Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Stealth Gameplay: Legend of Zelda's Achilles Heel.

I was originally going to try and write an article tying in themes surrounding the Olympic games in London but nobody wants to hear me compare Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games, the Official London 2012 game, the Mario Party series and of course, Crash Bash (also worth a look is this Google doodle), because it would just be 900 words of me essentially saying "Play Mario Party 2 you cretins". Nope instead I'm going to talk about stealth action segments in games using The Legend of Zelda series as an example of how to make them generally suck and not fun. But let me first observe that there is no Olympic sport that requires any modicum of stealth.

Apart from Ninja Dressage

Well my first rule golden rule of stealth is that you should be allowed to cock up a bit and be detected to a degree, especially if it's by a single enemy. Having to repeat an entire section just because some berk happened to have the ability to see at 120 degree angles at the worst possible time is not only irritating, but in the case of Ocarina of Time and Wind Waker, can have some down right stupid consequences. Hyrule Castle Courtyard and the Forsaken Fortress have these annoying insta-fail sections which really stunt the pace of these otherwise brilliant games early on but what else they do is repeatedly throw Link out of the locations he's trying to infiltrate only to leave him with the exact same entry route into the location in both cases. It would make more sense if Link had been killed and the game had reloaded (and Link can die elsewhere don't forget) so why doesn't that happen? If you approach the courtyard section at night, the small hole Link uses is surrounded by guards. After one failure you would expect that entrance to be guarded like that at all hours, or better yet sealed up so the guards can guard Zelda instead.

Exactly how I feel. (Link to the Past: No stealth sections. Brilliant game.)
Instead of insta-failing, there should be a punishment for detection proportional to the scale of the level of said detection. In praised stealth action sequences such as those in Metal Gear Solid and Batman: Arkham Asylum/City we see that yes you can be spotted and shot at to a limited degree if spotted by small numbers of basic henchmen as long as you make a speedy escape and evade pursuit.  There is still a tense atmosphere and a strong disincentive to be detected but it isn't the end of the world as long as you can recover from the mistake, something that Skyward Sword took note of for their Silent Realm sections, where things can all go to shit if a foot is put wrong but can be fixed if the strategy used for the section is smart enough. However, Skyward Sword, as improved as it is over earlier titles, still suffers from 'invincible guard syndrome' in that there is literally no way to damage or disable any of the sentinels permanently.

Pictured: An indestructible guardian
 The whole concept of defeating guards in the Legend of Zelda has exclusively fallen into the two categories of 'not physically possible' and 'incredibly easy to do'. In Phantom Hourglass the Guardians in the main maze sequence could only be stunned for the best part of the game and then easily dispatched with no difficulty due to an upgrade later on. In both N64 titles it is embarrassing for the Gerudo guards sometimes because when they're not being taken down by arrows to the knee they are completely fooled by a big mask which renders Link completely invisible to the standard guards in Majora's Mask. Solid Snake can shoot enemies down, but that makes noise (arrowed Gerudos don't raise any alarms) and Batman has any amount of gadgets at his disposal, but so do his enemies (Gerudos just have set paths) but Link, despite being able to take down Barinade and Lizalfos enemies as a child with a sword, can't be bothered to hilt stun the courtyard guards.

The reason for this is that stealth isn't something that should be crammed as a sideshow into any game, and Zelda isn't the only culprit by any means. The fact that the LoZ series is otherwise so very strong only strengthens the case for not including obligatory stealth sections. Such sequences need to be built from the ground up to include interesting and consistent enemy AI, subtle environment design choices that test the set of techniques that are given to the would be infiltrators. Having played a lot of Predator challenges in Batman recently has led me to something called the 'Predator test'. If your stealth sections could feasibly come up with the variety of medal challenges available in these two games then you can call it a fully fleshed out stealth obstacle. Deus Ex: Human Revolution would pass this test (and fall on the good side of all the points I've made in this article) whilst Brian the Dog's stealth levels in the Family Guy game would certainly not.


Hi, my name is Jak Marshall, creator and article writer of 103% Complete Gaming Blog. I hope you enjoyed this article but I'd like to ask my readers to consider the plight of shy horses. Please sign the petition to get Ninja Dressage in Rio 2016. Thanks J x     


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