Below you will find the 25 best stealth games ever released on PC. There are sneaking missions, grand thefts, assassinations, escapes and infiltrations. Stay low, keep quiet and we'll make it to the end.
Stealth games fall into various categories but I tend to think of them as either 'pure' or 'diluted'. A pure stealth game is one in which the player has no alternative to sneaking and hiding, and in which combat is at best a frantic and painful last resort, and at worst is cause for immediate failure. Diluted stealth games are those in which creeping around in the shadows and avoiding contact with enemies, or incapacitating them without being spotted, is one of several options. In those games, there are usually several approaches to any given scenario and being spotted often simply causes the game to shift gears rather than stalling or spinning out of control.
Most of the games listed are pure, or tend toward purity. That's partly because stealth is an option in so many games now that worlds are becoming more open that an argument could be made for almost any action game you care to mention. Even if you can choose to attack every enemy base with nothing but a knife and a (silent) prayer if you decide to leave your rocket launcher at home, that doesn't mean the game is due for consideration on this list. That's not a snub toward any particular game or series, it's simply a way to exercise control and give the 25 games below some contextual meaning.
With that said, here we go. Or if you've suddenly had second thoughts, why not try our regularly updated list of the best PC games you can play right now.
You can navigate the list by clicking the links below or by following the next page button at the bottom of each page.
Developer: Bithell Games
Publisher: Bithell Games
When we spoke to Mike Bithell about his (then) upcoming stealth game, he described his first release, minimalist puzzle-platformer Thomas Was Alone, as a so-so game with a good story. He’d intended to make a brilliant game and hadn’t cared about the story all that much until late in the process. With Volume, the scales tipped in the opposite direction: the stealth mechanics and level-building tools are as solid an expression of pure stealth gaming as you could hope for, but the story and voice acting feel overworked.
Where Volume shines though, it shines bright. It’s a game that encourages planning, providing the player with plenty of information about patrol routes and enemy line of sight before asking them to commit to a course of action. There are tools to distract and deter, and a neat balance between empowering the player and ensuring that they are still anxious and vulnerable. While the punishing instant failures and puzzle-like one-solution construction of some levels makes the game seem restrictive, the tools available are entirely capable of hosting levels that support reactive play that relies on improvisation.
Notes: The game itself and the creation suite in particular were inspired by Metal Gear Solid 2, specifically the Substance disc, which showed Hideo Kojima designing prototype levels using Lego. Bithell wanted Volume’s level designer to feel like playing with Lego and the game’s visuals are at least partly inspired by Metal Gear’s VR missions.
What else should I be playing if I like this: Metal Gear Solid 2 will take you back to the source while Mark of the Ninja’s view cones and gadgets are evidence of a somewhat similar feel to stealth, though from a different perspective.
Developer: Overkill / Starbreeze
Publisher: 505 Games
Payday 2 attempts something bold. It’s a multiplayer crime game that hopes to recreate both the gunfights of Heat when a job goes wrong (or everyone becomes deliberately trigger-happy) and the perfectly planned heists and infiltrations of Mission Impossible or Topkapi. Of course, just as in a heist film, something inevitably goes wrong, and in Payday 2, that’s usually because one of your crew makes a mistake.
Mechanically, Payday 2 isn’t a great stealth game but it’s one of the few that allows a group of players to plan and perform together. So much of the joy of sneaking is in the precision of a well operated dash across cover, just as guards are out of position. Sharing that joy with a team, coordinated and slick, is a fantastic experience that even the greatest singleplayer stealth games can’t quite match. Imperfect it may be, but Payday 2 is as close to the escapism of impossible Hollywood crimes as anything else in gaming, and it’s at its best when everyone does their job without leaving a trace behind.
Notes: Overkill founders Bo and Ulf Andersson were also founders of Grin, the company responsible for the Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter games and 2008/2009 Bionic Commando revival and sequel. At the time of closing, Grin had apparently been working on other revivals, notably Streets of Rage and Strider.
Where can I buy it: Direct from the developers, Steam.
What else should I be playing if I like this: Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood has an enjoyable multiplayer mode, in which players attempt to conceal their own characters in the crowd while backstabbers circle. Watch Dogs also toys with multiplayer stealth hijinks.
23. The Swindle [Official Site] (2015)
Developer: Size Five Games
Publisher: Size Five Games
Spelunky as a stealth game? It’s not a perfect fit but the comparison might be helpful if you’ve never heard of The Swindle before now. But what if you’re also unaware of Spelunky’s charms…?
