Like the sword-wielding watchmen and gun-toting mercenaries that exist as human obstacles within them, stealth games are dropping one-by-one. Those that aren’t biting the dust are being transformed into shadows of their former selves, with “action” becoming not only the driving force, but a caveat followed by a slash that’s added to the genre itself. Dark times for a dark school of play.
Sneaky Bastards exists because the genre, despite its decline in popularity, is no less captivating. The gameplay attunes itself to the thrill inherent in basic human concepts: playing the hunter, being hunted, and simply going somewhere you’re not supposed to go. The very way a stealth game plays is subversive.
That’s not to say stealth games are simple. The genre is typically teeming with atmosphere, littered with detail, and home to some of the most complex artificial intelligence in gaming. To play a stealth game is to pit your wits against a simulation that seeks to trip you up and every turn; to send everything it has against you should you fail to adhere to the core tenets of your character’s position in the world.
Supporting this is a natural maturity to the worlds and characters that stealth games depict. Written material, overheard conversations and environmental storytelling fill in details that would otherwise be delivered through cutscenes or a voice in the ear.
Finally, stealth games are freeing. With the depth of the AI and a wealth of tools at the player’s disposal comes a level of emergence through experimentation with the systemic nature of the gameplay. They allow for player expression, and don’t force players into one particular style of play. Stealth is a rubber band; the rewards for stretching it come on a personal rather than mechanical level. It’s deep, complex and utterly thrilling.