What is Tactical Stealth? [Gaming Definition, Meaning]

Thanks to Hideo Kojima’s Metal Gear Solid franchise, the tactical stealth genre has increased in popularity over the last decade. With technology progressing, the way stealth can be expressed can be applied beyond being a military/intelligence operative. For the most part, the objective of the game is to not be seen and strike from the dark. In a good number of these games, you can be a ninja, an assassin for hire, someone trying to escape pursuit, or Batman himself.

Before Metal Gear

While Metal Gear Solid brought stealth to the forefront in its release in late-1998, the genre has loosely been around since the preceding decade. In addition to the original Metal Gear MSX games, there was 1981’s Castle Wolfenstein (the predecessor of Wolfenstein 3D) for the PC. In this game, you play as an American operative who infiltrates a Nazi camp to steal some secret plan without getting caught. Similar to some iconic stealth games such as Hitman, you can even steal uniforms in order to get past certain security guards.

Castle Wolfenstein

  • Platform: PC
  • Publisher: Muse Software
  • Developer: Muse Software
  • Release Date: 1981

As popularly demonstrated in MGS, if you use any firearms to take out the enemy, a sound will attract attention. In addition, you can also take items of a downed enemy by taking their ammo, keys, or body armor. And like in future installments of MGS, you can also have the enemy put their hands up when you point your firearm at them at the right timing. Since this feature wasn’t introduced until MGS2 for the PS2, this shows in some ways Castle Wolfenstein was ahead of its time.

Another 1981 title that is considered to be the originator of the tactical stealth genre is Sega’s 005 for the arcade. In this game, you play as a detective who must avoid security guards holding flashlights by not entering the beam lights, or hiding behind crates as you try to make it to the chopper at the end of the level.


  • Platform: Arcade
  • Publisher: Sega
  • Developer: Sega
  • Release Date: Dec 1981

The Original Metal Gear and Its Expansion

We all know that Metal Gear Solid popularized the genre, but we also cannot overlook the first two original games for the MSX from 30 years ago. While Metal Gear standardized the modern tactical stealth genre, the original game was not initially intended to be a stealth game but just your typical action game. Due to the limited hardware, the MSX had, its original intentions were not possible. Taking inspiration from The Great Escape starring the legendary Steve McQueen, Kojima decided to make the game’s emphasis on stealth. Upon its release, it became one of the top sellers for the MSX console in Japan. Then upon the end of 1998, Metal Gear Solid was released to critical acclaim and the rest is history.

Metal Gear Solid

  • Platform: PS1, PC
  • Publisher: Konami
  • Developer: KCEJ
  • Release Date: Sept 3, 1998 (JP), Oct 21, 1998 (US)

Metal Gear Solid Trailer

As each new installment came out, it introduced new elements to help players get creative as they went on their missions. MGS2 introduced hiding in lockers, MGS3 gave fans an intricate camouflage system, MGS4 had freedom for weapons customization, Peace Walker and Portable Ops introduced recruiting enemies to your cause, and MGS5 provided an open world experience that allows you to approach your mission with as much freedom as possible. Each new feature helped keep the franchise fresh and yet retain familiarity that gives a sense of comfort but keeps you on your toes.

Military/Intelligence Related Games

Thanks to the success of Metal Gear Solid, many games of a similar nature started to be released. Two notable examples are Syphon Filter and Splinter Cell. While the first three MGS games are played with an overhead view, Syphon Filter and Splinter Cell play like a third-person shooter. Even before MGS2 introduced this feature in its 2001 release, Syphon Filter beat it to by two years when enemies can react to discovering killed comrades showing how advanced the AI is for a PS1 game. So if you take out enemies in modern tactical stealth, it is almost conditional to hide bodies in recent games.

Syphon Filter

  • Platform: PS1
  • Publisher: 989 Studios
  • Developer: Eidetic
  • Release Date: Feb 17, 1999

With Splinter Cell, the game heavily emphasizes in moving in the shadows and relying on thermal goggles and night vision in order to proceed. While MGS3 introduced interrogation in its franchise, the original Splinter Cell beat MGS3 to it by two years since it is very important to that game. In addition to Sam Fisher’s sharpshooting skills, he has some mad parkour tricks of his own. Take for example you are in a narrow hallway and there are no lockers or vents to hide in, what can you do to avoid incoming guards? Well, you can jump up the walls as high as you can and spread your legs like a Jean Claude Van Damme split by using the walls. Once they pass by, you can jump back down and sneak up behind them for a kill, or just continue with the mission.

Splinter Cell

  • Platform: Xbox, PS2, GameCube, PC
  • Publisher: Ubisoft
  • Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
  • Release Date: Nov 17, 2002

Be the Assassin

While MGS doesn’t necessarily require you to kill people in order to beat the game, in some stealth games, they are necessary and the name of the game. One notable example is the Hitman franchise. In a good number of levels, you’re going to be attending a good number of social functions and there will be little to no place to hide so you have to blend into stay undetected. In some instances, you may have to get a disguise ready. You may have to take out a guy or two and take his clothes and once you do, don’t do anything out of the ordinary to attract attention to yourself.

With some missions, you have to find a way to be alone with the target in order to take him out with a suppressed firearm. In case you can’t, you can even poison the target’s food or drink in order to kill him with little to no suspicion. If you got the skills, you can just take out the target out from a distance with a sniper rifle then make an easy run.