The Swindle is a steampunk side-scrolling stealth game, in which you play as an endless supply of robbers and ne’er do wells attempting to snatch as much filthy luchre as possible from randomly generated buildings. You have 100 days – and 100 missions – to raise the cash needed to pull off the ultimate swindle and if you fail, it’s curtains for the entire criminal class.
Even though the opening missions can be a bit of a drag on each and every playthrough, The Swindle finds a sweet spot once upgrades have enabled some hacking and stealth trickery, and once the more devious robotic guards are in place.
Notes: The Swindle’s creator, Dan Marshall, is one half of the team behind Ben There Dan That and Time Gentlemen, Please, two of the finest point and click adventures of modern times. That another Ben and Dan game has not occurred is the greatest swindle of all.
Where can I buy it: Steam,
What else should I be playing if I like this: Early stealth-action game Bonanza Bros. may not be a direct inspiration but it’s certainly cut from similar cloth.
22. The Evil Within [Official Site] (2001)
Developer: Tango Gameworks
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Stealth and horror go hand-in-hand, particularly when guns are taken out of the picture and entire games play out as elaborate takes on hide and seek. The Evil Within might seem an unusual pick, then, considering it leans toward the action end of the survival horror spectrum. Behind all of the gore and gunplay there’s a wonderfully realised stealth game though, with silent instakills, traps to negotiate and lure enemies toward, and shadows in which to cower.
The release of the two-part DLC story featuring one of the original game’s supporting characters, Julie Kidman, showed how important the stealth mechanics had been all along. Those two chapters are the most horrifying and tense sequences in the entire game, and they’re entirely based on the key stealth ingredients: sight, sound and light.
Notes: Resident Evil creator Shinji Mikami’s first survival horror game since 2005’s Resident Evil 4.
Where can I buy it: Steam.
What else should I be playing if I like this: Amnesia: The Dark Descent and the more recent SOMA both contain elements of stealth-horror.
21. Commandos 2: Men of Courage [Moby Games] (2001)
Developer: Pyro Studios
If memory serves, Commandos 2: Men of Courage arrived just before the great World War II wave that swept across gaming in the early 21st century. Shortly after Commandos 2 arrived, there would come a time when every other game took place during World War II. There were shooters, there were RTS games, there were more shooters. The wave of WWII FPS games had begun in 2001, with Medal of Honor already pinned to shop shelves, Call of Duty just around the corner and a Return to Castle Wolfenstein taking place. For strategy gamers, the WWII focus was nothing new.
While Company of Heroes was a half a decade away, the venerable Close Combat series had been exploring the fronts and operations of the war for years. When Commandos arrived in 1998, a passing glance may not have been enough to recognise how its design differentiated it from other squad-based strategy games. With its small teams of highly skilled individuals, each proficient at a certain task, Commandos plays more like a tactical puzzle game than an RTS. This superior sequel has a brilliant set of missions that takes a broad view of the war, with the squad travelling from Burma to Colditz Castle. Stealth is a vital part of the game – you’re outnumbered and outgunned – and while the system is simple, it’s tense and effective.
Notes: Following the poor reception of first-person spin-off Commandos: Strike Force in 2006, developers Pyro have now moved into mobile development.
What else should I be playing if I like this: The other games in the series, bar spin-off Strike Force, are worth a look, as are the mechanically similar but thematically varied Desperados: Wanted Dead or Alive and Robin Hood: Legend of Sherwood.
20. Hidden and Dangerous 2 (2003) [fan site]
Developer: Illusion Softworks
Publisher: Gathering of Developers
Hidden and Dangerous is to Call of Duty what SWAT 4 is to Battlefield Hardline. Rather than treating war as a shooting gallery, Hidden and Dangerous uses a combination of first- and third-person direct squad control to simulate the tactics of SAS operations behind enemy lines. The sequel improves the stealth mechanics, allowing the player to take prisoners and steal uniforms, as well as incorporating a greater variety of appropriate objectives in its missions.
Illusion Softworks’ game succeeds in part because of its ambition. The AI struggles to cope with the player’s tactics at times and Mafia’s LS3D engine doesn’t always seem like the best fit for the experience, but with its complex maps and command structure, married to direct control of individuals, it’s a serious and accomplished tactical stealth game that allows you to see the consequences of a perfectly worked plan – or a disastrous failure – up close and personal. It’s intricacy and flaws put it in the same camp as the Men of War series: serious, intense and in-depth tactical games of war.
