8 implausible things you can only get away with in a stealth game

Blending right in

Stealth games are--theoretically--one of the most puristic genres around. In truth, they're often a bit silly. You see the stealth game protagonist is supposed to be an ultra-cautious, calculating master of misdirection and manipulation. He or she is supposed to be a none-more careful commander of environment with a nigh zen-like discipline over his or her own physical presence.

But, frankly, stealth games bend the rules all the time, meaning that when you think you're skillfully vanishing into the shadows as if ghost, you're actually being blindingly obvious and getting away with a right load of old nonsense. Nonsense like the following nonsenses.

Loudly beating men to death, silently

Nine times out of ten, your enemies in a stealth game will suffer from a severe and specific strain of selective deafness. Footsteps, explosions, gunshots and bullet ricochets will all be detected instantly, but the brutal crunches of a mans skull being caved in? They wont hear a peep, even if it happens right around the corner from them. Even if the victim screams in agony as you shove a dagger between his ribs and twist his neck until his head pops off.

Blame it on video games continuing bid to become ever more gritty and visceral if you like, but as stealth kills become increasingly violent, the in-game rules that determine them as silent attacks seem increasingly ludicrous.

Invisibly sticking your head around a corner

In a similar manner to the way that very young babies are not physically aware (What the hell was that pink thing that just flew past!? It was your hand, dear I have those!?), it seems entirely possible to fool a stealth game guard into believing that you dont exist if they only see one part of your body.

Sure you can poke your head and shoulders around a corner or over the top of cover, but unless they see an entire human body they wont recognise you as a person at all. A floating, disembodied head is an impossibility, so with all the primitive religious terror of a medieval villager, theyll refuse to acknowledge your existence lest it unravel their entire world view, and go on about their business like they didnt see you at all.

Vanishing when a few feet above the enemy's eyeline

As well as deafness and poor distance-vision, it seems that another mandatory qualification for being an enemy in a stealth game is stiff neck vertebrae. Perhaps the job is specifically geared towards the partially disabled as part of a video game equality-in-the-work-place program. Whatever the reason, guards in stealth games seem unable to see anything more than a foot or two above or below their eye level.

Whats that? Batman, the guy well known for coming into battle with a variety of ziplines and grappling hooks, just jumped into the air and then disappeared? Good God, where could he have gone? Hes just disappeared straight out of existence. He is truly a teleporting ghost-wizard, and theres absolutely no point looking for him. With those unfathomable eldritch powers, where will he appear from next?

Using arrows to send enemies in the wrong direction

So youre standing around minding your own business. Suddenly an arrow hurtles out of the ether and twangs into the wall behind you? Do you look towards where the arrow came from, that of course being the source of any follow-up spikey projectiles? Yes you do. Following the path of the arrow will only take you directly away from the very place you need to be keeping an eye on. Also, over there there is only a wall. The arrows sticking in it. Thats why it went twang.

Stealth game guards operate a lot more like excitable dogs though. Something wooshes past them, their heads spin round and they gamble off to follow it, tongues no doubt flopping in the breeze.

Safely getting way too close for comfort

Oh yeah, did we mention tunnel vision? It seems that most stealth game guards also suffer from glaucoma or cataracts, or else are just flat-out drunk all of the time. Its true that people see through a rough cone of vision, gaining a wider view of whats in front of them as things get further away. But test it out. Put your arms out to your sides and then slowly bring them around in front of you until they appear in your field of view. Do it now. No-ones going to think youre weird.

When you did you see your arms? When they were making slightly less than a 180 degree chunk of spatial pie? Thought so. Now compare that to the cones of enemy vision on a Metal Gear Solid radar. You could sneak up on one of those guys simply by sitting down next to them on a bus.

Not being seen as long as you move fast enough

Move fast enough between two points, even if in full view of the enemy, and the chances are that the only response youll get is a quick Huh? What was that?, before the guard in question goes back about their business. A lot of the time youll be flat-out ignored. At worst, theyll think youre the wind. But lets look at the science of this, shall we?

The shortest period of time that a human brain needs to register a visual stimulous is 16 milliseconds. Thats 1/1000 of a second. Its pretty short. Now lets charitably assume that the distance between the two points of cover youre darting between is only three metres. Lets charitably assume that a decrease in the duration of your exposure of just one millisecond, to 15 milliseconds, is enough to render you completely invisible. Using the equation of Speed = Distance/Time, we can calculate that in order to travel the required 0.003 km in a time of 0.015 seconds, youd have to be moving at 0.2 km per second. Scale that up, and youd be running at 720 km/h.

Shaking a tail by leaving the room

Be it as a result of weak arms or incredibly short-term memories, once youre hidden behind the impenetrable barrier of a piece of hinged wood designed to facilitate easy passage from one place to the next theres no way theyre coming after you.

Becoming invisible at a range of more than 20 feet

In stealth games, the physics of light works rather differently than in the real world. In fact light works much more like sound waves, dissipating as it travels and becoming imperceptibly faint over even a relatively short distance.

Walk right out in front of a dude at a 6 8 foot range and hell spot you right away (as youre directly in front of him). Stand anywhere in the 20 50 foot range though, and you can do a Vaudeville song-and-dance number, firing party poppers out of your sleeves while dressed as a nu-rave clown. On stilts. Theres still no way hell see you.

Having dark thoughts?

So, that's our thesis on why stealth games are really a bit silly when you think about it. But how about your thoughts? Any other tropes of the genre that you think are a bit ludicrous on closer, objective inspection? Let us know.

And while you're here, have a look at some of our related stuff, like How to be a video game guard: A professional guide, and Thief - Everything you need to know. Go on, it can't hurt, can it?

David Houghton
Long-time GR+ writer Dave has been gaming with immense dedication ever since he failed dismally at some '80s arcade racer on a childhood day at the seaside (due to being too small to reach the controls without help). These days he's an enigmatic blend of beard-stroking narrative discussion and hard-hitting Psycho Crushers.