I like stealth games, even though I’m horrible at them. It’s frustrating, but I still have fun — despite how many mistakes I make on the way. And I accept the responsibility. I can hardly cry and moan about my own incompetence. It would be like slapping myself in the face. What I will not tolerate however, is when video game designers are the ones screwing up. While a player who gets angered by his own actions is a sore loser, players retain all right to be upset at the sins of the developer.
Stealth is hard. It requires subtlety and competence, both of which I lack. Ironically, video game Artificial Intelligence is even more deficient. NPC partners generally need to be checked on every five minutes in order to make sure they don’t drown in their own saliva. And you know what that means: escort missions. Regardless of genre, babysitting the AI sucks. It’s an unforgivably stupid mistake for a designer, but one that continues to be made over and over, year after year. Amplify that error in judgement by adding it into a stealth game, and congratulations, you just won Worst Idea Ever at the Really Bad Idea Awards. You can collect your golden pink slip on the way out. Anyone who has played through the entirety of Metal Gear Solid 3 will most likely remember the scream inducing escort mission near the climax of the game.
I can see how the scenario was set up to add an extra layer of tension to the rising finale, but the frustration and obtuseness caused by your derpy-doo AI partner just makes you wish it was over. I may be waiting with bated breath for that guard to not see us, but when my partner flags him down as if to complain about the room service, it gets a little annoying. By which I mean I want to kill them myself just to continue on with the game. If taking someone from A to B was as difficult in real life, all children and old people would have been stabbed to death and had their entrails danced upon.
What confounds me about MGS3′s situation is that escorts and companions have been handled well in other MGS games. In the original, both Otacon and Meryl sometimes trail you while either disguised or hidden, giving a story explanation as to why it looks like you’re alone. The same thing happens with MGS4, as a small recon Metal Gear supposedly follows you the entire game. For all intents and purposes, it’s not there because, “it’s invisible”. Combine those novel ideas with the codec and, even though you may spend 90% of the game by yourself, you’re still surrounded by a bunch of colorful characters. Sadly, much of the clever design put into stealth specific games is lost when action or platforming games attempt to shoehorn it in. It’s unfortunate from a design perspective at least. From a player perspective, it’s enraging.
The forced stealth section often stumbled upon in decidedly non-stealthy games is generally greeted with all the excitement and joy of seeing that you just stepped in canine waste product. It’s a good old standby for when teams run out of ideas and feel the need for shallow attempts at variation. Here’s a quick test: if a guard instantly spots and then captures or attacks you after even the slightest slip up, you’re probably in a forced stealth section. Even The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, a game which I constantly praise and salivate over, does this. Taking the general principle of stealth and then applying it without any further consideration or tact isn’t game design, it’s cheating off of the paper of the guy in front of you. If you don’t understand what you’re copying, you’re still going to get an F at the end. Unluckily for you, the only F you will get from gamers is a big, old-fashioned “eff you”.
One of the many aspects of good stealth is a varying level of guard awareness. Thief, Hitman, Metal Gear Solid; they all offer the player a chance to quickly hide or change their course of action in order to escape detection. Failing that, it’s not the end of the world. Instead of an instant restart or jail escape, great stealth games make you deal with the consequences by having you desperately try to lose your pursuers. Arguably, trying to shake off a pack of mooks on your trail is just as much a part of the stealth experience as slipping by undetected.
On the other hand, don’t you dare require combat of players. I’m fine with combat being the only option in an shooter or an action game, but stealth and roleplaying games are off limits. In sprawling open world RPG like Skyrim, this isn’t much of a problem. If a quest is suited toward a more physical character, players can ignore it. A well designed quest could offer many means of completion, but completion is still optional. The real concern lay with more confined RPGs.
The original Deus Ex became famous for its respect and diversity of player choice despite its linear story progression. Whether it be hacker or assassin, there was choices for every play style. Fun times were had by all, and players were happy. Then there was Deus Ex: Human Revolution, which leaves players trapped in a room with a homicidal maniac wielding a big gun. Several times. Goddamnit, Eidos. You were so close. You had wonderful dialogue options, offered many progression choices and even got the stealth right! Then you outsourced the boss battles to a pack of howler monkeys with computer terminals. I’m not even angry, I’m just heartbroken. No wait, that was just a spot of indigestion, it actually is unbridled rage.
If you aim to become the Uwe Bolle of stealth games, just do it all! Just imagine for a moment, if you will, a game in which you must infiltrate a high security installation with the aid of your busty female sidekick. On this mission, there is no room for error! A single mistake, and it’s all the way back to the beginning of the game. This great tale of our generation ends on a pulse-pounding action note, discarding all prior in game logic. In a totally unpredictable twist, your seductively oversexualized friend betrays you, forcing you to fight your way to freedom! Once the hate mail starts pouring in, all that’s left to do is sit back and revel in your abhorred glory. Way to go, you horrible, horrible person you. The world is now a much worse place, be proud.
Special thanks to Saotome for authoring this article.
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