Notes: The Deluxe edition of the first game in the series is available free of charge, having been released as freeware to promote the sequel.
Where can I buy it: The second-hand market.
What else should I be playing if I like this: The Operation Flashpoint and ARMA games don’t rely on stealth to the same degree, but offer a similar sense of military realism and cooperation. SWAT 4 is a policing equivalent.
Read more: Eurogamer’s review .
19. Manhunt [Official Site] (2011)
Developer: Rockstar North
Publisher: Rockstar Games
Combining elements of snuff films with the horrors of reality TV, Manhunt is an oppressively unpleasant game. It delves into aspects of horror that have been excavated so thoroughly by modern film-makers that the barrel has been scraped dry, buried, exhumed, reincarnated and then thoroughly dismantled from top-to-bottom. Found footage + extreme violence is a stinking trough that too many snouts have been buried in for too long. Rockstar recognise that the violence must be a requirement of survival rather than an indulgence, and by mixing their snuff with stealth, they make horrible deeds feel necessary, cathartic and then horrible again.
The executions are dirty and desperate. There's no glamour in the game and even in the most excessive moments, the camera is a grotesque voyeur rather than a fetishising framing device. The gunplay is rubbish, and the environments are ugly and repetitive (by design, but still...) but the stealth-violence is tense, horrific and smartly designed.
Notes: Manhunt was one of the games targeted by now-disbarred attorney Jack Thompson during his campaign against “murder simulators”. Links between the game and a 2004 murder were dismissed by police but pursued by Thompson, who attempted to sue Rockstar and Sony (Manhunt was initially a Playstation exclusive), later describing the latter's release of violent games in America as “Pearl Harbour 2” and Rockstar's games as “the gravest assault upon children in this country since polio”.
Where can I buy it: Steam.
Read more: Kieron's thoughtful retrospective.
What else should I be playing if I like this: The Thief games' interludes into stealth-horror are the best example of that particular genre crossover.
18. Styx: Master of Shadows [official site] (2014)
Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
There are several common approaches to stealth gaming but every design must make one important decision: is a failure to stay in the shadows punished by failure, or will the player have opportunities to correct their mistakes. If a game takes the latter approach, it can swiftly slide out of the stealth bracket altogether, as being spotted becomes an excuse to run and gun all the way to the end of a level. Styx: Master of Shadows plants its fantasy flag in the former category, demanding that every level is executed using stealth and stealth alone.
Titular character Styx does have some goblin-y gadgets to divert the attention of guards but on the whole, he relies on the shadows, and the nooks and crannies of each level to conceal him. Where the game excels is in the design of those levels, which make good use of verticality to ensure that you’ll need eyes in the top as well as the back of your head if you’re going to make good use of your surroundings. And if you are willing to engage with this strict approach to stealth, you’ll likely alternate between excusing and cursing the frustrating combat. It’s excused because it’s a clumsy last resort but it’s frustrating because, damn, is it ever clumsy.
Notes: Takes place in the world established by Cyanide and Spiders’ action-orientated RPG Of Orcs and Men.
Read more: Our Review.
Where can I buy it: Steam.
What else should I be playing if I like this: A sequel is due next year but until then, there’s more Styx in Of Orcs and Humans
17. The Saboteur [official site] (2009)
Developer: Pandemic Studios
Publisher: Electronic Arts
There’s a great deal to deride in The Saboteur. Set in Nazi-occupied France during the Second World War, for most of the running time, the game is more like ‘Allo ‘Allo than Army of Shadows. This is a game with a patch that unlocks extra brothels and removes the clothing from the women in those brothels. It’s a game that relegates the struggle of the Resistance to backstory while concentrating on the personal business of its sweary eejit of a lead character.
And yet, there’s a great deal to admire in The Saboteur. It’s one of the few open world games that manages to incorporate stealth effectively by clearly communicating the relative danger of the various Parisian districts. All of that is thanks to some simple but effective mechanics and the glorious art direction that sees the red-spattered monochrome of the occupied city restored to its natural colours as Liberté sweeps through. In the later missions, there are extravagant scenarios, wild capers, that show Pandemic’s Mercenaries credentials in full force. If you can look past some of the tackiness, The Saboteur is a fine example of stealth mechanics finding expression in an open world.
