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Power Member - Level 10
In the past few months I have completed Dishonored,
Assassin's Creed 3, and Mark Of The Ninja.
Deus Ex: Human Revolution is leaping out of my video game storage
ottoman trying to jump up higher on my backlog list and I am awaiting more
information on the release of Xbox Live Arcade's Dark. In Far Cry 3 I sniped and explosive arrow'ed
from afar as well as snuck behind Tomb Raider's thugs for a strangling via
bow and a hole to the head via pick axe. Therefore, I am now a supreme
authority on the required features for stealth gameplay or another gamer with a
wish list for the stealth genre's current revival.
Sneaking through the vents, an appropriate use of the duck walk. Other uses include crouching to inspect the undersides of furniture and walking endlessly against a wall.
In a long ago gaming age, stealth consisted mostly of a
dedicated crouch button. The crouching
animation provided us gamers with hours of enjoyment forcing our characters
into a "duck walk" for the majority of the game just for giggles. Stealth gameplay evolved into the tense and
exciting gameplay of slinking through the shadows and silently neutralizing
enemies. When executed poorly the game
distills into a repetitive and tedious slog.
Sadly, we lost the crouch button along the way.
Hear my pleas game developers and avoid the common pitfalls
that plague the current stealth genre.
Also, when in doubt, include a dedicated crouch button, I am looking
squarely at you Assassin's Creed. Dishonored
one ups the crouch button and adds the ability to lean proving that our silent
heroes not only have thighs of steel but also have impeccable balance!
Narrative or the lack
Standing alone while brandishing a sharp weapon does not encourage friendships. Especially when lurking on rooftops.
Stealth is the comfort zone for the gaming lone wolf who is
wronged and who must seek their (re)vengeance upon the evildoers far and beyond
the perpetrators of the original terrible act.
Additionally, stealth requires creeping amongst the shadows and
remaining undetected. Such a life
strategy does not support social network updates for your hundreds of friends,
"Prepping for a burglary tonight, wish me luck" is not a helpful status update. However, this character trope typically
results in a largely silent hero, or anti-hero, who bitterly and gruffly
rejects the notion of meaningful companionship.
Quickly, the storyline devolves into a series of politically based assassinations
with little personal motivation beyond restoring a "righteous" society. Plotting and planning a clever assassination
or a heist is the forefront of the game and the question of "why" is minimally addressed. A successful operation leads to a letdown
finish with expository dialogue explaining the political ramifications of
removing the target or lifting the valuable thingamajig and quickly segues into
"Good job, now for your next target..."
The Assassin's Creed franchise is famous for growing
assassins from personal tragedy but after the first few assignments those
initially responsible are stabbed dead and the next kills are a blur. Why was the Florence, Italy native Ezio Auditore
da Firenze in the bygone city of Constantinople in Assassin's Creed:
Revelations? His family was well avenged
after two full games. In AC: Revelations
after a roughly 24 hour campaign, who were Ezio's targets and why? What were those glowing CDs again (and how
did an ancient and highly advanced civilization not understand that flash
drives are much more efficient?)? I have
played every Assassin's Creed game in their proper sequential order and I
hardly remember the narrative pull of the individual games beyond Templars
versus Assassins. For AC: Revelations I
remember the introduction of the hook blade with its "clink" sound as a last
minute save from a deathly fall and occasionally blowing up wells because I had
no other use for my bombs. Even the
morally gray Dishonored and Mark Of The Ninja provides protecting the young child
Emily and restoring the clan's honor respectfully as a personal impetus propelling the story
but both narratives wither with a personality-less protagonist. Provide a meaningful narrative with a
continuing personal stake in the local political
machinations for our protagonist or at least instill our protagonist with a sense of personality and
a compelling reason for remaining involved.
Guard and other NPC
If you stand and listen quietly rather than hearing the sounds of the ocean you hear the sounds of cranky guards.
Stealth requires a sneaky slink through the shadows
resulting in watching and waiting as a big aspect of the gameplay. Watching a guard's patterns and waiting for
an opportunity to position into a stealth takedown or sneak past can become
tiring. A dynamic world includes semi
meaningful or at least varied overhead speech.
