Among other things at E3, we got treated to the sequels of some incredibly popular stealth franchises, Dishonored 2, a reboot of Hitman, and Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, all making their debut at the show to a lot of acclaim. While these titles are AAA games, they don’t follow the popular FPS or hack-and-slash formula; these are the kinds of games where getting seen usually means getting killed. As a consequence, you’re expected to make combat happen on your terms, usually with a set of gadgets, or by sneaking by major fights altogether. Ever since Metal Gear Solid set the design for stealth action, it’s paved the way for some enduring franchises like Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell and Ghost Recon, Tenchu, and Thief. Even if you haven’t played any of those games, it’s a safe bet you’re at least familiar with the idea, as most AAA games have at least one or two “complete stealth” levels, where your greatest challenge is not turning the guy in front of you into a lead-filled mess. However, because stealth action requires a different mind set than regular run-and-gunners, getting the most out of these games does need some practice.
Fortunately, the big stealth games this year are sequels to highly rated games from highly rated companies. As such, it makes a lot of sense that to get an idea of what you’re getting into, you should play their previous titles. When these three games finally hit the shelves, you won’t be scrambling to beat a great game you might have overlooked (Again, if you already did it with The Witcher 2 before Wild Hunt hit the shelves. You can usually find places that sell video games that have older copies too. Get ready to learn that learning to hide doesn’t mean giving up; in the case of these three games, it just means you’re getting ready to strike.
Just the basics about Dishonored give it a pretty impressive pedigree. It’s a Bethesda game, it’s won armloads of awards, its voice actors are notable celebrities, and even its DLC add-ons can hold their own. For those of you who are new, Dishonored is a story about the steampunk Victorian city of Dunwall, the capital of a country in the grips of a pandemic level plague. You play Corvo Attano, the loyal bodyguard of the Empress, falsely accused of her murder by a mysterious group who has taken the Empress’s daughter Emily and are attempting to take over the empire for themselves. Gifted with a mysterious magical power, it’s up to you to take revenge on those who wronged you, restore your name, and save Dunwall from a coup. From what we’ve got at E3, Dishonored 2 is going to play like a true sequel in a new location, occurring fifteen years after the events of the first game and giving you the option to play as Emily in a whole new land with a new set of magical powers to try and restore her throne.
The gameplay in Dishonored looks absolutely wonderful in both the light and the dark. Whether you’re in an alley in a quarantined quarter of the city or a high-end brothel for the nobility, everything still looks beautifully done. We can expect the same kind of thing to happen in Dishonored 2; just looking at the trailer, we’re getting a bright, sunny steampunk version of British Colonial India, moving away from the gloom and doom of plague-age Dunwall. It’s a game with simple controls that really rewards players for thinking outside the box. While you can run through the game killing from the shadows, the truly adventurous player can play through the entire game without killing a single soul; from having the leader of a church excommunicated to avoiding entire groups of enemies with magic power, both perfectionists and novices can find something they like about this series.
For those of us who prefer a more present day stealth game, Hitman has always had us covered. Spanning eight games since its inception in 2000, this series follows the career of Agent 47, a human clone built to be the perfect assassin for a secret organization known simply as the International Contract Agency, or ICA. With an entire globe’s worth of locations and options, ranging from a hit in St. Petersburg to escaping the police inside Chicago, there’s no shortage of targets and tactics for your enigmatic assassin. In particular, Hitman: Absolution takes all the excitement of the franchise and ratchets it up even higher, putting 47 against the ICA itself in an adventure that takes players through what is essentially a solid action movie. If you’re really in the mood for cinematic entertainment, Absolution most definitely delivers.
Playing Hitman requires a little more planning than your typical stealth-action game, but it still gives you the freedom to fight your way out of tough situations. Since each individual contract is usually going to be split up into three or four completely seperate levels, you’ve got plenty of areas to practice turning yourself from a frontline shooter to a stealth killer and finally into an absolute ghost. From what we’ve seen of the new Hitman game, it’s going to be a reboot of the series, so you’ll get the most out of both games if you play Absolution to learn the controls and the story and think of the new Hitman as a prequel. Take your time with Absolution, and don’t be afraid to be creative; in 47‘s world, there’s no shortage of ways to kill a target without ever firing a shot, and disguising yourself as a prizefighter to (legally) kill a target in the ring possesses its own unique charm.
While this franchise isn’t technically a stealth action game, both the history of this franchise and the option to play the entire game silently put it solidly in this category. Set in the year 2027 in a world run by corporations and full of mechanically augmented humans, you play as Adam Jensen, a corporate security consultant turned super-augmented private investigator for Sarif Industries after an attack on their headquarters nearly kills him. Full of transhuman philosophy and cyberpunk aesthetics that would make William Gibson proud, Human Revolution takes you from the seediest parts of Detroit to the shining city on China’s Hengsha Island and everywhere in between as you get to see the ups and downs of human augmentation from both sides. The story on Human Revolution, a prequel to the 2000 video game Deus Ex, does for transhumanism what Bioshock did for objectivism. It’s the kind of game you can actually feel smart playing, because Human Revolution deals heavily with real philosophical issues, especially when you consider that Sarif Industries, the company who essentially owns your character, is also the largest producer of the only drug that can keep augmented humans running. Questions of morality are all over this game; it wouldn’t be surprising if you started to sympathize with your enemies near the end of the game, nor if you condemn what they’re doing. Although details are limited at this point, we do know that Deus Ex: Mankind Divided is going to be a direct sequel, putting you in the same kind of ethically grey situations in a beautifully rendered near-future environment, although the events of Human Revolution may color your perspective a bit differently.
As for gameplay, the controls make a lot of sense for FPS players, especially people familiar with the boost jumping in Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare. You pick your loadout, you find a place to sneak in, and you do what you need to do with as much bloodshed as you choose. Again, you’re going to be rewarded for not being seen, combat isn’t going to be in your favor, and creativity is going to help you with a lot more problems than head-on force. Of course, that’s not to say you can’t run-and-gun with your super-augmented body, it’s just going to be much easier if you mix some tactics with your toughness.
Whichever one of these games you pick to prepare you for their newer, shinier sequels, you won’t be disappointed. The first few tries might be tough, but once you get the right mindset for stealth action, you’ll be all ready to go.