It’s a bit tricky to knock together a list of the best upcoming stealth games, because it’s a bit tricky to say what a stealth game even is anymore. Stealth is more frequently looking like a playstyle or bulletpoint rather than the crux of an entire game. Even the best stealth games in recent memory - yer Invisible Incs, Ian Hitmans, Alien: Isolations - have all layered their stealth within towering trifles of genre mashups. And that’s good! It just means we've had to flex the definition for this list.
Below, I’ve gathered together a few of the best upcoming stealth games that I’ve got my ridiculously over powered, patrol pattern-sensing eye on. Some of these aren’t strictly genre adherent, but all offer stealthy play as at least core element. Do feel free to suggest your own upcoming games in the comments.
What is it? An isometric, rootin’ tootin’, occasionally shootin’ but mainly taking off your boots-in a polite manner and tiptoeing about-em-up. It’s a cowboy stealth tactics game, is what I’m trying to say.
What makes it special? Aside from bringing back the tense, varied character-based tactics from its developer's last game, Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun, Desperados III fleshes out its story with interactive, non-hostile areas. Shadow Tactics’ was often a looker, but it was hard to appreciate its festival lantern-lit villages and snow-dusted dojos while in full baddy-cutty-throaty mode, so it’ll be nice to take a breather, check your boots for snakes, things of that nature. Developers Mimimi Productions have also worked out a neat analogue for Shadow Tactics’ ‘Shadow Mode’. While Shadow Mode captured the feeling of catlike ninja reflexes by allowing you to synchronise moves between characters, Desperados 3 allow you to pause the action to replicate hectic shootouts while still remaining foremost a stealth-strategy game.
When’s it out? Later this year. At sundown. Only one of us walks away.
How excited should you be: Shadow Tactics was excellent, and if Matthew’s video preview (above) and Matt’s E3 preview is anything to go by, developers Mimimi Productions have only gotten more creative since. Sure, it’s broadly the exact same formula, but as I often whisper seductively to my Super Noodle sandwiches, why mess with perfection.
What is it? A noir-soaked, top-down catburgle-em-up that has you using stealth and gadgets to navigate non-linear levels and complete objectives. Some of which, we assume, involve burglarising.
What makes it special? You’ve got to appreciate the complete dedication to style on fragile-glass display here. Everything from the moody gradient shadows to the art deco flourishes on gadget icons are working toward Heist’s noir mood. Also, there’s jazz! Does jazz automatically make games better? Gunpoint and Ape Out suggest the answer is yes. Plus, the various gadgets at your disposal - from tripwires to gentlemanly smokebomb pipes - means prowling these shadowy hallways should still be fun when you need to do more than just hide.
When’s it out? This September, Jazz gods be good.
How excited should you be: I don’t know. How specifically does this game match your interests? What’s your normal level of excitement for a game even when it does match your exact interests? I’m excited, though. Looks well good.
Shadows Of Doubt
What is it? A first-person detective game with hacking, stealth and lockpicking set in a glittering, procedural neo-noir city.
What makes it special? I mean, it's got a procedural city you can explore, and you can go inside the buildings, and it's a detective game. That's all pretty special. The city is big enough to house ‘hundreds of simulated citizens’ you can interact with, and your task is to catch a serial killer on the loose. How you do that is up to you, but the game promises that events will unfold in the city as a result of the AI simulation. It's still early enough in development that it's hard to make predictions about its eventual quality, but the development blog is at least fascinating.
It’s also extremely striking, especially considering that its a two-person project from artist and programmer Cole Jefferies and sound designer Nick Dymond (Rico, The Colonists).
When’s it out? No exact dates for this one.
How excited should you be: Prior to this one, Jefferies put out Concrete Jungle, a nifty-looking deck builder/city builder hybrid. Good neo-noir places as much emphasis on the city than the people who mull about in it, and I can see the thought and detail put into the architecture translating well between projects.
What is it? A first-person horror that’ll have you combining social manipulation with stealth to make your way through a nightmarish city.
What makes it special? Unholy looks both incredible and inventive with its Giger-meets-Bloodborne industrial gothic environments. Your character Saidah is a mother searching for her child - always a nice change of pace after the sad bad murder dad explosion of recent years. The doomed, social stratified metropolis in which the game takes place also features a ‘social caste’ system which the player can exploit to progress.
When’s it out? This year, apparently, although...
How excited should you be: Not sure how likely this one is to arrive any time soon. The trailer is still very ‘E3 announcement’-levels of shiny artifice at the moment. Also, the last half is basically just screenshots and concept art stills. Also, The Steam page hints at the dreaded ‘insanity meter’. Hopefully Unholy doesn’t fall back on the tropey, binary, and mostly just boring depiction of mental health this might suggest.
Untitled Goose Game
What is it? A charming annoy-em-up that puts you in control of the honking beak of the reigning champion bastard of the bird kingdom. You get a list of objectives and a bunch of villagers and waddle yourself right into their nightmares.
What makes it special? You’re a goose, mate. Beyond that, you're making trouble in a pastel village, stealing keys from gardeners and droppig their caps in ponds. What makes it a stealth game is that you'll be sneaking about and distracting the villagers to accomplish these tasks - when you're not honking at them and smashing their stuff, anyway.