Notes: The Saboteur was Pandemic’s final game – the studio had previously created the Mercenaries games, as well as the soon-to-be revived Star Wars: Battlefront series.
Where can I buy it: Origin.
What else should I be playing if I like this: Velvet Assassin, which came out around the same time, is almost as tonally confused and also suffers from inferior stealth mechanics. You could always play Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag and pretend the stealth actually matters.
16. Monaco [official site] (2013)
Developer: Pocketwatch Games
Publisher: Majesco Entertainment
During its prolonged development cycle, Monaco appeared to be many different things. A top-down stealth puzzler, perhaps? An elaborate multiplayer tactical heist planner? A stylized but tissue-thin arcade rob ‘em up?
The reality is a combination of all three possibilities. Monaco is certainly stylized – and stylish – framing its heists in the language of a chic New Wave crime film but with visuals that are Neon Vague. As stills, the levels looks like a weird form of Magic Eye picture that you’ll have to squint and stare at if the image is ever to coalesce, but when playing, they coalesce immediately. Information flies out of the screen thick and fast as the various characters you (and your friends) can control demolish walls, hack computers and flee from attack dogs. The joy is as much in the farce that ensues when everything goes to hell as in the perfectly executed plan.
Read more: Our Review and an interview with developer Andy Schatz.
What else should I be playing if I like this: Payday 2 is a completely different take on multiplayer heists, and both The Escapists and Prison Architect feel like alternate reality versions of Monaco, viewed from different perspectives.
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.
Developer: Starbreeze Studios
Of all the games on this list, Riddick’s sci-fi prison break saga has more in common with Arkham Asylum than any other. Like Batman’s biff ‘em up, Assault on Dark Athena (incorporating the earlier and superior Escape From Butcher Bay) is part stealth game and part brawling game. It’s also a stabbing game – Batman doesn’t use shivs quite as often as ol’ shiny eyes.
As well as handling both the stealth and first-person melee combat well, Riddick is a fine example of how to work with a license. Extending the backstory rather than retelling a story better suited to cinema, Butcher Bay plants itself in a setting suited to the kind of close quarters sneaking, stabbing and skull-smashing that suits Riddick as a player character. He’s a bastard but he’s your bastard.
Notes: Assault on Dark Athena is an expanded remake of the earlier Escape From Butcher Bay. While Athena’s prettier, there is an argument to be made that Butcher Bay is superior – it has quicksave, its lighting system doesn’t get in the way so much and it’s not saddled with the boring extra section. The balance just about tips towards the newer Athena, and in any case you can only obtain Butcher second-hand now anyway.
Where can I buy it: GOG.
What else should I be playing if I like this: Batman’s Arkham games have a similar palette and combination of violence and sneaking and fit into the ‘strong licensed game’ category, as does Shadow of Mordor.
Developer: Monolith Productions
Publisher: Sierra Entertainment
No One Lives Forever 2, like the original, is a lovely spoof of the James Bond genre, with its gender-switch approach, and gleeful nicking of Fleming’s gadgets, vehicles and plot structure. Cate Archer makes for an excellent protagonist, peculiarly snooty and unlikeable in some ways, while defiant and ass-kickingly pleasing in others. The pleasure of using gadgets to approach situations in your own chosen way is immense, with a good mix of stealth, action, driving and narrative. Flavours of Hitman, Deus Ex and Austin Powers made for an interesting cocktail. One that really worked and impresses with its uncommon inventiveness even now. Wit, too: shooters imbued with comedy to anything like this extent were rare then, and even rarer now.
While this sequel never forces the player to rely on stealth, as the first game did on occasion, the new gadgets introduced make Cate’s approach to each mission more flexible than before. The levels are also more open, with a few exceptions, allowing for more experimentation. It's the setpieces, such as the tornado-in-a-trailer-park, that are creaking the most as age catches up with them. Spectacular at the time, some of NOLF 2's more extravagant flourishes feel like distractions rather than attractions. But the core of the game, and its predecessor, are as good as anything the wonderful Monolith have ever made.
Notes: The first game in the series is also a treat, but standalone expansion/prequel Contract J.A.C.K., which threw out most of the spy stuff in favour of shooter conventions (including generic gruff man protagonist, allegedly to help sales) into the series, should be avoided like 14 types of plague.
Where can I buy it: :( The rights are tied up in a knot no-one can (or, more likely, wants to) untangle. So second-hand's your only recourse for now. Last year, plans for a re-release were announced, but nothing's happened yet.
