That Volume by that Mike Bithell is out this week and to be honest the site isn’t important enough to get a pre-release copy, so I’ve no idea what it is like. It looks quite good though - a stripped to basics, honest stealth game. I don’t really like stealth games, but Volume wears its colours proudly and there’s something about all of the mechanics in the game being laid so bare that could likely overcome a lot of my issues with the genre, so it is something I’m interested in giving a go at some point. At least I know what I’m getting myself into, right? Because there’s absolutely nothing worse than a stealth section popping up in the middle of an otherwise enjoyable video game. Like an erection at a funeral or a woman at one of those GamerGate meet ups, it’s frankly not welcome and ruins the occasion for everyone. Here’s a tedious listicle containing a few of the times I’ve had an otherwise enjoyable experience shat up the wall by a surprise stealth section.
The Evil Within.
Shinji Mikami’s spiritual sequel to Resident Evil 4 shines when it is doing its best impersonation of that classic game. Situations where the odds are well and truly against you - an area full of awful bastards, weapons with limited ammo and only your wits to help you get through. Every missed shot, wasted bullet or poorly executed plan causes you to rethink your approach on the fly and as the enemies close in, the game begins to turn the screw, you panic and go into survival mode. Pure, total survival horror.
It is a shame then that The Evil Within occasionally leans on that cheapest of horror gameplay mechanics - having to hide from some insta-death monster prick. The game even BEGINS with one such section and it is fucking terrible. This big lad with a chainsaw is stalking around an area and you have to sneak past him by tossing bottles and waiting for him to look in the other direction. It is about as much fun as choosing which finger to cut off. I eventually muddled my way through it using trial and error, because it was less frustrating than actually TRYING in my attempt to sneak past the chainsaw fiend, only to be spotted and cut to pieces with little or no warning.
After you’re past the opening stealth disaster, The Evil Within becomes a great game, but decides to revisit near insta-fail sneaking for the final few levels, meaning that my memory of the game isn’t a particularly fond one and my desire to start the game again at any point is dampened by that opening shitshow.
Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag.
Black Flag is the closest that the annual borefest the Assassin’s Creed series has come to being a decent game. It has nothing to do with its usual mix of awkward parkour, repetitive missions and crap combat, but instead the fleshed out sections onboard a boat, which first appeared in Assassin’s Creed 3. These are absolutely brilliant, sticking you in epic sea battles as you blast other boats with your cannons, whilst being battered by a severe storm. As you slowly turn the ship in the wind, readying the cannons to blast an enemy vessel to splinters, you really feel the weight of the bloody thing, like you’re wrestling the wheel yourself.
It even allows you to seamlessly board enemy ships, which is quite impressive considering all of the moving parts in play as two wooden boats collide at sea, while members of the two crews do battle. Sure, it doesn’t fix the fundamental issues at the heart of the series, but the naval combat is undeniably fun and the fact that it became the focus of two Assassin’s Creed games showed that Ubisoft knew this too. Unfortunately, Black Flag has a few sections where you have to sneak past patrol boats and watchtowers, whilst in a fucking pirate ship. What?
Now, I’ve mentioned this before and some mewling idiots have said “Well, how is this any different to the Cobra Tank/Stealth sections in Arkham Knight?” Simple, in Arkham Knight, the Batmobile’s much maligned ‘tank’ mode is pretty nippy and can maneuver around the area with ease, meaning you can get yourself out of any bad situation you find yourself in. In Black Flag, you’re a huge, lumbering boat that is being propelled by the fucking wind and have a turning circle akin to Earth’s orbit of the Sun. It isn’t just insta-fail bullshit, either. You sometimes have a good few seconds to sink in as you slowly, but unavoidably float your way into the line of sight and are unceremoniously sent back to the beginning of the section. They’ve got rid of the boat stuff in recent games, instead replacing them with hilarious, game-breaking bugs, which doesn’t sound like the smartest move, but it sold millions anyway, so what do I know, eh?
ANY First Person Shooter.
