NAME: Johnny Barnstorm
AGE: Sometime in the late twenties.
LOCATION: British Columbia
PREFERRED GENRES: Anything where a sassy she spy blows things up. Adventure games. Racing games. Fighting games, too, to some degree. Side-scrolling hit-those-guys games.
KOOBERT'S SYSTEMS: Turbografx-16, PlayStation, Sega Nomad, Nintendo 64, Sega Dreamcast, PlayStation2, XBox, Nintendo DS, XBox 360, PSP, Sega Saturn, PlayStation3.
GAMES WHICH MAKE KOOBERT WAX NOSTALGIC: Manhunter: New York, Star Control 2, Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis, Police Quest 2, Quest for Glory II: Trial By Fire, Phantasy Star I & IV, Dreamfall: The Longest Journey, Shining Force, Driver, Metropolis Street Racer, Bushido Blade. Yeah... and that Smashing Brothers game. Fine.
CURRENTLY PLAYING: Braid, Penny Arcade Adventures, The Strong Bad Game for Cool and Attractive People: Episode One, Final Fantasy XI, Ys Books I & II, StarFox 64, Chrono Trigger.
Ah, Stealth. You can thank Metal Gear Solid and Tenchu for bringing this ubiquitous gameplay mechanic into popular attention. Although games like Airborne Ranger and the original Metal Gear had toyed with this mechanic in the 2D world years ago, but it wasn't until Snake snuck around guards in 3D that everyone fell in love with the mechanic. And game designers, being the original chaps that they are, ran en masse to start throwing little stealth portions in their games, regardless of whether or not stealth had any right to be in there.
The designers might claim they stuck it in to change up the pace, give players something a little different to do. But, by that logic, "a little different" means "something that they've already done to death in a dozen other games". We're not going to look at bad stealth-based games like "Alias", where the shitty stealth is an integral portion of the gameplay. Instead we'll look at games where the stealth portions seem so arbitrary and tacked on that they detract for the actual game's relative goodness.
6. Lost Odyssey
What the hell is a stealth section doing here? While on the way to Numara, Kaim and her (wait, no, his) companions are arrested, possibly for murdering dozens of Numarian soldiers, which you did do. Guilt aside, you decide to circumvent the Numarian justice system and, using Alan Tudyk's doppelganger Jansen, get past your cell's guard. Unfortunately, ever step from here on out is monitored by an eyeball shaped robot. You must dodge past their relatively slow, ponderous routines in order to get out of the jail.
What's so wrong with this? At first, the only problem is that the game decides to slow everything down with a pointless cutscene each time you see an eyeballbot. The actual evasion is simple enough. In the second room, there is much less margin for error, and combined with the terrible, non-adjustable camera angles, the eyeballbots do become frustrating. Now, you don't die when you get caught by them, just sent back to the beginning of the maze, but the last three, which are closely grouped together, brought me to the point of yelling at the screen. The lack of camera control makes it just random on whether or not you trigger their alert. There are two in the south-west portion of the room that seem to be very specifically guarding something, and you have to dodge past two sightlines, one of which is always unseen due to the camera, to get there. The worst part? The really worst fricking part? There's nothing down there. Absolutely nothing. All in all, this section is so short that you can't bitch about it too much. It just had nothing to do with the rest of the game and was an annoying diversion.
5. Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas
What the hell is a stealth section doing here? Your pal, irritating rapper OG Loc, needs to get his rhyme book back from millionaire rapper Madd Dogg, so you, being the swell and helpful fellow that you are, decide to help him out. Although you are a one-man army capable of bringing down the FBI and the entire state police, you decide to eschew such firepower for the quiet killing ability of a knife. From here on in, it's sneaking and stabbing as you make your way into the studio and grab the book. The killing is a direct borrowing of such activities in Manhunt, so the basic mechanics have been used before, and are relatively familiar.
What's so wrong with this? Manhunt was a game all about the stealth kills, so borrowing from that can't be so bad, right? Sadly, no. Just as the music game in San Andreas missed the point of what makes music games good, this stealth game has absolutely no entertainment factor. Although it functions basically like Manhunt does, it doesn't have the same great motion capture. And the environments in which stealth are used are the terrible Rockstar indoor set, so be prepared for bland, PS1-era hallways and a lot of shuddering cameras. The worst part of it, though, is that it all seems so pointless. CJ doesn't seem like a guy with a lot of subtlety, and he also already has the weapons and skill to take almost everyone down. Why does he only need to bring a knife? Why not a gun and a silencer? Yes, they want to teach you a new gameplay mechanic, but it's one that sees so little use in the game that you'll end up forgetting it an hour later. And yet, it's far from the worst offender on this list.
4. Final Fantasy XII
What the hell is a stealth section doing here? Well, uh... you're trying to get into the castle, see? And with the help of the palace servants you get in, right? So once you are upstairs, you get a fun little diversion of having to wrangle around very, very dimwitted guards, whose cone of vision is tiny. Calling a guard basically drags them to a new corner, after which they give up and stop looking for you, just sitting there. So what you have to do is get the guards parked in an order which allows you to get to the magicite you need. And that's about it.
What's so wrong with this? Though it's not a difficult stealth portion, it's just odd and out of place. The guards have no AI, and very little vision, to the point that you'd really have to want to get caught in order to fail that sequence. That does, however, make for some irritating and boring gameplay. It is very close in execution to the above scene in Lost Odyssey, but without the timing requirements. On the plus side, the camera is controllable, and the whole shebang lasts about five minutes, after which you can rejoice in never having to do it again.
