It’s no secret that a great deal of the mainstream gaming industry thrives on crafting bombastic shootouts and massive explosions. Modern and sci fi warfare shooters are huge draws—consider such tent pole franchises as Call of Duty, Halo, Battlefield and Gears of War—and chances are studios will keep pumping them out until someone develops a console so powerful it creates a small black hole and sucks everything in (who will make it first—Sony or Microsoft? Definitely not Nintendo).
But for those who enjoy a more subtle brand of violence, there’s an entire subgenre of stealth-based games out there, though admittedly it’s restricted to about four or five major franchises. If you prefer to play cat and mouse over emptying magazine after magazine of bullets into your enemies, the following games—based on their aggregate scores on GameRankings—should be right up your alley.
10 Assassin’s Creed II, 2009 – 90.71%
The second entry in Ubisoft’s now-famous franchise, Assassin’s Creed II is a “historical” science fiction game, which technically puts players in the shoes of former bartender Desmond Miles, who through the use of a genetic memory-powered virtual reality apparatus relives the escapades of his ancestor, assassin Ezio Auditore da Firenze. Living in Renaissance-era Itality, Ezio dons the tools and takes up the trade of the Assassin Brotherhood following the murder of his father and brothers by a shady conspiracy. As Ezio, players can run across the rooftops of Florence, Venice and Rome, blend in with the crowd, and silently take down corrupt authorities and politicians.
9 Batman: Arkham Asylum, 2009 – 92.34%
Very loosely based on the unsettling graphic novel written by Grant Morrison and illustrated by Dave McKean, Batman: Arkham Asylum follows the Dark Knight over the course of a chaotic night as he attempts to restore order to the titular mental hospital, which has been taken over by the Joker. Though Arkham Asylum contains many action sequences—it pioneered a rhythm-based combat system that stood from the combos usually utilized in virtual melees—it also places considerable emphasis on stealth. As Batman, players can swoop from gargoyle to gargoyle (even indoors, oddly enough) and use psychological tactics to intimidate the Joker’s goons.
8 Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow, 2004 - 92.37%
The follow-up to the ground-breaking first game in Ubisoft’s now widely respected Splinter Cell series, Pandora Tomorrow was quite similar to its predecessor, depicting the stealthy adventures of grizzled Third Echelon agent Sam Fisher (voiced by Michael Ironside of Scanners and Total Recall fame). Pandora Tomorrow also included a competitive multiplayer mode that pitted physically vulnerable but nevertheless deadly spies against heavily-armed mercenaries.
7 Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell, 2002 – 92.49%
6 Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater/Subsistence, 2004/2006 – 92.97%
Though it’s the third game in the Metal Gear Solid series, Snake Eater is chronologically the first in the entire Metal Gear franchise. Rather than focusing on long-time series protagonist Solid Snake, it puts players in the role of Big Boss, from whom Snake would eventually be cloned (for this reason, the character—going by “Naked Snake”—is voiced by Solid Snake’s long-time actor David Hayter).
5 Metal Gear Solid, 1998 – 93.24%
As with the original Metal Gear, which debuted on the MSX2 in 1987, Metal Gear Solid once again saw special operative Solid Snake infiltrate an enemy base. This time, Snake, his allies and enemies, and his environments were fully realized in three dimensions for the Sony PlayStation. Traversing the base, players were made to avoid patrolling guards, security cameras and laser trip wires, while at the same time enduring minutes-long cut scenes and radio conversations and designer/director Hideo Kojima’s self-referential sense of humour (for example, the only way players could find the radio frequency for a major character is by looking at a screenshot on the back of the physical CD case).
4 Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots, 2008 – 93.53%
Again with the Metal Gear. Guns of the Patriots is chronologically the last game in the Metal Gear franchise, and depicts the final mission of series mainstay Solid Snake. MGS4 features more flexible gameplay than its predecessors and introduces an “OctoCamo” system that allows Snake to blend in with the colours of his surroundings.
3 Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory, 2005 – 94.02%
2 Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, 2001 – 95.09%
Okay, last Metal Gear, we swear.
The eagerly-awaited sequel to Metal Gear Solid, Sons of Liberty pulled a surprising bait-and-switch on its players, with series lead Solid Snake playable only for the game’s prologue before disappearing and being replaced by the younger, katana-wielding Raiden. The sequel maintained much of the gameplay mechanics of the previous entry, though it also allowed players to aim weapons in a first-person mode, allowing them to pinpoint enemies just out of frame.
1 Batman: Arkham City, 2011 – 96.12%
Set some time after the first game, Batman: Arkham City reveals that in the wake of the Asylum incident, the hospital's former chief of staff ran for mayor and turned Gotham City's partially-submerged old downtown into an Escape from New York-esque superprison. Batman infiltrates the open-air facility and finds himself caught in a gang war between the Joker, the Penguin, Two-Face, and other, shadowy forces. City improved on the already-lauded melee and stealth aspects of Arkham Asylum and incorporated an open-world aspect akin to Grand Theft Auto.
Arkham City managed to surpass even the considerable praise of the first game, with Game Informer considering it the "best licensed video game ever made" and the Australian Official PlayStation Magazine called it one of the best games of all time.
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