The Joy of Stealth Games Without Stealth

'Murderous Pursuits' isn't about hiding, but about being seen without being noticed.

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Apr 11 2018, 5:45pm

screenshot courtesy of Blazing Griffin

One of the most enjoyable experiences I had at PAX last weekend was Murderous Pursuits. It’s basically a multiplayer video game version of Assassin, if you ever played that game, as well as a sequel to The Ship. You are both hunter and hunted in a lavish Victorian setting, randomly assigned another player as your assassination target, but also knowing that someone else is targeting you at the same time. With each kill or death, the deck is reshuffled and you get a new target and a new hunter on your trail. At the end of a round, the most prolific murderer wins.

The catch is that you’re in a setting crowded with other characters who may or may not be other players, and the real secret is knowing how to blend into these crowds. For instance, while you can sprint, an AI character never will, so it’s a dead giveaway when a character suddenly bolts through the crowd. On the other hand, if you stand in certain spaces on the floor, such as in front of a portrait or an interesting sculpture, your character will go through the motions of making the same contemplative, appreciative gestures and expressions that the AI characters perform. In other words, you just look like part of the scenery

After a couple years of playing stealth games where the objective is remain concealed in the shadows and to find secret paths to your targets, it was a nice reminder of how much fun, and how deliciously tense, the “hiding in plain sight” type of stealth game can be. When success requires being increasingly vulnerable, and lingering in those exposed positions, the entire dynamic shifts to being about steady nerves and going with the flow. You need to take action and move with purpose, but all in plain view of a hostile audience, without ever having been seen to do anything at all.

I’m curious to see what kind of longevity Murderous Pursuits enjoys, and whether it will remain as interesting to me after I’m away from PAX, and after I’ve played a few rounds with the Waypoint gang. I’m also on the fence about some of its character models, whose heightened Victorianism includes some classically Orientalist tropes. They fit with the game’s theme, but is that theme really providing any critique of its dated stereotypes?

Still, it’s made me nostalgic for this exact kind of stealth game, and has me contemplating visit to Hitman or even the Silent Hunter series. I just love that feeling of trying to play it cool in a situation where everything is positively screaming “ Run like hell!”

What games scratch this itch for you? What are the best stealth games that take the action out of the shadows and into the light?

Let me know in today’s open thread!

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