“Stealthing” – An Ignored Common Gameplay Mechanic

Within the realm of myriads of gameplay components some are more important than others. Varying in importance depending on what genre you visit. Jumping-mechanics alone could fill dozens of paragraphs. How far to jump, how high, how fast to fall back to ground, double jump or not, long jump or not, wall jump or not, and so on. Fighting mechanics are another very important part of gaming, of course. There´s so much variety in how you can build up a game from the ground. There is, however, one mechanic that has yet to make its entrance into the realm of “general gameplay options”. Jumping mechanics are something general, first person has become general, as have many others. Stealth mechanics have not.

To this day, stealth mechanics are being kept exclusive to, well, stealth games. Be it Splinter Cell or Metal Gear Solid, you will not find many other games out there that feature proper stealth mechanics. One of the few, better examples these days is Assassins Creed. Another great example is Mini Ninjas.

Stealth mechanics shouldn´t be exclusive to games that focus on them. The reason why “stealthing” is fun in many games is because it gives a sense of freedom, of non-linearity. Be it fully developed stealth games like Metal Gear Solid or just games with certain stealth mechanics, it´s always so much fun to find out how to approach a problem. Kill the enemy head on, sneak by or sneak near him to suddenly finish him off. In a way, stealth mechanics really are what could make the difference between a typical action-adventure and a real adventure-experience. It´s a common problem in most videogames that once you´re within a certain radius of the enemy, he magically makes you out. Just like that, without actually having seen you. That takes away a lot of the fun, as you are granted only one approach by the developer. I can remember James Bond: Agent Under Fire where that was a big problem, but also the Zelda-series.

There are three games that used stealth mechanics the best, as far as I have experienced them. One is Assassins Creed. There is so much satisfaction in sneak-killing someone, slowly walking away, folding your hands as if praying, and acting as if nothing happened…while several meters behind you people finally realize what´s going on and are shouting nervously. Where AC fails is in hiding once you´ve been found out by guards. You can only hide in one of those roof-boxes or in a bunch of straw. No hiding within the masses of people, no running away, running around a corner…they will keep hunting you as if you have been marked by something. The second game is Mini Ninjas. I didn´t expect anything genius from this game, but it has superb stealth mechanics. You have to know that the game features very nice grass, high grass where you can crouch and hide yourself. This is super fun. You can sneak just one or two meters next to an enemy, and he won´t see you. You can pass by an enemy behind his back and hide within grass on the other side. And most importantly: Once you have been spotted, you can crouch within high grass and try to get away by sneaking…the enemies will start searching where you crouched. Truly awesome. As is the third game I´m going to mention: Crysis. A game that is criticized so often by people that didn´t even play it. “It´s just a graphics demo”. No, it is not. Definitely not. The open world structure of Crysis wouldn´t work as well if it wasn´t for the non-linear gameplay. The invisibility ability plays a huge role in that. You can activate that one at any given moment. I had some of the funniest scenes with that ability. Once, there were six enemy soldiers. I was hiding behind a small hut. So they keep storming in, I become invisible. Some are coming from the left, some from the right. One or two enter the hut. Meanwhile, I take out two of them. I become visible while shooting. Two other soldiers come running, shoot at me, but I run around the corner of the hut, invisibility on. I slowly sneak away a few meters, the soldiers are confused. I take out another two of them. The scene repeats. Just like that I have an intense fight only within the area of that small hut. Thanks to stealth mechanics that are by no measure standard within first person shooters.

In a way, it is no wonder why stealth mechanics are either shitty or don´t exist at all in modern videogames: They demand more thoughtful design, more effort. But it is effort that´d be worth it. After all, it is the game that I can play in many different ways that I keep putting in my disc drive.

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