What else should be playing if I like this: Hitman: Blood Money does gadgets and stealth impeccably well, and even weaves absurdist and slapstick humour into its assassination vignettes. Or there's Dishonored for a more flexible and serious (yet fantastical) approach to the gadgety stealth shooter.
Read more: Retrospective: No One Lives Forever.
8. Alien: Isolation [official site] (2014)
Developer: Creative Assembly
There are many horror games about running away rather than standing your ground, a tradition which Frictional’s Amnesia: The Dark Descent may have revitalized but that has been a part of scare ‘em ups since the days of Clock Tower, and indeed the very birth of survival horror: 1982’s Haunted House. Alien: Isolation is one of the few games within the genre to model its antagonists behavior in convincing fashion, however, rather than relying on scripted events and ghost train ghouls. Creative Assembly’s game utilizes every trick in the book, including scripted sequences, but the credibility of the creature’s movements is the main source of uncertainty and fear.
In order to survive, you’re provided with a set of tools that distract, delay and deter the alien, and anything else that presents a threat. That equipment, and the ability to hide under furniture and in lockers, feeds into a system of sound, sight and sneaking. Where many of the games on this list are masterpieces of UI design, communicating and providing feedback in smart and stylish ways, Isolation goes the opposite route. All of the information you need to survive is locked into that unwieldy and view-obscuring motion tracker, an in terminals that take too long to boot up and process your inputs. As well as being a superb horror game, Alien: Isolation is a wonderful example of how a stealth game can excel through a lack of communication with the player. It’s occasionally frustrating but it’s exquisitely tense.
Notes: The most notable alteration to the design of the Alien, as compared to the film, is seen in the legs. The man-in-a-suit design didn't have the recurved legs of the game's creature but the designers realised that hiding under tables and watching humanoid legs shuffling past wouldn't be quite as creepy.
Where can I buy it: Steam.
What else should I be playing if I like this: SOMA, the sci-fi horror game from Frictional is worth a look. System Shock 2 is the only currently available non-guns-blazin' sci-fi horror game comparable in quality though.
7. Deus Ex [Official Site] (2000)
Developer: Ion Sorm
Publisher: Eidos Interactive
The question as to whether Deus Ex is truly a stealth game kept the official RPS List Lawyers awake for several months. Their final report on the matter read as follows: “A stealth game is a game in which stealth is necessary at least once rather than optional at all times. Otherwise, some smartarse will manage to do a no-kills run of Doom and claim that it’s one of the inspirations for Metal Gear Solid.”
It might be possible to run from Liberty Island to [REDACTED] all guns blazing, cyber-clodhopping your way from one mission to the next without a care for the consequences, but it’d be a sad way to play. Stealth in the original Deus Ex can seem tricky to those who didn’t play it at the time, or who have become accustomed to Human Revolution’s upgraded moveset. Try to clobber everyone on the back of the head or stun them from afar and you may well struggle, but it’s a game that has been carefully designed to allow ‘ghosting’. Often, you won’t even need to incapacitate a single enemy – go in, reach your objective, and get out, all without being seen or leaving a body behind.
What else should I be playing if I like this: Consider Neon Struct, seen elsewhere in this list. Deus Ex: Human Revolution improves some of the stealth mechanics and the upcoming Mankind Divided may go a cyberstep further in that regard. The first three Thief games are as close to the immersive sense of Deus Ex as anything else available though. Also check out The Nameless Mod for the original.
6. Mark of the Ninja [Official Site] (2012)
Developer: Klei Entertainment
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Mark of the Ninja is so brilliantly designed that, fittingly, its quiet revolution could almost go unnoticed. It’s a side-scrolling stealth game that allows for lethal, non-lethal and unseen approaches to its levels, and while the seamless nature of control, information and interface seem like they might have been refined for a generation or more, the game seems to have crept into the world fully-formed. Some of the ideas, such as the visible audio cues and lines of sight, have precedent in other stealth games, notably Metal Gear Solid, but Klei have reinvented or elaborated on every inspiration.
The game’s world throws high tech private military corporations and ninja dojos together – shadows, shuriken, explosives and laser tripwires. That allows for some tricky design but the game is rarely punishing, usually providing escape routes as well as weapons and tools that can put guards out of action. Visually, it’s a masterpiece. The slick cartoon graphics are only part of the reason though; the game’s main strength is its use of every aspect of visual feedback to inform the player. It gives you all the information you’ll ever need, tidily and attractively, and trusts you to play and experiment with that information as you see fit. If that involves unleashing a plague of flesh-eating bugs to dispose of a corpse, so be it.
