In video games, it’s not always wise to go into a room full of bad guys with guns blazing. That can be a surefire route to Game Over City. Instead, you want to be a little more quiet, a little more sneaky and strategic. You want to take down the enemies before they know what’s happening. Do it right, and you feel like an unstoppable ninja. Alert a guard, and you’re toast. Welcome to the world of stealth games.
Below, we take a look at the 10 best stealth games of all time. For our methodology, we surveyed all of the stealth games listed on Metacritic, creating composite scores that account for both critic and user ratings. For example, a game with a 95 critic score and 9.3 user score would receive a 94 composite score. This should give us the clearest picture of how well the games were received by critics and gamers alike between the time of release and now.
10. The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape From Butcher’s Bay
- Composite Metacritic score: 88
Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay is a rare instance in which the game is actually better than the movie — not that that’s a major feat for a movie this average (sorry, Vin). In this game for the original Xbox, you play as the title character as he escapes from a locked-down prison in a sci-fi setting. To do so, the game has you do a little bit of everything, starting with sneaking around and amping up to oh-so-satisfying trigger-happy shootouts. It’s basically everything you’d want in a stealthy shooter.
9. Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell
- Composite Metacritic score: 89
Tom Clancy may be best known for his military thriller doorstoppers, but his name also adorns one of the best stealth series around. In this first installment, released in 2002, you play as NSA operative Sam Fisher, a man with the unlucky task of infiltrating enemy bases densely populated with gun-toting soldiers. Stealth is the name of the game, but it’s not easy to stay undetected. If you fail, you’ll only kick off World War III. No pressure.
8. Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow
- Composite Metacritic score: 89.5
Next up is another installment of the Sam Fisher chronicles. Here, you step into the spy’s sneaky shoes once again, this time tracking a biological terrorist around the world. You get a ton of fancy new gear to help you stay hidden while you take out the baddies. Not only that, but the game also features a groundbreaking (for the time) multiplayer mode that lets you and three other agents do team-based challenges in a number of different modes. It’s great stuff, and another worthy installment in the series.
7. Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots
- Composite Metacritic score: 90.5
Finally, we come to the series that has proved time and again there’s more than one way to do right by the stealth genre. Metal Gear Solid 4 is a PlayStation 3-era installment, released in 2008, and it’s the most cinematic yet. As usual, you play as Solid Snake, but this time he’s gone through accelerated aging (don’t ask), so he’s old and tired.
To make up for it, he has access to a whole arsenal of weapons, plus a fancy new suit that digitally blends in with his surroundings, making it more convenient to sneak up on guards to take them down. It all adds up to an incredible game that deserves a place on any PS3 owner’s shelf.
6. Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty
- Composite Metacritic score: 91.5
Next is the second Metal Gear Solid game, the one that debuted on the PlayStation 2 in 2001. To say this game was highly anticipated is an understatement. The first MGS more or less set the world on fire, so expectations were through the roof for the sequel.
Series creator Hideo Kojima did not disappoint. He may have done a bait-and-switch by making you play most of the game as the blond newcomer Raiden, but the game’s stealth action remains just as intense as always. The story is compelling and the gameplay is top-notch — there’s nothing not to like. Metal Gear Solid 2 is a high-profile sequel done right.
5. Thief: The Dark Project
- Composite Metacritic score: 92
The stealth genre didn’t really kick off until 1998, but it kicked off that year with surprising force. Not only did gamers get Metal Gear Solid and Tenchu: Stealth Assassins, but they also got a PC game called Thief: The Dark Project. This first-person title finds a thief named Garrett creeping through the dark streets of a seedy city, doing dirty deeds.
He comes with a nice set of stealthy moves, like peeking around corners and vanishing in the shadows, plus an array of arrows to take down the unsuspecting enemies he finds. With a set of well-designed levels and increasingly strategic decisions for the player to make, it’s easy to see why this game’s a classic.
4. Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory
- Composite Metacritic score: 93
The third installment of this spy-driven franchise is perhaps the best. Again, you play as Sam Fisher, the sneaky government operative known for getting the job done. This time, the stealth mechanics have been honed even further, giving you new options like the ability to strangle or shoot enemies while hanging upside-down. A handful of new multiplayer modes round out the package, creating one of the most highly acclaimed stealth games of all time.
3. The Last of Us
- Composite Metacritic score: 93
Like most stealth games, you pay a price for being spotted in The Last of Us. But unlike most stealth games, the price you pay is being devoured by a fungus zombie. This is a post-apocalyptic game that puts the brutality of its world front and center. Have you read The Road? It’s like that.
In The Last of Us, everyone who remains has lost nearly everything, and it’s hard to find anything worth fighting for. That leads to myriad questionable choices and heartbreaking plot twists. But the main characters do find a reason to live, even if it’s not what they originally thought. Not only is this one of the best stealth games around, but it’s one of the best games, period.
2. Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence
- Composite Metacritic score: 93.5
It’s no easy feat to make a sequel to any good game, let alone two of the best games ever made. But if anyone was up to the task, it was Hideo Kojima and his development team at Konami. Metal Gear Solid 3 flashes back to Vietnam and finds Solid Snake sneaking through the woods, hunting animals for food, doing stealth takedowns on enemies, and generally trying not to be spotted. Add to that what’s probably the most memorable set of bosses in any video game ever, and you’ve got a heck of a package.
1. Metal Gear Solid
- Composite Metacritic score: 94
Of course Metal Gear Solid is the best stealth game of all time. Not only is this an incredible title that debuted a slew of new ideas that would spread like wildfire throughout the gaming industry, but from its story to its mechanics to its bizarre characters and conversations, Metal Gear Solid is an absolute joy to play.
Later games in the series might have improved on the core mechanics, but most of the games on this list wouldn’t exist without Metal Gear Solid. Based on its influence on the medium, it’s about as important as video games get.
Thankfully, one of the best things about the Metal Gear Solid series is that it’s been bundled, collected, and rereleased on a variety of systems, including PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and PS Vita. Nintendo 3DS even got a remastered version of the third installment. If you haven’t played these games yet, you’re running out of excuses. Grab a copy and enjoy.
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