What is the history of stealth games?

Sneaking around shadows, avoiding detection, and silently taking down enemies – these are the thrills of stealth games. From classic arcade games to modern AAA titles, stealth games have come a long way since their inception. Join us as we explore the fascinating history of stealth games, from their early beginnings to the latest stealth-action titles that have captivated gamers worldwide. Get ready to dive into the shadows and uncover the secrets of this exciting gaming genre.

Quick Answer:
Stealth games have been around since the early days of gaming, with classic titles like 1987’s Metal Gear and 1990’s Splinter Cell paving the way for the genre. These games often involve sneaking around enemies and avoiding detection in order to complete objectives. More recent stealth games like Assassin’s Creed and Hitman have expanded on this formula with more complex missions and advanced technology. The genre has evolved over the years, with new mechanics and innovations being introduced to keep players engaged and challenged. Stealth games continue to be popular today, with fans all over the world enjoying the thrill of sneaking past guards and taking down enemies without being detected.

The early years: From thievery to Metal Gear Solid

The origins of stealth games

Early stealth mechanics in platformers and action games

In the early days of video games, stealth mechanics were often incorporated into platformers and action games as secondary gameplay elements. For example, players could use stealth to avoid enemies in the 1985 game Ghouls ‘n Ghosts, or sneak up on enemies to earn bonus points in the 1987 game CastleVania. These early examples of stealth gameplay were often simplistic, with players relying on brute force or trial-and-error to overcome obstacles.

The emergence of dedicated stealth games

As video game technology advanced, developers began to create dedicated stealth games that focused solely on stealth mechanics. One of the earliest examples of this was the 1990 game Strike. This game was one of the first to feature a stealth-based campaign, where players had to avoid or defeat enemies using stealth and strategy. Other early stealth games included Splinter Cell (2002) and Thief: The Dark Project (1998), which would go on to influence the development of stealth games in the years to come.

Notable early stealth games

  • Metal Gear (1987) was one of the earliest stealth games to gain widespread recognition. Developed by Konami, the game followed the story of a soldier named Solid Snake as he infiltrated a nuclear weapons facility to rescue a scientist. The game’s unique blend of stealth gameplay, storytelling, and cinematic cutscenes helped to establish the stealth genre and set the stage for future games in the series.
  • Half-Life (1998) was another notable early stealth game. While the game was primarily an FPS, it featured stealth sections where players had to avoid or defeat enemies using stealth and strategy. These sections were often praised for their immersive gameplay and innovative use of the stealth mechanic.
  • Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell (2002) was a third-person stealth game that allowed players to take on the role of a covert operative named Sam Fisher. The game featured advanced stealth mechanics, such as the ability to use shadows and sound to avoid detection, and was praised for its immersive gameplay and storytelling.

The rise of Metal Gear Solid

The birth of the modern stealth game

Metal Gear Solid, released in 1998 for the PlayStation, marked a significant turning point in the history of stealth games. Developed by Konami and directed by Hideo Kojima, the game introduced a new level of complexity and depth to the genre. With its intricate storyline, memorable characters, and groundbreaking gameplay mechanics, Metal Gear Solid set a new standard for stealth games and established itself as a landmark title in the gaming industry.

Innovations in storytelling and gameplay mechanics

Metal Gear Solid brought a fresh approach to storytelling in video games, blending elements of action, espionage, and science fiction to create a rich and immersive narrative. The game’s story followed the adventures of Solid Snake, a legendary soldier and former special forces operative, as he infiltrated a military base to neutralize a nuclear weapons system known as Metal Gear.

One of the most innovative aspects of Metal Gear Solid was its use of cutscenes, which seamlessly integrated cinematic footage with gameplay, creating a more immersive experience for players. This approach revolutionized the way stories were told in video games and paved the way for more sophisticated narratives in the future.

In terms of gameplay mechanics, Metal Gear Solid introduced the concept of stealth as the primary means of overcoming obstacles and defeating enemies. The game encouraged players to think strategically and creatively, as they navigated through enemy territories and evaded detection.

The “hiding in a box” mechanic, which allowed players to hide in small spaces to avoid detection, was another groundbreaking feature. This mechanic added an extra layer of depth to the stealth gameplay, as players had to manage their inventory and positioning to avoid being discovered.

Legacy of Metal Gear Solid

Metal Gear Solid not only redefined the stealth game genre but also had a profound impact on the broader gaming industry. The game’s success led to the development of several sequels, expanding the Metal Gear universe and solidifying its place as a beloved franchise among gamers.

Moreover, Metal Gear Solid’s innovations in storytelling and gameplay mechanics influenced numerous other games across various genres, demonstrating the lasting impact of its creative vision. The game’s legacy can be seen in the stealth-focused gameplay of subsequent titles, such as the Thief series and the Splinter Cell series, as well as in the broader shift towards more cinematic and narrative-driven experiences in gaming.

Metal Gear Solid’s enduring influence on the stealth game genre and the gaming industry as a whole cemented its status as a milestone in gaming history.

The evolution of stealth games in the 21st century

Key takeaway: Stealth games have evolved significantly since their early beginnings in platformers and action games. The release of Metal Gear Solid in 1998 marked a turning point for the genre, introducing complex storytelling and groundbreaking gameplay mechanics. In the 21st century, stealth games have continued to evolve, with new trends such as increased focus on player choice and emergent gameplay, procedural generation and randomization, and greater emphasis on multiplayer and cooperative gameplay. As technology continues to advance, there are exciting new possibilities for the future of stealth games, including the integration of virtual and augmented reality technologies.