Notes: Lead designer Nels Anderson is now working on the intriguing Firewatch at Campo Santo.
Where can I buy it: Steam.
What else should I be playing if I like this: Deadlight has a different visual approach, and zombies rather than ninja, but it’s another gorgeous and unusual side-scrolling game. Not as impressive as Mark of the Ninja but worth a look. Anything else by Klei is worth your time and money as well.
5. Dishonored [official site] (2012)
Developer: Arkane Studios
We thought Dishonored might play out like Thief. It’s a first-person stealth game set in a world that crunches historical influences and invented technologies together, and it has direct Looking Glass heritage in the form of co-director Harvey Smith. Where Thief focused on sneaking and shadow-hugging, as befitting its title and lead character’s profession, Dishonored takes to the rooftops. Garrett always felt underpowered, a master thief who quickly ended up out of his depth, while Dishonored’s Corvo is a bodyguard turned assassin. He’s the most dangerous person in the room, whichever room that happens to be.
That reality requires a very different approach to stealth. Dishonored is a kinetic stealth game, in that it is movement rather than lack of movement that is most likely to help you go undetected. Instead of biding your time and observing patrols, you can use your superpowers (and Dishonored is also one of the best superhero games ever made, even though it isn’t strictly a superhero game) to teleport short distances and to distract or destroy guards from afar. In building a game around the player character rather than imitating Thief’s deadly shadows, Dishonored created new styles of play.
Notes: Dishonored's The Knife of Dunwall/Witches of Brigmore DLC is a significant improvement upon Dishonored itself, thanks to a more interesting protagonist and a more complete story, plus the optional involvement of henchfolk to help you out. So if you can afford it, do pick up the GOTY version of Dishonored, even though at £20 it's twice the price of the vanilla one on Steam.
Where can I buy it: Steam, disc and most other download services, though all they'll give you is a Steam code.
What else should I be playing if I like this: Thief: Deadly Shadows if you want more, and still relatively accessible fantasy-stealth, or there's the third-person Shadow of Mordor if you want something with more blood and more magic.
4. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain [official site] (2015)
Developer: Kojima Productions
The story doesn’t so much end as just stop, the base-building feels like somebody else’s concern and tactics are a little too easy to perfect over time, but The Phantom Pain is the greatest stealth action game ever made. There’s so much to do and to see that you’re likely to spend the first couple of months discovering new interactions and surprises, and it will probably take years for every secret to come to light. Considering the strength of personality in the series and its auteur creator, it’s striking that the best of The Phantom Pain would still be in place even if it were stripped of all identifying Metal Gear Solidisms. As a dry military stealth sim it wouldn’t quite work – the exuberance, oddity and humour are vital – but it could stand apart from the MGS series as gaming’s greatest and most brilliantly crafted curiosity.
No other game has embedded such elaborate and exquisite stealth mechanics into an open world environment. That Kojima Productions’ masterpiece does so in one of the most convincing and reactive open word environments ever crafted is astonishing. Even though seemingly incomplete, which ties into the development and launch disputes covered in the notes below, The Phantom Pain is a ridiculously generous game. The Side Ops are often more compelling than the main story missions and it’s impossible to play for long without running into an emergent distraction. Or creating one of your own.
Notes: The apparent dispute between publishers Konami and Metal Gear director Hideo Kojima - which appears to have concluded with Kojima’s departure from the company amid talk of the publisher’s move away from bid budget game development and the cancellation of the Kojima co-directed Silent Hills – has been as mysterious and confusing as some Metal Gear Solid plotlines.
What else should I be playing if I like this: The seemingly forgotten Project I.G.I. feels like a shabby precursor to some of The Phantom Pain’s ideas. MGS 1 and 2 are also available on PC, and if you enjoy the VR missions from the earlier games, Mike Bithell’s Volume might be your cup of brewed leaves.
Where can I buy it: Steam
3. Hitman: Blood Money [official site] (2006)
Developer: IO Interactive
Publisher: Eidos Interactive
Hitman’s finest installment might also be the only installment that has ever fully lived up to the concept’s promise. IO’s sandbox (snuffbox) assassination games are built around the idea that infiltrating, stalking, targeting and eventually killing targets in believable environments would be entertaining. The least important part of that is the kill itself. These are not particularly violent games, for the most part, and the best players take a certain pride in the cleanliness of the kill. A good hitman does not cause a commotion or attract attention. Each level is packed with possible death sentences, environmental triggers and weapons that can put paid to the unaware, but there are also onlookers and guards to contend with.
