Why I Hate Stealth Games, Or: How I Discovered Roger Ebert Was Right

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 6.03% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

So as a reward for, you know, selling a novel, I finally got a PS4 after months of hand-wringing.  (Yes, I abandoned my good ol’ XBox 360 after years of racking up achievements, and it feels a little sad to have all my Rock Band ‘cheevos gathering dust at the ass-end of a hard drive now.  But looks like the XBone’s a loser in this generation’s console wars.)
Anyway, so flush with triumph, I got two games – Shadows of Mordor, because I was excited about the orc vengeance system, and The Last Of Us, which I was excited about because it was a zombie game.
Both turned out to be stealth games.
Oh Christ, I fucking hate stealth games.
This is not to say that your great love of stealth games is the work of Satan’s anal warts, but I fucking hate every aspect of stealth games. Because it’s like programming.  Because it’s like writing.
Look, in my day and my night job, I spend many hours painstakingly mapping approaches to complex problems.  I have to do a lot of tedious research to scout out the landscape, looking carefully ahead for hidden problems, analyzing the pros and cons of whether this methodology would be more effective, everything proceeding at a snail’s creep.  And when I’ve set up the plan and want to explode out of the gate, I still proceed at a dim crawl, because every line is critical and I need to get each of them right.
It’s nice when I finally triumph.  It is.
But when I settle down to game, I want to blow shit up.
Plus, most stealth games are actually incredibly tedious puzzle games.  “But you can approach the guards in any order!” you cry.  Well, kinda.  You can have your take of one of two approaches, through this corridor or that tunnel, maybe branching to three if you throw a brick to distract them. In actuality, what you have is an incredibly constricted experience, where there are basically a handful of strategies that work and infinite strategies that won’t.
Plus, I never feel like the guards are humans, because they’re incredibly fucking stupid – oh, hey, I’ll just walk in the same circles all the time, what’s that, I guess everything’s normal, UURRK MY THROAT.
I don’t feel like I’m outwitting a bunch of clever opponents.  I am patently fighting a modified computer AI, where if I step one foot here then I am VISIBLE and all the guards will converge on me at once, and if I am here then I am the THIEF OF THE NIGHT.
So when I do win, I get little sense of triumph.  I don’t feel like I’m Batman – I feel like Ferrett, sitting on a couch, having vanquished a bunch of arbitrary and maddening rules to achieve a marginal result.
That is my day job.
I hate being weak enough that any time I annoy two guards, I’m all but dead.  I hate having to manage ammunition.  I hate having to crouch everywhere when what I want to do is LEEEEROY JENKINS my way to success. There’s nothing wrong with stealth in general, but my preferred game mode is charging in with some limited strategy, maybe a minute’s worth of scouting the field before going, “Okay, reflexes, you can take it from here.”
I almost returned The Last Of Us to GameStop, even though I was really enjoying the story, because the bullshit one-hit-kill Clickers were really pissing me off.  Then Gini said, “You paid for it, you should enjoy it,” and after wrestling me to the ground in a no-holds-barred match, ultimately convinced me to –
– and I am loath to admit this before a group of gamers –
– lower the difficulty.
I had never lowered the difficulty this early in a game before.  (I did once before, on Dragon Age, on the final level, just because yes I could win the final battle against the fire-resistant dragon with my fireball-slinging mage, but it was taking forever and I was getting very very bored.)  But I did with The Last of Us because I really did like the story, and so I basically treated The Last Of Us like a very slow and clumsy movie, where I ran past a lot of zombies (who, on the lowest difficulty level, were no challenge at all) to be treated to snippets of cinema.
It was good cinema.  But the gameplay was highly unsatisfying.   Now we had something where stealth was clearly the way you were supposed to go, but if you want to screw up then fine, kill seven soldiers with a brick while standing in the middle of a field, whatever, do what you like.  It felt, honestly, pretty condescending as a gameplay experience.
And I realized that part of the reason games work is that you do feel the tension along with the characters.  When it was hard slipping past the fucking clickers, I felt a horrible fear for everyone involved in the game, and when I got to the next segment of the story I felt both triumph at having propelled myself to the next objective, and fear because I knew just how hard it was for them.  For the first time, I understood Roger Ebert’s criticism that videogames were just bad movies, because once I actively disdained the gameplay, well, The Last of Us was about as good as it gets in a videogame storywise, and the fairly lengthy cut-scenes were padded by these even longer annoying segments of what I can only describe as violent paperwork.
And I realized: I need to go out there and get back into a style of videogame that rewards what I like to do.  That is not a stealth game.  A stealth game is just a continuation of the most frustrating things in my life, and so this weekend I’ll probably seek out Infamous: Second Son or play the new Civilization (which punishes imperfect strategy, but one can play quite profitably against computer AI up to Prince level without thinking too hard) or anything that involves blatant power plays and not sneaking.
I do not like to sneak.  Plotting and planning is my life, and I wish to escape my life.
Hand me the gun.  Leave that barrier behind.  I’ma charge into battle, because today I want to be a superhero.

