players are free to approach the missions as they see fit. Going in guns blazing is always an option, but nothing beats the satisfaction of sneaking into a target's office, hacking their computer to wire money from their account, and buying a weapon to kill the said target.


5) Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell Blacklist

A masterclass of third-person stealth, Splinter Cell Blacklist features top-class operative, Sam Fisher. Early Splinter Cell games like Chaos Theory and Double Agent were some of the best third-person stealth games on the market.

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Splinter Cell Blacklist is the seventh main installment of the series. A massive overhaul of its stealth mechanics and extra fluidity to Sam's movement makes Blacklist one of the finest Splinter Cell experiences.

Blacklist took cues from Chaos Theory and stuck close to the stealth genre, with improved stealth mechanics and enemy AI. Sam is equipped with his iconic night-vision goggles and various different tools to help him infiltrate enemy hideouts. The missions are crafted meticulously and allow for different approaches.

Stealth in Splinter Cell Blacklist is refined to perfection, so much so that entire missions can be completed without alerting or killing anyone. All the world now needs is for Sam Fisher to return. It has been almost a decade since the last Splinter Cell game, and a new and improved Splinter Cell is long overdue.


5 games that left stealth genre fans disappointed

1) Thief (2014)

The Thief series was an instant classic in the stealth genre. These were among the early games adopting the stealth-focused aspects as primary gameplay tools. Thief 2: The Metal Age is to this day regarded as one of the best stealth adventure games out there.

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So it's extremely shocking that the 2014s soft reboot titled Thief was a massive disappointment among fans of the stealth genre. Thief has always been a grounded stealth game, with fantastical elements relegated to the story alone.

However, In Thief (2014), master thief Garrett is turned into a discounted clone of Corvo Attano from the Dishonored series. It was immediately clear that Thief took heavy inspiration from the 2012 Dishonored (which in turn was inspired by the early Thief games). With magical powers like a focus meter that highlights interactable elements in the world of Thief and a dash that is reminiscent of Corvo's Blink ability.

Thief's level design was also lackluster. Most of the levels were very linear as opposed to the open-ended sandbox the previous Thief games offered. Thief (2014) felt more like a generic, run-of-the-mill stealth action game.


2) Deathloop

Arkane Studios are experts in creating immersive worlds that suck players in with their games' unique approach to the immersive sim and stealth genres. The Dishonored Trilogy and Prey were some of their finest works. Deathloop, on the other hand, is more of a hit-or-miss.

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Deathloop is a first-person shooter with elements of stealth and immersive sims embedded into it. Deathloop is far from a bad game. It is a pretty enjoyable action game, but it is not a fun stealth sandbox.

Stealth in Deathloop is rudimentary, and the worst part is the laughably bad AI. There isn't any of the signature creativity at play that the studios' previous projects had. Instead, Deathloop works on a very basic idea of stealth. Coming from the fantastic experiences of the Dishonored games, Deathloop did disappoint a lot of fans who were hoping for similar, if not better, stealth mechanics for Deathloop.


3) Assassin's Creed Valhalla

Assassin's Creed has always been about living out the fantasy of being a sneaky assassin in a historical time period, parkouring through the streets and stabbing unsuspecting targets with a hidden blade.

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Though the game is centered around assassins, the franchise never had a particularly good stealth system. Stealth in these games is all about hiding amidst a crowd or in knee-high vegetation and assassinating enemies one at a time.

The series did innovate a bit in the stealth genre, with entries like Assassin's Creed 3 and Unity. But with the newer titles going into full RPG territory, Assassin's Creed, for the most part, has lost any semblance of the stealth archetype that it once identified with.

Assassin's Creed Valhalla, the most recent Assassin's Creed, has almost no characteristics of a game belonging to the stealth genre. Whatever stealth systems used are borderline primitive, and the social stealth aspect that was once the identity of the series is just a gimmick now.

It's really disheartening to see a series that once used to pride itself on being one of the few open-world experiences within the stealth genre turn into just another open-world role-playing game from Ubisoft.


4) Hitman Absolution

Hitman Absolution was an interesting title in the Hitman series and the stealth genre as a whole. It came out at a time when every other game wanted to be the next Call of Duty or Gears of War, with cinematic stories and bombastic action set pieces.

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For a game like Hitman, it's really hard to imagine (let alone create) such an experience without compromising the core tenets of the series. Hitman Absolution, although not a terrible game, cannot be called a good Hitman game either.

Hitman has always been about the creative use of its social stealth elements within large sandbox levels. Hitman Absolution's levels, for the most part, were quite smaller compared to the levels in previous entries. The disguise system was tweaked to make it somewhat useless because every NPC with the same outfit as 47 could see through his disguise.

The general layout of the levels was too linear to pass as a Hitman level, and only half of these levels had assassination targets. The rest of the levels were just fillers, with 47 needing to either infiltrate or exfiltrate a restricted area.

Understandably, fans of the series were annoyed and disappointed. Fortunately, IO Interactive learned from their mistakes and went back to the stealth genre roots of the series in future installments.


5) Aragami 2

Aragami was a surprise hit for fans of the stealth genre in 2016. Coming from a small development studio, Aragami was and still is one of the best stealth experiences out there.

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Naturally, expectations from players for the sequel were high. Unfortunately, developer Lince Works could not fully live up to those expectations with Aragami 2. Aragami's level design is among some of the best in the stealth landscape, with proper enemy placement and AI pathing.

Aragami 2 doesn't even come close to the immaculate level design of the original game. Enemy placement and pathing feel too easy to sneak past without any challenge for the player, with many open areas in the levels left unguarded. This is exasperated by repeated use of the same maps with a few changes.

Also, the signature shadow mechanic of the original game (that allowed players to teleport to any part of the level where a shadow is cast) is removed. Along with these unnecessary changes, the game also suffered from a number of technical issues at launch.

Aragami 2, as it stands, with frequent patches and updates from the developers, is in a pretty respectable state. Lince Works, in one of their recent updates to the game, even brought the features of the original game to Aragami 2. It's a shame Aragami 2 wasn't as good an innovator in the stealth genre as its predecessor.

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Edited by Siddharth Satish
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