Dishonored's guards repeat the same, "Shall we gather for whiskey and
cigars tonight?" or the repeated so often as to cause groans, "Think you'll get
your own squad after what happened last night?" throughout the entire game.
The new Tomb Raider reboot is not a stealth game but allows
for sneaking and takedowns, especially in a sequence that involves wolves, a
lot of wolves. Lara dependably crouches
with the nearby presence of guards, a better example of no dedicated crouch
button than Assassin's Creed but the button remains missed, and she can linger
behind cover listening to the guards' conversation. The story is expanded with simple exchanges showcasing
fearful guards at faraway posts unsure of exactly the calamity occurring
further inland or in the thrall of religious worship or vowing vengeance on
Lara, The Outsider. I particularly remember a sequence
between guards that began, "So what did they say? What's going on up there?" "Some
woman busted out all of the prisoners...killed anyone in her way." "Damn,
seriously? Who the hell is she?" "Don't
know, they think she came in with that new wreck. She killed Vlad during the round up." The conversation continued fearing the
reaction of Vlad's brother upon eventually learning of his brother's
death. While looking up a walkthrough
YouTube video with the game's captions turned on in order to capture the
dialogue I learned that Vlad is the name of Lara's initial kill. At the time during my playthrough I chuckled
at the guards discussing one of Lara's many kills and that a killed goon had a
brother who would react to his death. In short, make the waiting worthwhile and enjoyable.
Swinging dead bodies from lamp posts causing a panic? No way.
Multiple enemy types are an age old video game
tradition. Varying enemies require
different offensive reactions. For me,
the original Assassin's Creed suggested an intriguing reversal of this
relationship and the player reacted defensively to the enemy's offensive
strikes. As the AC franchise moves into
action gameplay, I still struggle with the concept that in Assassin's Creed
multiplayer I cannot attack, only avoid, my pursuer and if I attack I will
automatically lose a direct confrontation.
Instead, I must wait for an attack in order to slap my pursuer into a
stupor. The paralyzing "slap" is
arguably one of the most fun game mechanics today.
In stealth gaming, enemies typically react to the sound
of dying comrades, to the discovery of dead bodies, as well as to your
apparently flat footed and non-stealthy gameplay. Mark Of The Ninja is a satisfying 2D side
scrolling game that warped stealthy ninja gameplay into a constant puzzle of
determining how to clear a room or quietly get to a treasure chest with guard
reactions that are well balanced into the overall gameplay. Besides the discovery of dead bodies causing
an alert (and lugging dead or unconscious bodies to the local dumpster is only
so much fun), guards' reactions can be manipulated for certain incomes such as
a hanging or a thrown body instilling fear that results in "friendly fire"
killing other guards and the terror of the original guard causes erratic
behavior that is both helpful to sneak in for a takedown or deadly if caught in
the unpredictable gunfire. Additionally,
dead bodies can be used to lure living guards for an inspection without
automatically triggering an alarm and a creative arsenal allows for various
combinations such as a hallucination dart causing friendly fire or quiet hiding
in nearby environmental features from doorways to potted plants. Dynamic guard reactions beyond flanking,
finding cover, or a consensus to only attack in groups of one or two
accentuates the puzzle-like gameplay of stealth games while preventing the
usual boredom that arises from repeatedly replaying the same sequence.
Lock picking (or
hacking depending on the universe) and pick pocketing.
Controller throwing rage at not holding the controller just right versus the rising panic of finding the right elbow pipe. Elbow pipe wins!
Variations of lock picking (or hacking depending on the
universe) and pick pocketing are necessary stealth gameplay mechanics that are
usually mini games. Usually, the gameplay
mechanics of lock picking are either maddeningly frustrating or upgrades all
but circumvent the mechanic altogether. I contend that Assassin's Creed 3's lock
picking is one of the worse gameplay mechanics of this generation. Ultimately, I balanced the controller on my
knee in order to precariously hold both analog sticks still at wildly divergent
angles while simultaneously squeezing the triggers in rapid succession. Eventually, I expected Ubisoft to include a
need for every single button on the controller to be pressed simultaneously
just to ensure that the mechanic was actually impossible. My favorite hacking mini game is the original
BioShock's. The puzzle aspect of
diverting the liquid through the appropriate pipes on a timer served as a fun
breather in between creeping through water logged Rapture awaiting screaming
splicers or the heavy footfall of a Big Daddy.
