It's the middle of the night. A guard, standing near a dark doorway, pauses for a moment. What was that? A noise? Hmm, must be rats. Wait, there is it again! Better go check it out... *KONK* Down he goes, and onward you go with your mission. Stealth action games have become ubiquitous in the gaming scene, with even the most hard-core shooters regularly incorporating a stealth sequence. Since their inception, stealth games have been wildly popular, and are now a staple of the gaming market.

One of the earliest stealth games was also one of the best. Tenchu took the idea of stealth action and placed it in one of its most obvious contexts: ninjas. Feudal Japan didn't have alarm systems or surveillance cameras, making Rikimaru's job that much easier. Tenchu would produce a slew of follow-ups, with each one a little bit better than the last. As one of the only ninja stealth series, Tenchu is king of its genre.

Proving that stealth could be fun as well as sneaky, Sly showed us the seedy side of raccoons everywhere. The gameplay was akin to a platformer, but stealth remained an important element. Players were forced to jump, climb, and hide their way through a variety of situations, (hopefully) undetected all the while.

The most recent game on the list, Stolen is also one of the most disappointing. Though it is a fantastically fun game, it is marred by an extremely short play-time (3 levels!) and a few annoying glitches. The first female stealth protagonist also had one of the most fun gadgets. There was no death in Stolen, only sneaking. The player couldn't kill the guards and could only knock them out for a short time, and you are forced to move quickly and carefully, using your X-ray glasses to look through doors and plan your moves even before entering a room. It could have been great, but instead, it's just good.

The first stealth game was also one of the most difficult. Way back in the 80's, Metal Gear frustrated players into screaming fits as they tried to figure out a way through its rooms. The plot, if you could decipher it, was unimportant. As the first idea of stealth, it is also the beginning of the series most players think of when they look for stealth gameplay.

The original Splinter Cell proved that stealth action could survive in the console market, but it was the sequel that would be truly innovative. By adding a new Multiplayer mode, Pandora Tomorrow created multiplayer stealth gameplay. Combine this with a solid single-player experience, and Pandora Tomorrow clocks in at the #6 spot.

The free-lance style of Deus Ex was a perfect environment for stealth. While it was possible to enter every encounter with guns blazing, it was often easier and more fruitful to sneak around the enemy. The game's biomods allowed JC Denton to lay claim to a variety of abilities that would be the envy of any thief, including silent footsteps and invisibility. The game's innovative style allowed for a truly sneaky game experience.

An updated version of Thief: The Dark Project. Think of it as a special edition of the original Thief, with fewer bugs and a few new levels. Thief Gold imagined stealth gameplay in a way that no other game before it had done. The focus was on pure stealth, and the player was unlikely to survive any face-to-face encounter with more than one enemy. Never before had a game encouraged stealth to such a degree. The story was filled with colorful characters, and Through The Looking Glass did an excellent job in creating a dark, seedy world filled with imaginative characters. The hero, Garret, was dark and brooding in a way that every stealth game afterwards would try to emulate. As the father of the stealth genre, the original Thief deserves one of the highest honors.

One of the best games for the PS1 was also one of its sneakiest. Metal Gear Solid allowed players to slip into an enjoyable, cinematic experience as they snuck, climbed, and shot their way around their enemies as Solid Snake. The game's plot helped out the cinematic feeling by twisting and turning just enough to keep you interested while still remaining coherent. MGS was the beginning of the console awakening of stealth games, and it remains one of the best stealth games ever made.

The original Hitman game suffered from a dramatic flaw: while it was possible to complete some missions in a stealthy fashion, it was usually much easier to barge in like Rambo on steroids. Hitman 2 fixed this glaring error, encouraging the player to sneak through each level in the most professional way they could. The reward for achieving the highest rank (Silent Assassin) was a new weapon which could be used to load out Agent 47 on subsequent missions. The game featured a solid plot, solid stealth action, and good game mechanics. It achieved a balance that many stealth games still struggle to achieve.

The pinnacle of stealth gameplay. Thief II largely eliminated the creature stages of the first thief, allowing the player to face off against more guards and the more easily handled robots of the evil fanatic Kerras. The guard and civilian AI was improved, and the whole game felt more streamlined than before. The story is fantastic, as is the gameplay. As the best installment of the best stealth series, Thief II is the obvious choice for the #1 spot.

So that's it, the ten best stealth games around. Most of these games are still available, and most of them are in the discount bin. If you're a fan of using your brain rather than your trigger finger, try out a stealth game. You may find that you enjoy stalking someone in the shadows, waiting for that perfect time to pick a pocket or swipe a priceless jewel.

List by Okame (05/25/2006)

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