Tag Archives: stealth game

What’s Dishonored 2 Really About?

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I finally just finished up Dishonored 2, and while I’m not going to “review” it, I have a couple fairly broad things to write about my experience with the game overall. Its later parts certainly live up to what I’d played at the time I put it in my 2016 game of the year list. What stands out to me coming off it though is that while Bethesda and Arkane billed it a stealth game about eliminating targets, I spent a whole lot of time doing nothing related to eliminating targets.

There was a point in the final level where I was about to enter the area where the final boss resided and I remembered I’d forgotten to figure out some extra objective way back at the beginning of the level, so I spent a few hours backtracking. This was supposed to be the climax of the game and I just put it on hold because I wanted to find more generally useless crap. Continue reading

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What Does Dishonored 2 Really Bring To The Table?

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Dishonored 2 is out and even though I’ve already bough it I probably won’t be able to touch it for a while. It’s one of my most anticipated games for 2016 but I actually haven’t been paying much attention to it. It’s probably because of how the game has been advertised which mostly runs counter to why I’m buying it. How do you advertise parts of a blockbuster game other than combat and deep stories? Continue reading

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Obligatory GOTY Post, 2015 Edition

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Every year I seem to count a different number of “top” games I played. I don’t like having to struggle to figure out a top 10 or top five or whatever. Do the academy awards have a set number of nominees they have to have every year? I just go over whichever games in a year actually stood out in terms of quality as well as how continually drawn I am to them, no matter what number they come up to. In 2014 that number was pretty much zero (maybe one), this year it’s three, listed in order below.

As I said last time, I like to think of 2015 as the year when AAA video games became interesting again. Not since 2011 had I been truly hyped about any new major game coming out. I’d also like to say that 2015 seems like a year when we got some unusually good writing in video games. Some other people say it’s also been a great year for adventure games. I don’t know if that’s true or if I just hadn’t been playing enough adventure games or games with good writing in previous years. In any case, both of those trends seem to be set to continue into next year if nothing get’s delayed. Continue reading

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Why Doesn’t Content Bloat In Witcher 3 And Metal Gear Solid V Annoy Me?

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Right now I’m trying to juggle two massive games: Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain and The Witcher 3. While trying to reconfigure my wake/sleep schedule I’m also realizing both of these games do exactly what I’ve hated about open-world games for some time now… but I’m thoroughly enjoying them.

You know those games, usually coming from Ubisoft, that just put icons all over the map for treasure chests and side missions to the point where it all ends up feeling like busywork? Or they throw in a lot of extraneous features like crafting materials and team management simulations? I think MGSV and Witcher 3 figured out how to do those kinds of games properly. Continue reading

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Solarix And Other Indie Immersive Sim Games

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If you didn’t see it in the notes previously, I reviewed a little game called Solarix last week for Paste Magazine. As I wrote in the review, I see it as kind of the beginning of a possible wave of immersive simulators from indie developers. I imagine that’s a relatively difficult and expensive type of game to make, but it seems like we’re finally getting there. Continue reading

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Why I’m Optimistic About Assassin’s Creed Unity

It’s easy to understand that a lot of people are “Assassin’s Creed-ed out.” Despite that, the information we have so far on Assassin’s Creed Unity is just interesting enough to make me want to at least pay attention to the latest franchise entry, yet again.

The franchise, and arguably Ubisoft games in general, have gotten increasingly formulaic since around 2009 (Assassin’s Creed II to be specific). It seems like multiple Ubisoft games from multiple franchises have followed the same formula: experience points to collect, skills to upgrade, things to craft, an economy system, and much of the time an open world with a map full of icons to travel to. The AC games have become annual with their own tried-and-true formula of hay barrels, backstabbing, tailing missions, and other automatic failure stealth missions. If you actually pay attention to what we know about Unity though, it seems like it might try to make the most fundamental changes to the series’ formula since the original game.

Reddit actually has a pretty great, fully-sourced list of currently-known facts about the game. Most of it seems to be tidbits from interviews. What intrigues me is Ubisoft is apparently willing to sacrifice long-standing elements of the AC structure — a structure that I think has gotten bloated over the years. I haven’t played my copy of Black Flag yet (which I was only interested in because of the pirate theme), but if you ask me Assassin’s Creed III could have had half its content cut and maybe gone for a more focused, more polished game. Did running the Assassin’s guild and building a homestead need to be in there? Again? I’m not saying Ubisoft is taking a meat cleaver to the formula for Unity, but it sounds like they’re taking a good look at what really still needs to be there and what doesn’t.

