Top ten games of 2018 that are, uh, possibly good!

Thanks for the write up @Giles_Habibula , I had taken this off my wishlist as I wasn’t super impressed with it when Tom streamed it, but I’ll add it back on as perhaps Tom wasn’t very good at playing it. ;)

My bet is it will be in a humble monthly in 2019.

Since pure stealth as a gameplay mechanic is dead — check its pulse if you don’t believe me

Mmm. No. I don’t believe you. In fact, I think that’s horseshit.

Thief turned 20 years old this year, and its mission design, narrative design and systems feel staggeringly more modern and sophisticated compared to a certain other game that prominently features horses going number 2 that will be on your top ten of the year list.

You don’t have to, but it might help explain why all stealth games now are action games. Or at least ready to transition to action instead of a direct failstate. Stealth alone can no longer support a game. It can only be part of a game. Pure stealth is dead, Jim.

Worst burn ever. No one has ever accused Rockstar of “modern” game design.


Has there ever been a pure stealth game though? It always seems to take a sizable part of the gameplay, but never the absolute majority of it in my experience, even in games centered around it thematically like Monaco (whose Bomberman part is at least as important) — but I am unfamiliar with Thief, I only seen the third game that was quite action packed in my souvenir.
I am asking genuinely, as the genre emerged in a dark spot of my videogame culture.

The third game was “Deadly Shadows”. Is that the one you’re speaking of?
I admit to only playing about an hour of that one, but I did not notice it being action-packed.

I am however very familiar with the first two Thief games (“The Dark Project” and “The Metal Age”). I am a bit biased, since those two happen to be The Best Games Of All Time, but those games are about as close as you’re going to get to “pure stealth”. At least, that’s how I played them. Any of the Thief games can be played with an eye toward action, but I wouldn’t recommend it. Although when your stealth strategy goes all fubar, sometimes you have no choice but to attempt to fight your way clear, or run away. I’ve had so many totally unscripted adventures in those games.

As @Soren_Hoglund indicated, the gameplay still holds up wonderfully well.
@tomchick Have you ever played the original Thief games?

It was a long time ago, so I might remember poorly (I didn’t even remember the subtitle, Deadly Shadows), and I might also have been playing it poorly, not grasping what the genre was about, but I remember it being a game about killing people from behind, like Splinter Cell, and thus being quite action oriented.
The Thief concept of avoiding action seems intriguing, but as a conscious wuss, I don’t think I’d have the nerves for it!

Absolutely! It was a great gameplay mechanic back in the day! But somewhere around Splinter Cell: Blacklist, developers started to realize that no one wanted to reload when they missed a stealth check or inadvertently stepped into the light when a guard was looking. So they started making games with stealth that can seamlessly transition to action. In other words, you play it as a stealth game or an action game, but once stealth fails, you don’t have to reload or back up or get hit with an instant failstate. You just start playing the action game part of the design. Hence, the current state of stealth is “stealth that turns into action when it fails” instead of “stealth that fails when it fails.” Metal Gear Solid V, Tomb Raider, Dishonored, Assassin’s Creed, Batman, pretty much any contemporary game you can name with stealth.

The exceptions prove the rule. I don’t think anyone really liked having to sneak around the Alien in Alien: Isolation, which was almost entirely pure stealth. It was a cool game, but definitely not for the gameplay. The Hitman games are probably the closest to pure stealth these days, but they have a lot more in them than stealth. They’re more like puzzles that involve lots of gadgetry, level-based tricks, disguises, and so on, all built around a progression system that rewards trying new things and maybe failing. Hitman has come a long way to keep stealth interesting. Probably Invisible Inc is the closest you’ll come to pure stealth these days.

Dude, please. I don’t think there are any gamers my age who haven’t played the Thief games. :)


I remember there were often a stealth “stages” in pure action games that abide with that later rule in the early 2Ks, and they were usually the point where I’d give up and get discouraged (I seem to recall one such stage in a NOLF game, which hurt especially because I was enjoying the game so much). But that implementation of stealth probably doesn’t sound right, as the games I remember had hardly any way to gauge your situational awareness (they weren’t built around stealth at all to begin with), and merely being spotted resulting in the player’s death.
Maybe that gave stealth a bad reputation. It sure makes me a bit anxious when I hear the word, nowadays, and am glad when it turns out to be just a “diet” version of it, like in the games you named.
It also seems, from your description, that the genre gave birth to that first person horror branch of games like Amnesia? But even that diluted stealth (there aren’t many mechanics, beyond simply hiding) is thought to be troublesome it seems, if I am to believe what happened recently with Soma.

I usually have different tastes in games than Tom but I appreciate his article. I entirely missed Aggressors: Ancient Rome even though 4x is one of my favorite genres. Reading the article coupled with Finnegan’s strong recommendation made me start looking at it more closely. I realized one of my more trusted Steam friends has been playing the buggery hell out of it so I asked them about it and they raved about it. James Allen enjoyed it as well. So I watched a bit of a YouTube Let’s Play and it looked interesting.

So now I own it. Time to see how good this game really is.

90 minutes later I am at that make or break point of keeping the game. The graphics are poor but that is not the problem. The UI and the general clicking around is terrible. I have never accidentally clicked on a unit and had it start building a city that I could not then cancel in a 4x before. I could not load or unload ships with units on multiple occasions. I started two different times and no tutorial came up and there was not one in the menu system. I understand that after 90 minutes I will not understand concepts like supply or how concepts chain together. But I should not be actively fighting the interface on the simple control of units. I should not have my cursor hover over a unit and be thinking, “which button do I click because if I click the wrong one I am entirely buggered”.

So I put in for a refund and wrote a negative review.

The dev responded, quite politely and helpfully, within an hour. His response was so polite and professional that it convinced me to cancel the refund request. So even if I do not enjoy the game the developer will keep my money because great service and professionalism should be rewarded.

PS: there is an option to change the interface to a more traditional Civilization one which may be helpful if you are fighting the controls. The tutorial is only available in the Ancient Mediterranean mode with the Romans.

Yup. That is the problem. The game itself is totally top shelf, but OMG, that UI.

Spy Chameleon? :) Possibly also games like Crookz, though that’s just Commandos, Desperado and Shadow Tactics but without the “shooting”? Depends what people define as “action”, really. e.g. does Mark of The Ninja count?