3. Indigo Prophecy / Farenheit
What the hell is a stealth section doing here? Lucas, your beleaguered, occasionally possessed hero, meets with his brother at their parents grave site to have a heart to heart. And what better thing to reminisce about from your childhood than that one stealth sequence you had? In this childhood flashback, Lucas has a vision of the hangar in which his brother Markus was playing blowing up, so it's up to him to get from his house on the army base to the hanger, without getting caught by any guards. (It's past your bedtime, you see.)
What's so wrong with this? The worst offense committed by this stealth section is that it kills the forward momentum of the plot. Although it does give you some needed backstory about your protagonist and his powers, it ends up eating far too much playing time. Unlike the stealth portions above, this one is actually rather difficult, although since it's a memory, you just get confused and say "that's not how it happens" any time you get caught. A major problem of this stealth sequence is that the game's control just isn't really built for it. For stealth to really work, the game has to be thought of as a stealth game from the ground up, not have sightlines and hiding pushed into as an afterthought. It's also just a little illogical. You live on this base, and yet you are treated like terrorist number one when you are caught on the grounds. Lighten up, guys. Oh, btw, that hangar is totally about to blow up. kthxbye. (The ending of this stealth scene, where you have to convince the kids to get out of the hangar, is something else entirely - one of the best examples of games as true interactive fiction. Though it is possible to rescue all of the hiding kids, the game runs with whatever ending you come up with, and incorporates it into the future narrative, whether it's the trauma of watching his childhood friends die, or his feelings of pride for having saved their lives.)
2. The Getaway: Black Monday
What the hell is a stealth section doing here? I'm not entirely sure. I do know that every time you end up playing as the spunky teen girl Sam, it turns into a generally dull, slow stealth game instead of a thrill-a-minute shooting-and-driving game that the Getaway should be. The first stealth scene, in the gym, following a bloody shoot-out, isn't so bad. You can pretty much breeze through it, and it is a bit of a fun alternative to the hypermasculine shooty bits that normally come from this genre. And Sam is, shockingly, a non-sexualized, fun, interesting female character in an action game. Good heavens. Then, after an entertaining enough sequence of stealing a utility van to sneak into the corporate headquarters, it all goes to shittown, population: irritating.
What's so wrong with this? Yep, you will come to dread these scenes, as you are playing as someone without the means to defend herself, and the only option when confronted by bad guys or guards is to, you know, just let them kill you. Slowly. These sections highlight what is the weakest portion of the Getaway series: the terrible, terrible level design. Samey office after samey office are in front of you, obfuscating the correct path, making you run around in circles, and get generally pissed off. While this game at least has the good forethought to use the correct control style for sneaking games, it also has erratic detection from the AI, and some irritating camera movements. But this one scene, in the Scobel building, is so game-breakingly boring, long, and bad that it actually prevented me from finishing the game. After an hour of trying to maneover around guards, getting lost in the shitty level design, and then not being able to do anything about getting caught, I said "Sucks to this!" and put the game back on my shelf, never to be played again.
1. Dreamfall: The Longest Journey
What the hell is a stealth section doing here? There are a few stealth bits thrown around this game, some of which come off better than others. One, later in the game, involving avoiding detection by evil robots, is actually pretty fun, but the scene in the catacombs is what moves Dreamfall to the forefront of bad stealth sections. You are in the catacombs in the fantasy side of the universe, having snuck in via a relatively harmless set of sneaking. Inside, things are different. Unlike before, where there is relatively little punishment for getting caught by these little troll guys, here, any detection cuts to a very jarring shot of a screaming, giant monster, a bit like that one at the beginning of Another World. (The game, not the soap opera.) You have to solve some odd icon-based puzzles here, all while not getting caught by the pointlessly shambling little troll guys.
What's so wrong with this? This game wasn't built for stealth. It works in the other scenes because it's generally easy, but here, it suddenly switches from a pleasant diversion to game-stoppingly awful. The controls aren't good enough for this, especially camera-wise. The AI is too good at picking you up. It ceases being fun and becomes something worse than work. When I say that the cut to the screaming giant monster is jarring, let me put it to you this way: it's freaking nerve-shattering. And the punishment of getting caught by these guys, who are frequently off-screen, and whose line-of-vision you have absolutely no means of understanding, is not just this cut, but then the pursuit by this invincible monster. So, yes, getting caught by one of those guys is an instant "load your game" scenario, it even says so in GameFAQs. Now I don't like doing a lot of things in video games, but one thing that I really, really don't like doing is going on GameFAQs to solve puzzles. But these catacombs were so annoying, with their unfair instant death and all, that after an hour of getting SCREECHED at by Growly McKillsYou, I once again said "Sucks to this!". But as the plot of Dreamfall seemed to be going somewhere, I didn't put the game away, I just looked up the solution to the catacombs, beat it, and then went back to enjoying one of the best games I've played this decade.
Next time on You Know You Hate Them: what do you get when you cross a soundtrack in need of filling, a surprisingly small music budget, and corporate shills who don't give a fuck? That's right: from listening to Avril while car crashing, to banging your drums to "B-I-N-G-O", we're going to take a look at the worst licensed music in games history.