At its best, Blood Money presents its levels both as credible places that feel authentic – remembered either from cinema or from life – and as intricate puzzles. As you attempt to make your way to the target and then back to the exit, perhaps hiding a body or two along the way, the solution to the puzzle becomes messier and messier. Every new variable introduced, whether it be the sound of a gunshot or the wrong disguise in the wrong area, dilutes the clarity of the original setup. Agent 47 is the poison in the system that prevents everything from working as it should – your job is to leave before the system recognizes that it has been compromised.
Notes: The final Hitman game with a Jesper Kyd soundtrack. For now.
Where can I buy it: Steam.
What else should I be playing if I like this: Blood Money is the series at its peak but there are decent levels in every game, even the subpar Absolution. Maybe the Death to Spies games will tickle your fancy if you enjoy the tricky stealth of Hitman, but if it’s the killing you enjoy, try Kane and Lynch.
2. Invisible, Inc. [official site] (2015)
Developer: Klei Entertainment
Publisher: Klei Entertainment
Three years ago, claiming that Mark of the Ninja was anything other than Klei’s stealth masterpiece would have been considered rude at best. That the studio have created an even more inventive, intelligent and enjoyable stealth game already seems preposterous, but Invisible, Inc. is exactly that. If the translation of familiar mechanics into a side-scrolling environment seemed bold, the reinvention of the sneaking and stealing genre as a game of turn-based tactics deserves a medal for outstanding bravery. Invisible, Inc. might well be the best wholly original turn-based game released in a decade.
Everything from the brief campaign structure to the heavily customizable playstyles has been designed to encourage experimentation and create maximum tension. Like Mark of the Ninja, this is a game that believes that information is power, and the screen will tell you everything you need to know to survive. And then you’ll die, again and again because you didn’t think three or four moves ahead. Between turns, you’re likely to pace and scratch your head as if playing a Chess tournament at the highest levels. The genius of Invisible, Inc. is that it creates such drama and tension within infinite procedural environments, which adjust themselves according to your personal desires. Fancy limiting guards’ patrol patterns to make life easier? There’s an option for that. How about slowing the security systems that come online the longer you're on-site? It’s possible.
Invisible, Inc. is a classic that we’ll be talking and writing about for years to come.
Notes: Revealed under the working title Incognita – retained as the name of the in-game AI – Klei switched the title to Invisible, Inc. when people responded to the punning name in focus testing. A rare example of a clear focus testing triumph.
What else should I be playing if I like this: Mark of the Ninja, which is both precursor and prototype for Invisible, Inc., while being a marvelous game with its own style and mechanics.
1. Thief: The Metal Age [Wikipedia page] (2000)
Developer: Looking Glass Studios
Publisher: Eidos Interactive
Perhaps the greatest threat to The Metal Age’s position at the top of the pile is its own predecessor, Thief: The Dark Project. You should play them both, of course, and in the right order because the story that runs through the original trilogy is superb in and of itself. Thief II just about pips every other game to the podium for several reasons, however. Most of them can be found in the level design, which is yet to be surpassed. Whether it’s the complexity and span of the First City Bank and Trust or the incidental storytelling littered through Shipping...And Receiving, which is as fine an example of economic worldbuilding as anything outside Dark Souls, The Metal Age is consistently fascinating, in its mechanics and elsewhere.
Thematically, the development of conflicts and the religious schism that has formed since the first game are all natural developments. The world feels like the natural conclusion of the first game's steam-gothic rather than a forced change of palette or pace, and it moves both Garrett and the City forward rather than rehashing ideas.
To say that nothing in the fifteen years since its release has surpassed Thief II might seem a little disheartening but so many games have taken the stealth genre in new directions. Thief is a foundation, a relatively basic interpretation of stealth as sight and sound, elevated by the talent with which those elements were twisted and hammered into place across such a variety of levels and objectives.
