Extra Punctuation

Extra Punctuation
Stealth Games Don't Have to Be About Killing People

Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw | 9 Apr 2013 12:00
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As I've frequently mentioned, I like stealth gameplay. I always think it's a shame we have to be so laissez-faire about killing people all the time. We seem to be always so dismissive of how impactful the removal of a sentient lifeform from the world can be. I was watching someone play the new Sly Cooper game the other day, and as is fairly typical for the series it made sure to make things very clear that you're only stealing from assholes or for self-defense reasons. And then, that over with, the game instructs us to start murdering every single guard we see. Don't sweat it, it's not like those guys matter, they're all minimum wage.

I know they're not real people and there's a lot of catharsis in violence, but I've always thought it both healthier and altogether more satisfying to defeat someone while leaving them unharmed and in a position to feel like an absolute chump afterwards. I've heard people complain that stealth is basically just sitting and waiting for an opportunity in a totally non-proactive kind of way, but I disagree. In fact, when I put my mind to it, I realized that stealth is as multi-faceted a core gameplay mechanic as you could hope for.

I've even started putting together a concept for an all-stealth class-based RPG, in which rather than picking from the standard trio of fighter, rogue or mage, you pick between rogue, rogue or rogue. Except that they're different kinds of rogues that all have a distinct style of stealth gameplay. You see, when I put my mind to it, I realized that stealth isn't necessarily the art of not being seen; it's the art of not being caught. The three classes I came up with are based around the three opportunities for doing so, namely: before being spotted, while being spotted, and after being spotted.

Best of all, none of these three styles of gameplay require killing. Or knocking guards out, which is functionally the same as killing but adds enough context to provide a degree of moral cop-out. There doesn't even have to be violence if the guards spot you, since guards in a sensible world will throw you out or at worst have you arrested, not immediately reach for the sidearm because you stood next to a suspicious waste paper basket for too long. I'm talking dramatic action gameplay with no violence whatsoever. I tell you it can be done.

Class 1: The Sneak

The first mode of stealth gameplay is the most obvious one, as seen in the seminal Thief series of stealth games, in which the player avoids being seen in the first place. This protagonist wears some kind of black ninja suit and camouflaging mask or face paint that will mark them out instantly as some kind of sinister intruder if seen, but which grants them the ability to become invisible in shadow. The sneak thief must be acutely aware of all their enemies' movements, so that they only ever act when suspicious eyes are looking in other directions.

Consequently the sneak thief's skill tree emphasises speed, distraction, and awareness of surroundings. Example skills include creating noises to make enemies look or move away from you, a Dishonored-style vision mode showing guards and their patrol routes through walls, and in later tiers, the ability to warp instantly from one shadow to another.

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