Metal Gear Solid: Rising looks awesome. Of course, I still have to see more before I decide if I would want to buy it (a big part of that decision will be whether or not Kojima manages to restrict himself to mere ten minute cutscenes). The one consistent gripe I’m hearing is that it doesn’t have much emphasis on stealth. It should be noted that we don’t actually know that stealth is gone from the game. We are told that stealth will rely on Raiden’s agility and speed rather than just hiding and camouflage as Snake did. But even if the game is pure “Lightning Bolt Action” and “cutting,” I have to say that I won’t mind one bit. In fact, I just don’t care about stealth.
We are now entering a new phase in stealth videogaming. The latest Splinter Cell game ditches the emphasis on sneaking through completely unnoticed and instead allows, even encourages, you to just run right up to enemies and sock them. On the other end of the spectrum, the Assassin’s Creed games revolve around social stealth (i.e. blending into a crowd or hiring people to act as distractions) rather than physical stealth (i.e. staying out of sight and out of hearing). There is a very simple reason for this: it has become abundantly clear that the old ways of stealth gameplay don’t work. Just watch this clip from Splinter Cell: Double Agent in which Sam Fisher repeatedly and blatantly runs within two yards of guards in broad daylight (while carrying on a conversation out loud with someone on the radio).
The problem with stealth gameplay the way it has been practiced by the likes of Splinter Cell and Metal Gear Solid is that it is impossible to find a good balance between realism and playability. If guards are made too smart and wary, the game becomes impossible to play except through rote memorization. If guards are too lax and stupid, any pretense towards realism becomes a joke. Sneaking around in real life is accomplished through the use of dozens of senses that are not available to gamers. Making a realistic stealth game where the emphasis is on staying hidden from view and unnoticed at all times is simply not feasible. To that extent, I have always regarded the stealth element of Metal Gear Solid games as being somewhat broken. The much-parodied “hide for 50 seconds and then everything goes back to normal” element was novel back when the first Metal Gear Solid came out, but now it’s painfully dated. If it turns out that Metal Gear Solid: Rising consists of no attempts at stealth or subtlety and merely has Raiden running around chopping everything into little pieces, I for one won’t miss the Tactical Espionage Action one bit.