All of those ideas can be reshaped and the beauty of the game is also in its influence. Thief established and cemented certain ideas about stealth – particularly first-person stealth – and many of the other games on this list wouldn’t exist in the same form if Looking Glass hadn’t paved the way. The idea of a game in which enemies are to be avoided rather than killed is no longer surprising, but Thief was an unusual experiment, and one that didn’t necessarily have a target audience. There were earlier sneaking games, of course, but on the PC, there could be no list of greatest stealth games if it weren’t for the precedent set by the greatest stealth game of all.
Notes: While this was to be the last Thief game from the much-missed Looking Glass, who were not long for this world at the time of release, huge mod project T2X: Shadows of the Metal Age is a continuation of the Dark Engine games in the same style.
Read more: Adam considers Thief’s City and other urban landscapes, A Game and a Chat with Dark Project designer Greg LoPiccolo and director Randy Smith, RPS Remembers Thief and a wide-ranging interview with Warren Spector, covering both Deus Ex, Thief and Epic Mickey.
What else should I be playing if I like this: Start with the original and do move on to Deadly Shadows. Pathologic is one of the only other games that feels quite as strange as Thief’s Dark Engine incarnations.
In drawing up the final rankings, I was surprised by how little I had to cut down my longlist. There were only 34 games to choose from. As mentioned way back in the introduction that’s almost certainly because ‘stealth’ has become an option in games that offer a more free-form approach to objectives. Far Cry is a stealth series to some and any game that forces you to trail an NPC without being spotted has elements of stealth in its makeup.
There does seem to be a resurgence of a purer form of stealth gaming, however. Volume is a straight, no-frills (mechanically, at least) interpretation of the sneaking and infiltration basics, and Klei’s two entries on this list are imaginative reinventions of the genre that do little to dilute their formula despite their bold experimentation with perspective and style. Even Dishonored’s more violent and kinetic approach to stealth is a meaningful manipulation of the basics of sight, sound and level design rather than a complete disregard for the rulebook. And then there’s The Phantom Pain, which might be proof that there is a place for huge budgets and development teams in the genre if it weren’t for Konami’s recent distancing from such projects.
I was never in doubt about the number one spot but putting the rest into order has taken longer than I’d care to admit. Invisible, Inc. at number two might be the boldest pick but come back to me in twenty five years when RPS commenters talk about it the same way the oldsters do about the original X-COM right now. It’s a monstrously clever game.
The game that came closest to dropping off the list entirely was Deus Ex because I’d convinced myself it wasn’t a stealth game. A game with optional stealth, of course, but not a stealth game. There are two drafts of this list without Deus Ex though and I couldn’t look at them for very long without feeling sad.
With all that said, let us know what your favourites are and why, and take a look at these notes about the list:
Distribution: The vast majority are available to buy digitally but only one is free. Sort of. Hidden and Dangerous 2 is the featured game from the series but it’s the prequel that you can download for free.
Developers: Klei are the standout studio, with two entries, both of which are in the top ten and both of which came out in the last three years. That’s remarkable, which is why I’m remarking on it.
Robbing And Killing: Six of the games are about stealing things, five are explicitly about killing certain individuals. In one of those, you don’t have to kill anyone at all.
Points of view: Only nine are entirely or predominately seen from a first-person perspective.
Creepy in more ways than one: Three of these games also appeared on our Best Horror Games list, showing the connections between the two genres. And perhaps also showing that certain games will appear on all of my lists.
Here's the full list:
1. Thief II: The Metal Age
2. Invisible, Inc.
3. Hitman: Blood Money
4. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain
6. Mark of the Ninja
7. Deus Ex
8. Alien: Isolation
9. No One Lives Forever 2
10. The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena
11. Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory
12. Neon Struct
15. Batman: Arkham Asylum
17. The Saboteur
18. Styx: Master of Shadows
20. Hidden and Dangerous 2
21. Commandos 2: Men of Courage
22. The Evil Within
23. The Swindle
24. Payday 2
For more of RPS' bestest best games, take your pick from:
- The best PC games to play right now
- The greatest PC games of all time
- The best free PC games to play right now
- Our games of the year 2019
Or try our genre-specific lists, if you want a particular kind of great game to play:
- The best strategy games on PC
- The 50 best RPG on PC
- The best coop games ever made
- The best VR games
- The best FPS games
- The best management games
- The best survival games
- The best space games on PC
- The best non-violent games
- The 14 best Metroidvanias
- The 10 best hacking games
- The best horror games on PC
- The 10 greatest games based on movies
- The 25 best stealth games on PC
- The 25 best action games on PC
- The 25 best adventure games ever made
- The 25 best puzzle games on PC