The solid puzzle playing was a fun change of pace for a horror shooter
and the save anywhere option allowed those of us who save immediately before
cracking open anything to start over in the event of an explosion. A well created lock picking mini game makes a
required game action enjoyable and anticipated.
Otherwise we are groaning at the ten minute halt required to power
through the sequence.
Safe hacking is another unique variation of lock
picking/hacking. In Dishonored as well
as BioShock and BioShock 2, safe combinations are often hid somewhere in the
environment reminiscent of looking for a fake rock in order to access a
friend's house (with their permission of course). The mechanic itself simply requires inputting
the correct numeric code but locating the number sequence serves as a reward
for a thorough playthrough.
I have never been particularly skilled at pick pocketing
unsure of the intended fun of this skill set.
Typically, pick pocketing requires standing nearby the target for an
extended period of time without detection.
I have antagonized many civilians into a shoving match in the Assassin's
Creed franchise trying to lift or plant information. If pick pocketing is needed, ensure that the
character controls are well calibrated.
Angering the target with an unintended push from behind is rage
Vision cones helpfully inform me how to stand just outside of the guards' sight. Plus, springing a trap with a rung gong. So many options.
Stealth requires sneaking and sneaking requires remaining
undetected. Sound cues are incredibly
important less so as an atmospheric clue of an impending boss battle but more
so for successful gameplay. As a deaf
gamer, accounting for the locations of multiple guards based on whistling,
footfall, and murmured conversations is very difficult. Even in non-stealth games such as shooters,
the compass-like image that appears showing the general direction of the bullet
storm helps me orient towards my aggressors rather than running amok throughout
Dishonored's supernatural power, Dark Vision includes vision
cones for the guards illustrating the breadth of the guards' individual
awareness. Understanding guard's
placement and the impact of my location is vital such as knowing whether or not
the ficus potted tree used as universal decor is providing adequate cover. The Assassin's Creed franchise features a
colored icon above the guards' heads but the progress from a yellow to a red
attack on sight alert feels arbitrary and nearly impossible to understand why
my actions and/or location resulted in a change in alert status.
Mark Of The Ninja illustrates both the guards' vision as
well as the player's and NPCs' actions. Traditional
guard vision cones show the reach of a guard's eyes, or of their gun's
light. Environmental sounds, including
the player's footfall, is illustrated with an expanding circle similar to a
radar such as shattering lights or a guard's yell or a body dropped. Guards within the vicinity of the sound's
outreach will react with an investigation including searching the last
suspected location of you, the ninja.
Even the noise of flying crows is depicted and loudly ringing a gong
will interrupt all of the local guards' routines. The visual depiction of the auditory clues
sets up clear gameplay that allows for purposeful maneuvering amongst the
obstacle course of patrolling guards, clambering through vents, strategically
placed crouching height tables, and locked doors with a distinct understanding
of why the run through failed or succeeded rather than relying on guesswork.
I am not a "run and gun" gamer. I enjoy crouching, or duck walking, my way
through a game, discovering a situation, and planning my preferred actions. Yet, stealth gameplay quickly becomes an
exercise in frustration and aggravation when the gameplay requires a strict
path in order to progress. Immersing the
player as a successful shadow lurker alleviates the boredom of a slow crawl
through a level and requires purposeful play without multiple restarts in order
to feel as if the game is played "correctly."
Here's hoping for a slew upcoming stealth games that satisfies the
assassin and thief within us all.
Thank you to all who read through my writing and may your
upcoming week include copious amounts of game time to put a dent into your
What is your favorite stealth game?
How about your favorite stealth gameplay mechanic?
Were you successful with Assassin's Creed 3's lock picking
Do you miss the dedicated crouching button?