  • Platform: PS4, Xbox One, PC
  • Publisher: Square Enix
  • Developer: Io Interactive
  • Release Date: Mar 11, 2016

Hitman Trailer

Another famous franchise where you kill is Assassin’s Creed. Since a majority of the games take place long before the use of rifles, you usually use hidden blades in Altar’s robes to kill your targets. But before you can take your target, you are required to gather information through eavesdropping and questioning some local townsfolk. You can explore ancient Israel either by walking amongst the people or running and jumping around its rooftops. Since Altair’s blade can be concealed, in some instances, his assassinations can go unnoticed. But if in the event he raises suspicion, you better use his acrobatics skills fast to avoid the local guards.

Assassin’s Creed

  • Platform: Xbox 360, PS3, PC
  • Publisher: Ubisoft
  • Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
  • Release Date: Nov 13, 2007

Assassin’s Creed Trailer

Last, shortly before the release of Metal Gear Solid, Tenchu was released for the PlayStation 1 and allowed players to assume the roles of ninjas as agents of the shadows. Just like in the movies, you can run and jump across rooftops. Just like a real ninja would, your characters are equipped with grappling hooks, swords, shurikens, and smoke bombs. If you sneak up on your opponents without any notice, you can take them out in the most brutal matter by slicing their throats. So if you want to feel a sense of the lost art of ninjitsu and without a sniper rifle, then Tenchu is one of those games.

Tenchu: Stealth Assassin's

  • Platform: PS1
  • Publisher: Sony Music Entertainment Incorporated (Japan), Activision (US)
  • Developer: Acquire
  • Release Date: Feb 26, 1998, (Japan), Aug 31, 1998 (US)

Avoid Capture or Death

While avoiding capture and/or death is, of course, the ultimate nature of stealth games, that concept is expressed most emphatically in Alien: Isolation, a game that serves as a bridge between the first two Alien movies. As some of you fans are aware, the first two movies are different in their own ways. While the franchise progressively became popular as an action series, the first movie was more about survival horror and this game emphasizes more on that. In Alien: Isolation, you play as Ripley’s daughter and like Ripley, you must avoid being seen by the alien.

Alien: Isolation

  • Platform: PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, PC
  • Publisher: Sega
  • Developer: Creative Assembly
  • Release Date: Oct 7, 2014

Alien: Isolation Trailer

But not only will you have to confront the alien from time-to-time, but humans and androids alike. Unfortunately, there are no weapons (such as a revolver, shotgun, and a flamethrower) that can kill the alien so you have to survive and escape by avoiding it. However, using the flamethrower can scare the alien away for a period of time. Thankfully, you can get a tracker but it will emit sounds and sounds are likely to attract the alien. Last, if you want a full-immersing experience, play the game in VR!!!

Be the Hero Gotham Needs and Deserves

We also cannot deny the Arkham games where you play as The Caped Crusader. While there were Batman games for preceding consoles prior to the Arkham series, they didn’t really utilize stealth in the manner that the comics, movies, and iconic animated series have. Stealth is an essential part of the Batman mythos, and the Arkham series finally allows players to play that aspect of the character. While getting caught by enemy guards doesn’t have the same heavy consequences of Metal Gear Solid, Splinter Cell, or Hitman in which it can equate to a game over, being able to sneak up on guards by preying on their fears makes you think that criminals are truly a superstitious cowardly lot.

Batman: Arkham Knight

  • Platform: PS4, Xbox One, PC
  • Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
  • Developer: Rocksteady Studios
  • Release Date: June 23, 2015

Batman: Arkham Knight Trailer

Players can achieve this from any blind spot possible by hanging from gargoyles, sneaking underneath vents/crates, throwing a smoke bomb, or from behind with a glide kick. So if you want to truly understand what it’s like to be The Dark Knight, the Arkham series is the ultimate representation of that. While the inaugural release is limited to the asylum, Arkham Knight allows you to explore the entirety of Gotham City.

Final Thoughts

Like many genres in gaming, it would be very wrong to assume that stealth as a play one you’ve played them all kind of genre. While they largely have similar objectives, many franchises and games express stealth in their own creative ways. In some games, you have the protection of a gun while in some other games, you are begging to find some sort of weapon. These games appeal to both our excitement and our fears. In war, it can’t be a 1980’s action movie where you’re some buff guy that can fire an automatic assault rifle from the hip. No singular man can be like Stallone or Schwarzenegger in those flicks. Sometimes, it’s best to not do anything to arouse suspicion and a good percentage of the tactical stealth genre do a great job of doing that.

In some instances, you’re not a soldier or an assassin, you’re just a regular guy trying to get out of a bad situation from intruders, thieves, or worst case scenario, an alien monster in outer space. Each game presents a scenario that requires you to adapt and that is what survival is about and with how technology has evolved to the point it has now, developers are now in a position to simulate these situations in both realistic and non-realistic manners.

In most of these games, you have the opportunity to scout the level from a certain distance to strategize how to proceed from point A to point B. In some instances, you may have to take out some people, or in other instances, it’s best that you shouldn't. Many tactical stealth games from all generations give you many opportunities to capture certain emotions and feelings that other games can’t, so give them all a try.

Assassins-Creed-game-Wallpaper-700x394 What is Tactical Stealth? [Gaming Definition, Meaning]


Author: Justin "ParaParaJMo" Moriarty

Hello, I am originally from the states and have lived in Japan since 2009. Though I watched Robotech and Voltron as a child, I officially became an anime fan in 1994 through Dragon Ball Z during a trip to the Philippines. In addition to anime, I also love tokusatsu, video games, music, and martial arts. よろしくお願いします

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