The Triumphant Resurrection Of A Vanishing Video Game Move

You're crouched in the dark. You can hear two guards talking; they're just around the corner. If they spot you, you're as good as dead. Best to remain in the shadows, unseen.

You creep up to the corner, slowly. You'll need to get a glimpse of your enemies to best plan a way around them. Pressed up against the wall, you reach the corner. What do you do?

That's right. You lean.

For anyone who came up playing PC games, video-game leaning is a natural thing. Before the "E" key became the default for environmental interaction, it and the "Q" key let you lean left and right. In games like Deus Ex and Thief, mastering the lean was the key to mastering sneaking.

I've spent the last few days playing Thief: Gold, and that game is a lean-fest. (And the many Thief fans out there will be happy to hear that despite the dated graphics and tech, I'm loving it. Here's to addressing our gaming blind spots, one by one.)

Thief is pure, hardcore stealth, and if you're gonna make it through these levels unspotted and unscathed, you're going to have to lean. It's an oddly empowering move — something about peering around a corner feels really satisfying, and I find myself leaning more or less constantly.

Somewhere in the 90's, video game leaning went out of style. What happened? As far as I can reckon, two things did: Consoles rose to prominence and as they did, a lot of stealth games went third-person.

Both Metal Gear Solid and Splinter Cell involved a lot of sneaking, but you were doing so while looking over your character's shoulder. That opened up your field of vision a lot as compared with a first-person game. It was possible to stick Sam Fisher up against the wall, sidle up to a corner, and shoulder the camera over to get a look around it without actually leaning.

More recent games like Rainbow Six: Vegas and Deus Ex: Human Revolution took on a hybrid first-third person camera to make stealth more manageable. I really like this feature — it feels slick and organic, and it makes stealth sections much more intuitive and empowering.

An Xbox controller doesn't really have the extra buttons necessary for a lean, and so console games tended to eschew the move altogether. (At one point I was hoping that a squeeze-based controller might allow for something like leaning. No seriously, I was hoping for that.)

But there's a new game coming out that looks to bring the lean back to consoles — Arkane's Dishonored. As I mentioned earlier this week when Jason and I talked about stealth games, I'm kind of doing a media blackout on that game; at the very least, I don't watch any of the new gameplay footage. But of course, I've seen a few videos of it in action. And in each one, the protagonist is leaning like a madman — leaning left, leaning right, leaning all over the place.

But wait, Dishonored is coming out on consoles as well as PC… that means it needs to work on a controller. How does the leaning work? I played the game at PAX a couple of weeks ago, and kind of couldn't believe how smart Arkane's approach was:

You hold the Y button, and then lean using the thumbstick. Brilliant.

As I played Dishonored, I found myself leaning every which way, back in the groove of the PC games I grew up with. It works so well I can't believe no one's thought of it before. (Though maybe someone has?) And of course, it makes sense that Dishonored would feature a lot of leaning — several of the people from Arkane worked on Thief and Deus Ex.

It's not just a stealth thing, either. I'd love to be able to lean in Battlefield 4, or Far Cry 3. It's such a natural move in reality, and yet such a perplexingly difficult one to pull off in so many games.

In the grand scheme of gaming, leaning will never be as glamorous as, say, jumping. It's not bullet-time. But it's a move from which first-person games, stealth and non-stealth alike, could really benefit. I truly hope that other developers will copy Arkane's approach. It's time to lean once more.


    Skyrim would have really benefitted from a lean, would have made my sneaky thief build much easier.

    ahh, the dreaded fps one pixel showing leanshot, how i learned to loathe games that let someone only stick their head out until they could see but still shoot you.

    I always hated leaning in first person games. It just always felt awkward to me. I rather like what Human Revolutions did where it put you in third person when up against a wall.

      Same, it was always super clunky.

        I'd say "Not doing it right!" but I think it's more a personal preference kind of thing. Many of my fave games involved being able to lean in one form or another. Plus the ability to form a wobbling conga line is always good for lols.

      Yeah I really liked the 3rd person mode in Deus Ex HR, Crysis 2 had a lean and it only marginally got used because you could always make yourself invisible then get up and walk around!

    I liked the system they had in Chronicles of Riddick where you held down a button and then used the analogue stick to lean in any direction. It was good not only for stealth, but also as bit of a cover shooting mechanic.

    Anyone remember the leaning in CoD 1 multiplayer? Peeps would use those bolt action rifles and run "lean-wobble" and try and shoot you. Was annoying as...

    Leaning in a stealth game though, that is great stuff.

    What I found odd was Far Cry where Carver leant further one way than the other. It sort of made sense but never felt quite right.

    Oh man, I used to use the leaning thing in GoldenEye and Perfect Dark all the time. Totally forgot that it used to be a thing!

    Somewhere in the 90's? Thief 1 was released in 1998. Tenchu (four months later), the other game people always keep forgetting (!) when talking about stealth games featured a very strict third person camera that meant the only way you could sneak a peak around corners was to sidle up to it while pressed against the wall and then lean out to look. You could also get onto the roof of a house, sneak to the edge of the roof and then lean over the edge to look under it. Tenchu was also a console game.

      Tenchu was magnificent, still one of my favourite games of all time, warts and all.

    "Before the “E” key became the default for environmental interaction, it and the “Q” key let you lean left and right"

    haha thanks to lean my default key for 'action' has been F and will now and forever be, first thing I do when I start a game is change it to F.

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