3 Comments

  1. Jericka
    Oct 24, 2014


    I hate being weak enough that any time I annoy two guards, I’m all but dead. I hate having to manage ammunition. I hate having to crouch everywhere when what I want to do is LEEEEROY JENKINS my way to success. There’s nothing wrong with stealth in general, but my preferred game mode is charging in with some limited strategy, maybe a minute’s worth of scouting the field before going, “Okay, reflexes, you can take it from here.””
    WHy aren’t you playing Titanfall? TITANFALL! You can play it on a PC rather than engaging in the console wars. You can zip around with stim on and jump on the walls to go FASTER. You can double jump and scale the buildings and jump in and out of windows. If you die, you respawn. After two minutes in game(or less, depending on points) everyone gets a TITAN! A big stompy robot, that you can choose to get into, or use it on autopilot to guard a spot or follow you around.
    Right now there is a Frontier defense mode that isn’t even PvP. Frontier defense is you and three other pilots defending a point against 5 waves of AI enemies.
    Go through the tutorial, maybe try an attrition or campaign match to see how it goes(then do what I did and go through the tutorial a couple more times for practice), and then jump in and blast away.
    I recommend watching Frothyomen’s YouTube videos for tips and an idea of the speed that is possible once you hit your stride. (No. I am not that good yet.)
    Strangely, unlike every other PvP game I have ever played I don’t mind dying a lot in this one. I can contribute to the objective of the games, and I love the speed of being the pilot, and the breathing space afforded once the Titan is called down.
    Definitely not a stealth game, at least not the way I mostly see it played.

  2. Mark D
    Oct 26, 2014

    In general, I also dislike stealth games, although I liked The Last of Us quite a bit. The story helps, and I found that there were enough action sequences to keep me engaged. For me, stealth is not too bad when it doesn’t punish you too severely when you mess it up. Either by allowing a quick do-over from the last checkpoint, or by allowing you to blast your way out of it. In The Last of Us, it seemed that doing over scenes didn’t take too long (the game doesn’t put you back too far), and blasting was a possibility as long as your not dealing with Clickers.
    I absolutely hated Deus Ex: Human Revolution though. In the beginning especially, there are so few bullets that you’re forced to play it stealthily, and once you’re out in the open there is just no way to deal with all the enemies. Perhaps this changes once you get further into it, but I never got that far.
    Stealth done well was also Far Cry 3 for me, in which you could sneak into a base to release a tiger and off a guy or two, and then go full Rambo into it.
    And I would stay away from the Assassin’s Creed series if I were you. The last one was actually a ton of fun with the pirate theme and sea battles, but the missions on land generally involved following a guy sneakily that were atroucious.

  3. Jericka
    Oct 26, 2014

    The Secret World is an MMO , but the missions are balanced for solo players. In fact, some instances you can only go into solo. Out in the open, the action you normally find is the sort where a player can take down several monsters at once, soy outdo generally feel powerful. There are occasional monsters that are tougher, and they do trust you to figure out where not to go. The characters are well written, you can play solo or team(AND you can team with friends of any level, something I have missed in MMO land since City of Heroes).
    Once you learn to break down weapons and other drops into component parts, inventory management gets easier. You get to pick what your character looks like, and the equipment drops don’t change that except for weapons. The skill treeis built so that you can unlock(eventually) EVERY skill. i happen to love the skill tree and playing with different builds(my character has one or two of each weapon type in her bag for changes in the field: swords, hammers, pistols, shotguns, claws….). For survivability at early levels I recomend starting with hammer or sword, and adding whatever you like to that(characters wield two weapons, so, sword+ pistol, or hammer + shotgun, etc.).
    I also still recommend Titanfall(origin has it offered as free for the first48 hours right now) or Borderlands(a friend dragged me in to try coop. It was fun, though we did get stuck in a progress blocker for a while).

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