15. Batman: Arkham Asylum [official site] (2009)
Developer: Rocksteady Studios
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive
Arkham Asylum is still the greatest Batman game and its unusual approach to sneaking and clobbering makes it stand out in the field of stealth games. The majority of games in this list are what we might refer to as pure stealth games, in which the player character has few tools other than those that keep him or her concealed, and Arkham Asylum is far from pure. In between exploration of the titular institution, the game divides into two types of encounter: straight-up combat and stealth-based Predator sections.
The clue as to Arkham’s distinctive approach to stealth is in that name: Predator. While most stealth games concentrate on the vulnerability of the protagonist, who uses the shadows as a sort of flimsy armour, Arkham Asylum makes Batman into a thing of fear. Enemies panic as he picks them off one by one and while a burst of automatic fire can bring his crimefighting career to an end, the darkness empowers him and the temptation to toy with the final thug in an area as he jumps at every sound is almost impossible to ignore.
Notes: The storyline for Asylum (and follow-up City) was penned by Paul Dini, perhaps best known for his work on the much-loved Batman: The Animated series, which also shares several voice actors with the Arkham games.
Where can I buy it: Steam.
What else should I be playing if I like this: The sequels are worth playing, although the lack of gadgets in the opening predator stages of the first game are the best example of the stealth at its most basic and best.
14. Desperados: Wanted Dead or Alive [Moby Games] (2001)
Developer: Spellbound Entertainment
Desperados is the pinnacle of the stealth-strategy genre represented elsewhere in this list by Commandos 2. Across beautifully drawn levels, the heroes of the piece move through a hit parade of Western locations and scenarios, sneaking by, shooting and subduing the outlaws who stand between them and their bounty.
The various player characters have a diverse skillset and several abilities can operate in combination to unleash new tactics. Explosives expert Sam Williams can plant a barrel of TNT as distraction or weapon, for example, and then gambler Kate O’Hara can use a mirror to direct just enough rays in its direction to light the fuse. Daft? Yes. Enjoyable? Absolutely.
Read more: Mark Filipowich’s analysis of the game.
What else should I be playing if I like this: The Commandos series, mentioned earlier in this list, and Robin Hood: Legend of Sherwood.
13. Gunpoint [official site] (2013)
Developer: Suspicious Developments
Publisher: Suspicious Developments
Gunpoint’s player character is wearing a pair of ‘hypertrousers’ that can propel him through the air at a rapid clip. While airborne, he can tackle enemies, defenestrating them in the process. That these mighty garments are not the star of the show is testament to the brilliance of the game’s key gadget: the Crosslink device.
Essentially allowing the player to rewrite the rules of a level on the fly, the Crosslink targets specific features of the building to be infiltrated and rewires their connections. A light switch can be connected to a security door, causing guards to inadvertently toggle the lock when they try to turn the lights on. Eventually, as the gadget is upgraded, it’s possible to interfere directly with weaponry and other items in the world. Gunpoint is a game in which it is possible to trap guards within their own security rooms by confusing computer systems. It is a game in which propulsion pants are somehow secondary to intelligent and intricate stealth.
Notes: Designer Tom Francis was an editor at PC Gamer during development of Gunpoint. When he made his development costs ($30 for a copy of Game Maker) back just over a minute after opening pre-orders, he decided to move into full-time game dev.
What else should I be playing if I like this: The Swindle is a faster and more chaotic 2d infiltration and robbery game. Ronin falls somewhere between the two – it’s a turn-based action game.
12. 12. Neon Struct [official site] (2015)
Developer: Minor Key Games
Publisher: Minor Key Games
Neon Struct looks like a working prototype for a new Deus Ex game. The visuals are beautifully minimalist, ensuring that levels are legible, and yet the locations you infiltrate are recognizable as real places. They’re functional, the buildings, with all of the features and utilities in places as you’d expect, and that makes sneaking through them much more enjoyable – rather than travelling quietly and unseen through a world designed to accommodate your activities, you’re a real agent doing real agent stuff.
Despite its brief running time and abstract appearance, Neon Struct manages to tell a story and build a world. The sneaking that holds everything together never requires a great deal of complex interactions: guards won’t notice if you switch off the lights and as long as the lights are low, you can hide in plain sight. Guards operate on an entirely legible traffic light system, moving through unaware to alert to hunting as required, and hacking takes the form of a miniature ball ‘n’ bat Breakout game. But the simplicity and brevity are virtues in this case. From a few ingredients, including a superb synth soundtrack, Neon Struct delivers a delicious course of slick and stylish stealth.
Notes: Designer David Pittman worked at 2K Marin before going indie, where he wrote AI code for The Bureau: XCOM Declassified and Bioshock 2.
Read more: Our review.
What else should I be playing if I like this: Pittman’s first independent game, Eldritch, isn’t quite as stealth-focused but it’s a creepy experience in more ways than one. And a superb game.
11. Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory [Ubisoft shop site] (2005)
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Set in the near-future of 2007, Chaos Theory’s plot is typical Clancy-guff. Tensions are high, geopolitics are determined by a few gruff men and private military corporations rather than centuries of social and geographical development, and only Sam ‘Ironsides’ Fisher is capable of restoring order to a world on the brink of Big War #57. The plot is fine because it’s the perfect scaffolding for the best globetrotting stealth action in the Splinter Cell series to date – the bathhouse level alone is enough for it to secure a place on this list.
With Clint Hocking (who would be creative director on Far Cry 2 three years later) as the creative lead, having been promoted from a design position on prior Splinter Cells, Chaos Theory ramped up the emergent possibilities of the military reconnaissance equipment at the player’s disposal. Cameras could be fired from guns and attached to walls or ceilings to provide remote viewing of locations, and sound as well as light travelled within the environments. The Splinter Cell games can seem dated, perhaps due to their near-future now being the recent past, but Chaos Theory provides a superb collection of toys within its grim military playgrounds.
Notes: The soundtrack is the work of Amon Tobin. His jazzy 1997 album Bricolage is a stone cold classic.
Read more: Eurogamer’s Review.
What else should I be playing if I like this: There are all kinds of games in the wider Clancyverse, including the earlier Splinter Cell games, which are recommended, and the later ones, which you should read about before taking the plunge. Action creeps in and stealth is somewhat displaced.