Most importantly, it looks like missions in Unity will be more open-ended. What I and a lot of other people hate most about AC games is stealth missions like the tailing sections where getting seen once or not doing something in a specific way results in an automatic fail state. To put it bluntly, the AC games often seem anti-open-world despite supposedly being sandbox games. In interviews Ubisoft has said that in Unity, a tailing mission instead may start as a tailing mission, but could change into something else if you get seen or if your target is killed. The only real objective there would be to figure out what information that guy had on him, or where he was going.  Apparently you’ll also be able to repeat missions and complete them in different ways. Ubisoft is calling this “Adaptive Mission Mechanic.” This basically sounds like what I’ve always wanted AC to be, even since the original — a game where each mission is nothing more than a place and a goal.

The stealth you’ll employ in these missions has also apparently undergone a complete overhaul. If you saw the E3 gameplay presentation, I think you saw Ubisoft employ a crouch or “stealth mode” that’s manually activated. AC thus far has been about large-scale stealth — hiding in crowds and infiltrating large areas. Infiltration of small areas has thus far resulted in the aforementioned frustrating missions. Maybe Ubisoft wants to allow for stealth on a more intimate scale. I still don’t think this is going to be like Splinter Cell or Thief, but it seems like Ubisoft is at least trying to build an actual stealth game here. I have no idea how well it’ll actually turn out.

Another big change seems to be the scale of the world. Ubisoft already confirmed Unity is going to have the biggest world in an AC game which isn’t hard to understand with the move to new hardware. What might feel really different though is that Unity’s locations will apparently vary between two thirds of real-life scale (2:3), and actual real-life scale (1:1). Where locations in previous AC games have been around half of real-life scale (1:2), Ubisoft said Paris will be at or near 1:1. On top of this around a quarter of buildings will have explorable interiors. That sounds like a big leap from just running through buildings in AC3.

Traversal seems to be getting some of the most interesting changes in Unity. A big thing is that hay barrels are gone. If you want to get down a building you’ll have to parkour down there, for which they’ve tweaked the system. There will also be no guards on rooftops. At the very least it looks like Ubisoft is trying to change how AC players perceive rooftop traversal.

There’s a lot more at the Reddit link that I won’t go deep into here. The new combat and skill upgrade system sounds interesting but Ubisoft hasn’t had a lot of luck in that department over the last decade. Co-op sounds like it might be good but I’m not extremely interested. Let’s just say overall Unity sounds like it’s trying to be a true next-gen upgrade for the franchise.

BULLETS:

  • Man, I really want a new Red Faction Guerrilla game on next-gen hardware. Judging by the sense of scale we’re seeing in games like Unity, Batman Arkham Knight, and Witcher 3, it could be amazing. Just imagine what Red Faction’s Destructibility might be like on modern hardware. Oh, and as I write this I believe Guerrilla is like $2 on Steam.
  • Evo Moment 37 happened 10 years ago. http://t.co/xakbCVSu7p
  • I didn’t realize Dark Horse’s release of Blade of the Immortal reached volume 29 back in May. Volume 30 comes out in October, and it looks like Dark Horse will conclude the series with volume 31 (Samura published the conclusion in Japan in December 2012).
  • Nice article from Wall Street Journal on benefits companies for freelancers. http://t.co/boqklMRDYI
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Do’s And Don’ts Of Stealth Design And Assassin’s Creed

So I’m in the middle of Assassin’s Creed III right now, and I think it’s time to address one of the franchise’s biggest problems — how it handles stealth missions.

I actually went over this way back on 1up while playing Brotherhood, but it seems Ubisoft hasn’t learned a thing in the games they’ve made since. I haven’t played Black Flag yet but I’m hearing a lot of the same complaints of it. I feel like when a developer makes a stealth game, there are certain things they need to do to make sure stealth isn’t frustrating. Ubisoft doesn’t seem to have learned any of these rules in regards to the main missions in Assassin’s Creed.

Mostly I’m talking about any mission where you automatically fail if you’re detected even once. If you’ve played any of these games you know what I’m talking about: the missions where if a guard sees you even for an instant you fail, or the tailing missions. Whoever designs those I think doesn’t understand what makes stealth games fun.

