With the upcoming release of a new Thief game it provides us an opportunity to reflect on the direction stealth games have taken lately. To me the game that first comes to mind when thinking about the stealth genre is Metal Gear Solid. It was the first successful game of the genre in 3D and focused much more on stealth than its 2D predecessors.
The other series that comes to mind is the Splinter Cells series. However, in recent releases, particularly Conviction and Black List, the series has taken on a more action approach to stealth. Sure the stealth mechanics are there, but an increase in pace, something I don’t view as terribly bad, and an increase in action sequences where your only option is to run and gun have pulled the series away from its roots. Gone is the fear of being discovered, the panic of an alarm going off, and the re-enforcements that follow.
On the other hand, the Metal Gear Solid series has maintained its focus on stealth much better than the Splinter Cell games. Sure you can play the game like an action game, running through the levels and just gunning everything down, but it almost always more advantageous to move through the game silently and unseen. The game in turn appeals to both stealth and action gamers. This balance is something that is not seen in Splinter Cell.
It is not impossible to marry the two strikingly different gameplay styles together. A more recent good example would be Dishonored. The gamer could take multiple approaches to each level, which were not obvious to both types of players, and encouraged gamers of each play style to cross over in order to experience the game completely. Sure difficulty increased if you played a run-and-gun playthrough, but it wasn’t impossible and provided the challenge that action orientated gamers would enjoy. The ability to explore almost anywhere within the bounds of the game also helped make the game more enjoyable for stealth gamers since experimentation with your abilities lead to approaches that were much easier and provided better stealth opportunities.
I can only hope that the Thief team has struck the delicate balance that exists in Metal Gear Solid, and has not abandoned its stealth roots completely in order to appeal to a more general audience of gamers. I can see why they would adopt many of the components of action games, but would it really be so bad to have a major AAA game that focused on stealth and punished gamers that tried to beat the game with a mindless run and gun mentality?