To continue my look at old versus new stealth games from a month ago I finally installed Splinter Cell: Blacklist, took Chaos Theory for another spin, and that happened to coincide with the release of Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes.
If you don’t know, Chaos Theory isn’t just one of my favorite stealth games, it’s one of my favorite games period. Admittedly it doesn’t feature completely open-ended levels like classic Thief does (as I went over earlier), but it nails the “wide linear” style of game design. Chaos Theory generally moves you in one direction in each mission, but each area still feels like a functioning environment composed of elements you can subvert however you choose.
From the get-go Blacklist had a lot to live up to, especially after how linear and restrictive Splinter Cell Conviction became in comparison. People seem to have written off Blacklist after its initial reveal but I was quite surprised with the turn it took.
If you haven’t played it, Blacklist is built upon Conviction’s gameplay foundation but applies to it a sense of player choice similar to Chaos Theory’s. Missions are linear chains of zones you can sneak or fight through in various ways with a lot of nice tools, offering total control over your play style. Even when Blacklist forces you into open combat it still gives you sizable arenas with a lot of freedom in terms of how to deal with those situations.
The difference between the old and new games in my opinion is that Chaos Theory’s levels feel more dense and “breathing” while Blacklist’s feel very much like video game levels. Sneaking in Blacklist usually involves navigating mazes of pipes, vents, cover, and ledges. It’s all very much based on movement — actually not too dissimilar from Uncharted 2 (if you know how to play that game stealthily). Sneaking in Chaos Theory involves messing with cameras, picking locks, hacking keypads, manipulating light sources, and looking through files on computers. The only things that really “do stuff” in the environments in Blacklist are light switches, doors, and windows. That said, I still really appreciate the game for moving away from the linear set piece-driven design of so many modern action games. Both games are very much about player choice but in different ways.
I anticipated Ground Zeroes would do the same thing in its own way, and for the most part wasn’t disappointed. What strikes me the most about Ground Zeroes is that it and Phantom Pain are essentially moving Metal Gear to a design style similar to earlier open-ended western games.
Ground Zeroes is pretty much about infiltrating a single area with complete freedom in terms of how you do it. There are times when its level design actually reminds me a bit of Thief when it asks you to find the location of an objective based on clues, and rewards curious players with secret paths. Instead of telling you where to go or putting you on a straight road it just gives you a map and asks you to figure out your own plan. This might actually be the most open-ended stealth game I’ve played on this generation of hardware, which feels surprising, it being from a Japanese developer.
- I didn’t even realize they were making Escape Goat 2. The first game is still on my Steam backlog.