Automatic failure upon detection in my opinion is one of the things that pushes mainstream gamers away from stealth games entirely. I don’t mind if a game has conditions that make things harder upon detection, or even does something that invariably kills the player as long as it’s in an organic way, but using hard fail states just feels lazy and unfair.

There are other games that define a difference between detection by one NPC and full alert. I like how in Metal Gear Solid an enemy who’s seen Snake has to actually call HQ on his radio and fully describe the problem before a full alert is on. Yet in Assassin’s Creed I’ll often fail a mission because one guy saw me a split second before I stabbed him in the gut.

Stealth games in my opinion only become truly enjoyable when they’re open-ended. Stealth games aren’t really only stealth games — the best ones are stealth and action games. Stealth only really feels cool when players choose it as opposed to going into full-on open combat. Ideally players should want to do this because their environment changes based on stealth or detection.

Metal Gear Solid Ground Zeroes actually has a pretty good example of this. One of its side missions puts you in the middle of an open base with two targets to kill. If you’re detected the mission doesn’t fail immediately, but the targets will try to escape and you have to take them out before they do.

Okay, so what if a stealth mission has an objective that’s impossible without stealth — like tailing someone. There are stealth games that offer multiple ways to complete objectives. In Ubisoft’s own Splinter Cell Chaos Theory, if you need to get some information you often have the choice of interrogating people, eavesdropping on conversations, or finding notes. Actually, didn’t the original Assassin’s Creed let players choose between similar methods of completing objectives?

If the story written for the game mandates one specific gameplay path then maybe it should be rewritten. Maybe tailing missions don’t necessarily need to be in Assassin’s Creed at all. Maybe the story should service the gameplay instead of the other way around. I know they’re trying to keep things historically accurate, but Ubisoft also has to make a fun game.

BULLETS:

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Stealth Games Old & New Part Two

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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.

BULLETS:

  • I didn’t even realize they were making Escape Goat 2. The first game is still on my Steam backlog.
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The Difference Between Old And New Stealth Games

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The release of the THIEF reboot has sparked up conversations again about what makes a good or bad stealth game. Over the last few weeks it’s prompted me to take a look back at games from THIEF’s family tree and contrast how they approach things.

Last month I played through Dishonored again — the first time doing so since having beaten the old Thief Gold and Thief II: The Metal Age — and played its DLC. That by itself put Dishonored into perspective in relation to its ancestors and I think gave me a good frame of reference to see where the new THIEF is coming from.

The big shift in many of the stealth games we’ve seen recently, or games that use stealth, is that like shooters, they’ve gone for a more linear approach based on waypoints and sometimes small dynamic environments. The missions in the old Thief games were built to feel like dynamic, working environments, and you’d be thrown into them with a map and multiple objectives, expected to figure out the plan for yourself. The first Crysis game was more or less like this too. Crysis 2 instead just had you head from waypoint to waypoint, taking you through small sneaking arenas filled with clever alternate paths. The missions in the new THIEF do pretty much the same thing. This works for simply providing a stealth experience, but I feel like it forgets the freedom and emergent gameplay of the older games.

Dishonored I feel is somewhere between the two, but closer to the old style. The objective is usually not to simply reach a waypoint, but to do an actual thing which is established as soon as you reach the area. Dishonored’s areas are smaller than those of classic Thief and it’s gated by loading screens, but that basic structure is still there. Some people are down on Dishonored’s validity as a stealth game because of how easily its super powers let players combat enemies. I decided to play through the game without using them, particularly the “blink” teleportation, and it instantly felt very much like a Thief-lite. Blink was basically incorporated for the sake of impatient people. Discarding it instantly forces players to methodically examine enemy patterns and the rest of their environment like a traditional stealth game. If you wanna get real technical, Dishonored’s overall structure is actually much closer to that of the original Deus Ex, which makes sense as both games share a level designer.

If you wanna ask between all these which is the best actual stealth game, I guess that’s all on preference due to a bit of irony. Dishonored has more of that dynamic emergent structure, if even only a tiny bit of it, but let’s you tear apart squads of enemies like Deus Ex does. New THIEF would be called dumbed-down by many, but is actually more of a “pure” stealth game where you have to sneak because you can’t fight off five alert enemies.

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