New trends and mechanics

Emphasis on player choice and non-linear gameplay

One of the new trends in stealth games is the emphasis on player choice and non-linear gameplay. This means that players are given more freedom to choose how they want to approach a situation and complete objectives. This can lead to a more immersive and dynamic experience, as players are able to experiment with different strategies and playstyles.

The rise of procedural generation and replayability

Another trend in stealth games is the rise of procedural generation and replayability. Procedural generation refers to the use of algorithms to generate content in the game, such as levels or enemies, rather than having them designed by hand. This allows for a greater variety of experiences and challenges for players, as well as the ability to replay levels in different ways.

The impact of technology on stealth game design

The impact of technology on stealth game design has also led to new trends and mechanics. For example, the use of motion capture technology has allowed for more realistic and fluid movements for characters in stealth games, while advancements in artificial intelligence have allowed for more intelligent and unpredictable enemy behavior. Additionally, the rise of virtual reality and augmented reality technology has opened up new possibilities for stealth game design, such as immersive first-person perspectives and interactive environments.

Notable 21st century stealth games

AAA blockbusters

  • Hitman (2016)
    • Developed by IO Interactive
    • Reboot of the iconic series
    • Focus on player choice and replayability
  • Deus Ex: Mankind Divided (2016)
    • Developed by Eidos Montreal
    • Prequel to the critically acclaimed Deus Ex: Human Revolution
    • Emphasizes player choice and multiple paths through gameplay

Indie gems

  • Mark of the Ninja (2012)
    • Developed by Klei Entertainment
    • A side-scrolling stealth game set in a fictional feudal Japan
    • Innovative mechanics and beautifully designed levels
  • Invisible, Inc. (2012)
    • A turn-based stealth strategy game
    • Players must manage a spy agency and navigate through procedurally generated levels
  • Honor Among Thieves (2013)
    • Developed by Smiling Bag Games
    • A cooperative stealth game set in a sci-fi universe
    • Players must work together to complete objectives while evading enemy detection

The future of stealth games

The state of the genre

Challenges and opportunities

The influence of modern trends on stealth game design

The state of the stealth game genre can be described as a mixture of both challenges and opportunities. On one hand, the genre has faced difficulties in recent years, with many developers struggling to find new and innovative ways to incorporate stealth mechanics into their games. On the other hand, the popularity of stealth games has not waned, and there is still a strong demand for new and exciting titles in the genre.

One of the biggest challenges facing the stealth game genre is the need for developers to constantly innovate and find new ways to keep players engaged. This can be difficult, as many of the core mechanics of stealth games have remained relatively unchanged over the years. In order to stand out in a crowded market, developers must find ways to differentiate their games and offer unique gameplay experiences.

Despite these challenges, there are also many opportunities for developers to take advantage of modern trends and technologies in order to create exciting new stealth games. For example, the rise of virtual reality and augmented reality technology offers new possibilities for immersive stealth gameplay, where players can sneak around in a virtual world and interact with their environment in new and exciting ways. Additionally, the growing popularity of mobile gaming has opened up new avenues for developers to create stealth games that are accessible and easy to play on the go.

Overall, the state of the stealth game genre is one of both challenges and opportunities. While developers must work hard to find new and innovative ways to keep players engaged, there are also many exciting new technologies and trends that offer new possibilities for the genre. With the right combination of creativity and technical prowess, the future of stealth games looks bright.

Predictions for the future

As the stealth game genre continues to evolve, there are several predictions for its future. Some of the possible new directions for the genre include:

Increased focus on player choice and emergent gameplay

One prediction for the future of stealth games is that they will become more focused on player choice and emergent gameplay. This means that players will have more control over how they approach and complete objectives, leading to a more dynamic and replayable experience.

Integration of procedural generation and randomization

Another prediction is that stealth games will integrate procedural generation and randomization to create more varied and replayable experiences. This could include procedurally generated levels, enemy placements, and objectives, which would add an extra layer of challenge and replayability to the game.

Greater emphasis on multiplayer and cooperative gameplay

Finally, it is predicted that stealth games will increasingly incorporate multiplayer and cooperative gameplay elements. This could include both competitive and cooperative multiplayer modes, where players must work together to complete objectives while avoiding detection.

Emerging technologies such as virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) may also have a significant impact on the future of stealth games. These technologies could allow for more immersive and interactive gameplay experiences, where players can move through environments in a more natural and intuitive way. Additionally, VR and AR could provide new opportunities for stealth game mechanics, such as allowing players to use their surroundings to hide from enemies or distract them.


1. What is a stealth game?

A stealth game is a type of video game that emphasizes sneaking and avoiding detection by enemies. Players typically have to navigate through levels while avoiding guards or other obstacles, using stealth techniques such as hiding, distractions, and disguises.

2. When did stealth games first appear?

The first stealth game is considered to be “Sneakers” released in 1989 for the Apple II computer. However, the genre didn’t gain popularity until the release of “Metal Gear Solid” for the PlayStation in 1998, which is often credited with popularizing the stealth game genre.

3. Who created the first stealth game?

The first stealth game, “Sneakers,” was developed by Looking Glass Technologies, a now-defunct video game developer based in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

4. What are some notable stealth games?

There have been many notable stealth games over the years, including “Metal Gear Solid,” “Thief: The Dark Project,” “Half-Life,” “Splinter Cell,” “Assassin’s Creed,” and “Dishonored.”

5. What makes a game a stealth game?

A game is generally considered a stealth game if it emphasizes sneaking and avoiding detection by enemies. Stealth games often require players to use a combination of stealth techniques, such as hiding, distractions, and disguises, to navigate through levels and complete objectives.

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