Friday, July 27, 2012

Now you see me, now you don't (part 1)

Ever told you I like to put random shit in here?

Splinter Cell. Assassin's Creed. Metal Gear Solid. Hitman.

All those series are universally lauded. All of them have a fuckton of "stealth" stickers all around them.

Guess what? Time to set a few things on fire. Hell yeah, baby.

But first things first. As I said, I wanted to write a little something about The Dark Mod.

Fact is, I didn't exactly want to write a piece about the game per se. I like to strip down games, tear them up, leave them with only their mechanics on, then look at them pole-dancing and ponder what could and/or should be better.

Sometimes there's nothing wrong. It's a rare occurence though, so I'm often left bitching and thinking.

Anyway. Every time I see one of them called a "stealth game", I have this weird reaction of grabbing a knife and thinking what it could do to an eye or two. Or more.

And even more so as time goes by.

Just like horror should never entitle you with weapons, lest it becomes a gunfest (why hellooooo there, Resident Evil), Stealth shouldn't either. Or with great consequence.

Maybe this calls for a bit of background. I LOVE the genre and its mechanics. I've been mucking around with them since Castle Wolfenstein came out (and that's THE Castle Wolfenstein, not RTCW - a bit later, actually, but that was still the first I played). I've played Splinter Cell, Assassin's Creed, Metal Gear Solid, Hitman, Stolen, Thief, Deus Ex, System Shock 2, Arkham Asylum, ... - let's just say I have sort of a looooooooooong crush, 'mkay?

The moment you throw guns into the mix, things get ugly. It's as fucking easy as that.

Totally stealthy. The launcher, that is. Errr.....
The reward of stealth lies within the wait, the learning, the anticipation, the silent count to appraise the length of a guard's patrol, the evaluation of enemy forces, the cunning required to bypass any and all kind of security system/force.

Stealth is not, has never been, shouldn't be an easy genre. When Thief came out, the difficulty levels for it were chosen as such: Normal, Hard, Expert. Nowhere to be seen was the word Easy. As the word "choice" implies, the naming was entirely intended, and lived up to it.

Or did it?

What Thief did well was entice you to jump into the fray half-naked. Once you had tiptoed into its waters, there was no turning back - as long as you liked the game, at least.

The very instant you completed your first mission in Normal, you realized something was wrong. You had probably checked the objectives for all the difficulty settings, finished your joint with just a few ruffled feathers... And you instantly knew you could be better than that.

You now knew the place, had your wits about you, your mouse had become the extension of your arm again, and in you went again - same place, same time, clicking on Hard.

And you probably got yourself into a nasty mess, because guard placement and restrictions on who you were allowed to kill had changed.

I'm fairly sure I wasn't the only one who said "fuck it. You want it, you got it. This is war" and started again on Expert.

Once you got there, you started an experience you wouldn't soon forget, that would leave you craving, shaking, marveling at just what the fuck you got yourself into, and wondering how the hell you actually made it.

Thief stripped its newcomers of all power. The guards were far too easy to spook, the blackjack was pretty much useless, and you were in huge trouble. Making it all the way in - then out - was an engrossing adventure. It took time and a good bit of dedication.

THAT, people, is what STEALTH is about.

Heck. That simple demo was longer than a good chunk of the current triple A fuckups.

It's something that is very, very hard to emulate, and even more so to attain.

Where most games fail is just in that: you have the power. You are actually fairly safe, unless you force yourself into insane challenges for which the game wasn't made, ruining a good bit of said game along the way.

I'm not saying Thief is the perfect experience either. As a matter of fact, the game is fairly broken, though to a much lesser extent than all the series mentioned hereabove.

When shock and awe subsided, you'd go in again, because you thought that it would be neat to find all the loot. Then you just wanted another go, and learned how to blackjack guards. And that's when everything broke.

That little club all Thief fans have come to love is probably the worst trick of the game. You may almost universally blackjack everyone on your path, and once you find how to do that, you're once again a killing machine.

Yeah, yeah, right, okay. Not a killing machine. A blackjacking machine. The difference is thin, to say the least.

Once you get there, it becomes obvious how the "stealth" claim in the above series is, in one very light word, ridiculous.

Once used to the controls, you need about as much stealth as Kratos. And no, I'm not making an obscure reference here. THAT Kratos. And that's when the game doesn't squarely put you in a position when there is no need, no use, and even no possibility of sneaking through. When you want to say your game is all about stealth, what's it called already? Bad design? Is that it?


BULLSHIT. That's what it's called. Your game is a pile of steaming horse dung. There's no other way to put it.

Ezio is stealthy. Fo shizzle, mah nizzle.

But back to our case. The only place where the stealth genre shines true is summarized in one word: extreme.

It takes an extremely hostile environment to see the diamond in the rough. FM missions such as Cauchemars clearly show that. It will take you to new heights, instill the thrill and fear associated with your first game of Thief. But it comes at a very, very high price. The missions are damn nigh impossible. Such is the price to pay. It takes a lot of dedication, training and love to even reach the playstyle it takes to take on the campaign. It keeps you on your toes from start to end, in a mind-bending, teeth-clenching display of utmost violence. Put a beginner in front of it, and you'll probably find him prostrated in a corner of the room.

It's harsh, unpredictable, and insanely good if you have the skills to take it.

Why do we have to go to such ends to get back that original thrill? The blackjack. You can't kill, so normal and fire arrows are useless unless you want to create a diversion (but why would you? You're able to bypass anything and anyone without raising any kind of suspicion). Water arrows are still pretty cool, though they lost their edge a long, long time ago. Gas arrows? C'mon, you know they're so cheap you wouldn't go ANYWHERE near them. Rope arrows are still your standard equipment, along with vine arrows - all non-lethal tools only useful to reach otherwise unreachable places.

Beware the Defiler of Souls, the Devourer of Worlds, the almighty blackjack!

The problem is in there: the more you play, the more professional you become. You are - quite literally - becoming a master thief. A virtual one, but still a master of your art. Only in constantly crazier challenges is one able to find any kind of thrill. The genre is thus made, and broken from the start. The more you play, the more extreme the odds, the environment, the enemies have to be to match your skills.

... 'mkay, that was supposed to be a brief intro... So I guess I'll be back. ;p

No comments:

Post a Comment