Discover one of the most exciting video game genres there is. Learn how these games test your patience, skill and grit as they challenge you to sneak and blast your way through your enemies. Then, find out which stealth shooter is best for you with a list of subgenres and their top titles.
The stealth shooter genre of video games is one that is relatively new as far as video game genres go. They blend the thrill of gunning down enemies with the tense rush of slipping past them undetected. Whether you are a ninja or commando, you can make a choice and tackle your objectives in the way you see fit. Let’s take a look at how a game gets classified into this genre, and some of the best stealth shooters today and in video games’ history.
Silent, Until You Aren’t
As the name implies, stealth shooters involve both gunplay and sneaking. No, they (usually) are not about stealth bomber shooters. You do the stealthing and the shooting, and it rarely involves planes of any kind.
Sometimes, the game will be split into stealth sections of the game where you are required to sneak past enemies and shooter sections where you run and gun through hordes of enemies. Other times, the game blends the two elements together and gives you a choice in which approach you take.
Regardless of which approach the game takes, the gameplay usually takes place in an open 3D environment. Also, as you may have guessed, the settings are most often, but not always, in a modern or sci-fi setting. It is difficult, but not impossible, to make a stealth shooter without guns.
Stealth: Finding a Way
As mentioned earlier, stealth shooter games are a somewhat recent addition to the constellation of video game genres. These types of games have only been able to flourish because of advances in technology; specifically, artificial intelligence. A good stealth game requires enemies that are smart. It doesn’t work if our foes know exactly where you are at all times and charge straight at you.
Limiting your enemies’ abilities and perceptions allows you to exploit those weaknesses in satisfying ways. In a good stealth game, enemies only react to what they see and hear. You can sneak past them by staying hidden or quiet, or control what they see and hear via distractions and misdirection.
Often times, stealth games also give you the opportunity for avoidance. Why fight enemies when you can creatively bypass them? Stealth games sometimes give you a level of choice bordering on RPG.
Shooter: When All Else Fails, Light Them Up
Of course, you can’t always stay hidden, and sometimes you just don’t want to. If you’ve been seen or if you just feel like going loud, then it’s time to draw those weapons and dive in shooting. Stealth shooters will go from tense anxiety to blood pumping action at the drop of a hat.
Because of the stealth elements in these games, the battlefields you will find yourself shooting in are often complex and varied. Instead of creeping behind those crates, you are using them for cover. Instead of bypassing enemies by crawling across the roof, now you are dropping down on them from above. These aren’t old school shooters like Doom where you are running through corridors or fighting in wide open arenas; these shootouts require thought and tactics.
Stealth Shooting: The Hybrid Approach
Stealth is all well and good, but the best way to make sure an enemy can’t see or hear you is to make sure they are dead. For that, you’re going to need some shooting, or at least something deadly for up close and personal encounters.
Stealth shooting games give you the opportunity to neutralize you foes in silent and exciting ways. Whether it be using a silenced weapon like a stealth assassin or your own two hands like a ninja, these games give some of the most satisfying ways to defeat your enemies. Persistence and patience pay off with a well-earned victory that goes unnoticed by your opposition.
The Best Stealth Shooter Games Out There
Many stealth shooters have made their mark on the video games landscape over the years. They have competed in a features and complexity arms race that have produced some of the most thrilling and satisfying experiences video games has to offer. Here’s a list of some of the better ones available in no particular order (so save your nerd rage).
Traditional Stealth Shooters
These games fit the mold when you think of the conventional stealth shooter. 3D environment, stealth options, and guns.
- Deus Ex: This cyberpunk RPG allows you to conquer objectives in more ways than you can count. Even the first installment nearly 20 years ago astounded its players with the tools it provided. You can blast your way to victory with an array of futuristic guns, or use tech to sneak past your enemies and bring down the global Illuminati conspiracy. The choice is yours.
- Hitman: The Hitman series helped put the stealth shooter genre on the map with its numerous approaches to ending lives. As you might expect, you play as an assassin; Agent 47, a genetically engineered super killer. You take down targets either with gunslinging grit or creative chaos. Sure you can snipe your target’s head off, but why not steal a waiter’s uniform and poison him, so no one knows you were ever there? You’ll find yourself revisiting the Hitman games again and again, looking for new ways to take out your targets.
- Metal Gear Solid: The Metal Gear franchise is not only one of the most popular stealth shooters, but also one of the most popular video game franchises out there period. Its focus on cinematic storytelling has won it millions of fans and turned its creator, Hideo Kojima, into a video game icon. With an opera like tale of clones, mechs and cardboard boxes, Metal Gear Solid is considered a cornerstone of the genre.
- Splinter Cell: This Tom Clancy-inspired series brings stealth shooters to the modern stage. With stories, guns and gadgets grounded in reality, the Splinter Cell games offers an exciting and gritty experience. The series has lain dormant recently, but you would be hard-pressed to find a title in the series that rates as less than great.
- The Chronicles of Riddick: Yes, that Riddick. Say what you want about his movies (except Pitch Black, that movie is perfect), Riddick has had a couple of exceptional stealth shooting games. These titles have you controlling the titular character as he shoots, sneaks and fillets his way through claustrophobic and well-rendered sci-fi environments. Even some modern games have failed to live up to The Chronicles of Riddick’s graphical benchmark.
Non-Traditional Stealth Shooters
These games have both stealth and shooting, but present their gameplay in new and innovative ways. Despite their mold-breaking, they still combine the nailbiting challenge of secrecy combined with the adrenaline rush of shootouts.
- Thief: Turning the genre on its head is Thief. This series is mostly stealth based, you are after all a thief. However, the game is not without its shooting elements. The game gives you access to bows and other projectile weaponry with specialized ammunition to complete your objectives creatively.
- Dishonored: Dishonored sets itself apart in many ways. First of all, its fantasy setting is grounded in Victorian era steampunk aesthetics with a healthy dose of the supernatural. Its atmosphere is perhaps one of the most endearing aspects; it really sucks you into the world. The mysterious otherworldliness permeates into the gameplay, as your character has a variety of powers at their disposal to sneak past or fight through enemies.
- Wolfenstein: Depending on when you were born or how many Wolfenstein games you are familiar with, this entry might confuse you. The game that made the franchise famous, Wolfenstein 3D, was a first-person corridor shooter. However, the very first iterations of Castle Wolfenstein all the way back in the early 80s saw a pixelated hero sneaking or shooting his way past equally pixelated Nazis. Additionally, the two most recent Wolfenstein titles have stealth elements mixed in with their critically acclaimed gunplay and story.
- The Saboteur: This game distinguishes itself by being one of the few open world games with deep and satisfying stealth mechanics. Set in Nazi-occupied Paris, you are of course a saboteur working to bring down the oppressive regime from within. Theft, destruction and assassination are executed stylishly and satisfyingly. If you are looking for a dose of freedom with your stealth shooter, The Saboteur is a nice gem from a past generation.
The Game Your Way
Perhaps the most enthralling facet of stealth shooters are the choices they offer. Instead of getting shoehorned into completing a task a certain way, the genre says “forget that, do this how you want to.” Few other genres can give you such different rushes of excitement. You’ll fly back and forth between “They saw me!” to “I made it!” and “I’m done for!” to “I got them!” Hopefully, as technology and development techniques advance, we’ll get more of these anxiety-inducing, teeth gritting, mentally challenging and physically demanding games.