Now, this doesn’t include the Thief games, because at no point do they ever claim to be a First Person SHOOTER. I’m talking about games that, for the most part, have you shooting everything in sight, only to ‘offer a bit of variety’ a few levels in and have you sneaking past guards and having to restart from the last fucking checkpoint every time you set off a fucking alarm. I remember playing Red Faction (on the PS2, like a total monster) and being totally blown away by the ‘Geo-Mod’ technology, allowing you to blow huge holes in the game world and use these to your advantage. It was awesome to fire a rocket at a few enemies and see the destruction left in its wake. Imagine my horror when I suddenly had all of my weapons taken away and had to sneak through some offices full of armed guards. There’s no instant fail if you get spotted, which for once is actually a pain in the bollocks, because instead of that you’ve just got to run around impotently until they’ve shot you to death.
Loads of people talk up the stealth sections in the Call of Duty games, specifically the sneaking through the field in the first of the Modern Warfare games. Well, they’re rubbish. Atmospheric rubbish, but rubbish nonetheless. All you do is slowly walk or crawl around, following the exact actions of an A.I partner - any deviation from this will result in you being spotted and failing the mission instantly - until you eventually reach an end point. It’s a fucking military themed Dear Esther, only with a better plot.
It’s just false advertising really, isn’t it? If I buy a First Person Shooter I don’t ever want to find myself stripped of all weapons and unable to progress because I can’t figure my way through a maze of A.I vision cones. Adding stealth sections to a game is like, the absolute bottom rung of ‘adding variety’ to a product. Entry level stuff. Which brings us on nicely to…
The Legend Of Zelda: Wind Waker.
“But all Zelda games are the same thing all the time!” whined someone who spends too much time on NeoGAF. “Nintendo need to change the formula or it’ll get stale!” they mewl from their lair of plastic promotional tat.
Look at the damage you caused.
There’s a stealth section at the start of Wind Waker. Link finds himself locked away in the Forbidden Fortress with no weapons. No sword. No sword! In a Zelda game! All you’ve got is a bunch of guards and searchlights to avoid as you cut about the area but if you get spotted it’s - surprise! - back to the start for you! It’s not even hard, it’s just rubbish. A change of pace before the game even gets going and to a mechanic you don’t use again for the duration. It feels like it was tacked on towards the end of development because they didn’t fancy putting effort into adding new content, or y’know, actually finishing the game off properly.
There’s been a stealth section in every Zelda game since. It is always the lowest ebb of otherwise incredible games. The wolf nonsense in Twilight Princess. The rubbish bit in the volcano in Skyward Sword. At least A Link Between Worlds proved that Nintendo can change up the traditional Zelda formula without having to rely on such stale gameplay sections.
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2.
I bloody love Lords of Shadow. The original is a fantastic action game full of variety in every aspect - locations, enemies, moves, the lot. It is every part an action game from the God of War/Platinum Games era, but is also a fitting tribute to the hardcore action platforming from the 16-bit era and even before. It is a great game and one absolutely worthy of your time.
When reports came out that the second one was a much more open game, I was still excited. Making the game more of a ‘Metroidvania’ style affair would be a nice nod to the other side of the whole Castlevania thing, with a bit of exploration and finding new abilities to aid in that sound like a pretty cool thing to add to the Lords of Shadow formula. Unfortunately, for the most part it was a bloated and directionless sequel that added a load of unnecessary fat to the tight and lean original.
It also happens to have one of the worst stealth segments I’ve ever played, too. Ladies and Gentlemen, the Agreus Dead Leaf Garden.
The first game goes a long way to establishing the fact that you are playing as Dracula in the sequel. The devil himself. The all-mighty and all-powerful lord of the fucking night. The baddest of all badasses. However, if you step on - and I’m not making this up at all - a pile of leaves during this terrible stealth section, this mad goat thing shows up in a cutscene and one shots you. Just think about that for a second. Foiled by LEAVES. LEAVES. He’s lived for millennia and he’s undone by some rustling.
It’s absolute crap and even after I found out you could muddle your way through it using Dracula’s mist form I still sacked the game off.
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