When’s it out? Untitled Goose Game releases later this year.
How excited should you be: You’re a goose, mate.
Vampire: The Masquerade Bloodlines 2
What is it? Cara Ellison joins OG Bloodline’s lead writer Brian Mitsoda for this first-person RPG based on the pen and paper World of Darkness setting.
What makes it special? The original Bloodlines is considered to be one of the finest immersive RPGs of all time, and that’s in spite of a rushed release that led to bugs, cut content and wildly inconsistent quality. The chance to return to its world of vampire roleplay, in which vamps must act in secret to avoid the normies discovering they exist, is exciting. Doing it with Mitsoda back as the lead writer and a publisher, Paradox, that hopefully won't shove it out the door unfinished, and there's reasons to hope Bloodlines 2 might be the sequel folk have been dreaming of for over 15 years.
When’s it out? March 2020
System Shock Remake
What is it? System Shock - the cumbersome but wildly visionary grandfather of the immersive sim - but, again. You creep a spacestation. You solve puzzles through hacking. You hit horrible things with big pieces of metal.
What makes it special? It feels odd to talk about anything the original System Shock or its numbered sequel did as being special because it’s all been borrowed so many times - in the better remembered System Shock 2, and in everything from BioShock to Dead Space. A lot of its once groundbreaking ides seem almost rote now. From what we’ve seen, the remake seems to combine story and setting elements from both System Shocks, as well as being somewhat of a response to games its legacy helped inspire. It also looks wonderfully moody and threatening.
When’s it out? Slated for a 2020 release, currently, if this bloodstained audio-diary I found in my toilet is to be believed.
How excited should you be: Development has been a tad turbulent on this one, as crowdfunding gave way to feature creep, budgetary concerns and a project reboot. It does seem to be firmly back on track now, though. Cautiously optimistic, then.
What is it? First-person detect-em-up in a '90s-style software-3D-aesthetic open world.
What makes it special? Quite a lot, by the looks of it. Synther has an autonomous city that doesn’t seem to care whether you exist or not. There’s the randomised main mission objectives.. There’s the hacking and lockpicking systems which seem to be based, at least somewhat, on real electronics. Also, Dominic said it reminded him of Deus Ex, and that’s basically what you want from this sort of thing.
When’s it out? Some point this year, although it's already been delayed from late 2018.
How excited should you be: Something both Deus Ex-ish dystopias and throwback aesthetics both do well is contribute to a sense of uncanniness, paranoia, and dissociation. Synther looks to be both incredibly mechanically inventive and nailing the look so much I can basically hear a modem crunching away just looking at the screenshots. Colour me intrigued. Not too many colours though, you’ll ruin the look.
What is it? A first-person stealth game from the makers of Quadrilateral Cowboy that systematizes moments from famous movies.
What makes it special? Skin Deep has a sneeze meter, which can cause you to periodically atchoo while crawling through dusty vents, alerting nearby enemies in the process. It also lets you suspend yourself high off the ground by balancing your legs against opposing walls, then shooting people between your own legs, and it simulates the Die Hard-like experience of getting glass in your feet (and then pulling it out afterwards). Developer Brendan Chung has spoken about having issues getting acid grenades to leave glass shards behind before realising the acid was melting the shards before they could show up, so expect stealth mixed with that kind of systems reactivity.
When’s it out? There's no release date yet.
How excited should you be? Blendo are known for inventive, singular and damn fine videogames, such as Thirty Flights of Loving. So yes, much excited.
Beast Agenda 2030
What is it? A vivid, charming, top-down RPG, with no direct combat but umpteen gadgets for causing havoc.
What makes it special? Within five minutes of playing Beast Agenda 2030's early access release, I was roller-skating past a dim-sum restaurant away from a gaggle of enraged robotic squid cops. Then I learned how to sneak, traded some food with a homeless gentleman for a cattle prod, and went around shocking squid cops for a while. Then I arrived in a rebel basement hideout with graffiti that said ‘resist the squid’. There’s something about this one that reminds of playing Shadowrun for the SNES when I was about nine, and having absolutely no idea what I was supposed be doing but getting a definite sense of the complexity and possibility the world offered. 2030 seems to be focused more on discrete bits of puzzle solving rather than navigating an RPG city, but looks no less inventive for it.
When’s it out? Now, technically, via its early access release,
How excited should you be: The great thing about games that are already sort of out is that hype becomes obsolete and possibly reveals itself for the shallow marketing tool it is! Hurrah! I’m definitely excited to play more of it, though, and to see it finished.
The Grand Heist
What is it? A pleasantly goofy looking isometric strategy where you guide various toffs towards stealing shiny objects
What makes it special? With its isometric camera and enemy view cones that fade the further you get from them, The Grand Heist reminds me of Shadow Tactics (and Desperados III, you know, from earlier in the list), but with a bit less backstabbing. Obviously, I've never been to a high society dinner party! Harhar! But seriously, folks. I'm well up for something that takes those sort of mechanics into a less grim environment, and although the actual fidelity looks a bit wonky, the detail, colour and tone all have me interested.
When’s it out? "Coming soon"
How excited should you be: This one's from CreativeForge Poland, who have a history of middling but inventive tactics games, including Hard West and Phantom Doctrine. I'm expecting flawed but interesting from this one.