The Game Mechanic – School of Stealth


Oddly enough we don’t really see strong stealth mechanics all that much in video games. People seem a lot more into shooting people in the face these days, but there are still titles out there that want to give us the chance to skulk silently in the shadows.  Dishonored is one obvious title, the Splinter Cell games are others, but one that I think people just don’t talk about enough is the XBLA game Mark of the Ninja.

I just expected Shank, but with a Katana.  How wrong I was.

Fittingly Mark of the Ninja snuck onto XBLA in September of last year without any kind of fuss at all.  I only really downloaded it because I noticed it was by the same studio who crafted the Shank games, and even then I just expected Shank but with a Katana.  How wrong I was.

Mark of the Ninja is basically a 2D masterclass on how exactly one should go about making a stealth ‘em up.  It has the obvious hiding in shadows, doorways, and hanging from ceilings, but it also expects you to keep track of enemies via the sound of their footsteps, as you don’t have the standard brightly lit view of the entire environment we’re used to from sidescrollers.  The protagonist in Mark of the Ninja can’t see past doors, or walls, so using sound is crucial to making progress in the game.

“Neither rain nor snow nor gloom of night…”

Even more crucial is keeping track of the sound your own character makes as he slinks through the dark corridors and tight airducts of Mark of the Ninja’s carefully crafted world.  If soldiers hear a sound coming from a duct they’ll peek in and check it; if they see you they sound the alarm, and you’ll soon find yourself on the receiving end of a lead enema.  See, the other smart design decision Klei made was to build the protagonist out of matchsticks and chewing gum so when the bullets start to fly he can only take one or two shots before he’s brown bread.

you won’t feel quite so confident once his mates in the next room have burst in and eviscerated you.

Thanks to this stealth is basically mandatory in Mark of the Ninja.  You may be able to kick a guard in the face so hard he falls over, leaving him open to a good stabbing, but you won’t feel quite so confident once his mates in the next room have burst in and eviscerated you.

That’s something I feel Dishonored got wrong on a number of levels.  The stealth in Dishonored felt token, like you’re doing it because the game told you to, and not because you have to, or even because you want to.  If you really wanted you could play Dishonored as some kind of deranged mass-murderer, swanning through the streets of Dunwall stabbing and slashing your way through any guards foolish enough to try and stop you.  I’ve done it; the game’s actually a lot more fun that way, and it made me realise that the only reason most of us stealthed through Dishonored is because we were told we had to.

I think he saw me…

See, if you’re going to base your game around stealth then you’re better off using your gameplay to make it damn near mandatory or else there’s no motivation on the player’s part to play along other than that you’re telling them to.  If I could I would post out a note to every game developer who plans on making a stealth game with the words “play Mark of the Ninja, you shit!” written on it.

One simply hopes that the next Thief game will take a leaf out of Mark of the Ninja’s book as opposed to Dishonored’s, and retakes its crown as king of the stealth ‘em ups.







One response to “The Game Mechanic – School of Stealth”

  1. James Stephen Archer BSc avatar

    I agree with this wholeheartedly. The whole point of the concept of stealth is the idea that you would be overwhelmed if you are spotted. Which makes sense – if you are a relatively normal human being taking down an army of gun-toting guards, you’re liable to be shot to pieces on-sight (unless that army consists of Stormtroopers!)

    I’ve really gotten tired of the “Gears of War” style health-regeneration system lately. Even John Marston in Red Dead Redemption, a man wearing next to no armour, can happily take a few bullets, duck behind a rock and heal like he’s Wolverine. Sure, it works as a game mechanic, but as someone who likes game mechanics to veer closer to realism, I’d rather be seeing games where a bullet to the leg slows you down, or a bullet to the arm gives you terrible aim. This is why I loved Metal Gear Solid 3’s Survival Viewer so much, it took into account every wound you took, and needed to be treated in some way. If not, that wound would penalise you. Anyway, I digress.

    I always say that the stealth genre is one of my favourites. But when I think about it, I can’t really think of that many stealth games I’ve enjoyed. The Metal Gear Saga is one of my favourite series of all time, which is a big part of it. I used to love Tenchu, though the games had plenty of flaws – but it just had that stealth aspect that I enjoyed. And now… I’m starting to get stuck already.

    Assassin’s Creed had that stealth aspect that made me interested, but while it had a few cool ideas, it was generally far too easy to avoid guards. Sure, the idea of blending with crowds was a cool concept, but really – the way Assassins dress, he might as well have a sign on the back saying “I am Ezio Auditore”. And of course, most fights are easily won with melee, where necessary. So really, the games don’t give me *that* much of a stealth buzz at all.

    I must admit, I have yet to beat Mark of the Ninja (a game I keep meaning to go back to), but it definitely has the makings of one of the best stealth games so far. I’ve also got Hitman: Absolution sitting on my shelf, waiting to be played. But I’ve got a horrible feeling that all-out gunfights are going to be just as easy an option (or easier) than actual stealth.

Leave a Reply