The most fun I ever had using stealth mechanics was in Ape Escape. Now, thanks to all the conveniently placed tall grass in A Thief’s End, Uncharted 4 has become a strong contender as my favourite — and I’m a bit annoyed with myself for that.
I’m not kidding when I say the original Ape Escape‘s use of the mechanic was a blast. In the 1999 Sony PlayStation game, the best part of sneaking around was that it altered the game’s music when employed. The game has one of the best soundtracks, with each composition varied and craftily detailed to represent a set period in your character, Spike’s time travelling adventure.
When engaged in stealth mode to capture fugitive monkeys causing havoc throughout the ages, sound elements from these already great songs would be removed to create newly arranged pieces. It’s atmospheric, clever and it was, and still is, one of the coolest thing I have ever experienced.
As for the stealth attacks, there were no real consequences for being discovered by very angry monkeys. Other than high powered missiles aimed straight for Spike’s face, of course. It was crazy fun, and sometimes necessary to use. It felt rewarding to execute a successful take down, and by not alerting the violent monkeys, Spike avoided triggering fists of fury.
However, part of the excitement came from failure — it was absolutely more hilarious to flail around after being spotted, and experience the hyperactive madness that followed. The running away. The circling danger with a net. It was pure video game bliss — and some of my happiest, and most chaotic childhood memories.
In case you haven’t already guessed — I’m very much the person who prefers to go in guns blazing, and throwing caution to the wind.
Alright, maybe that’s not completely true as I do enjoy taking down enemies using a high-powered sniper rifle from a safe distance, as opposed to jumping headlong into trouble if given the option. But at the core of how I play in games as with the Uncharted series, for example, stealth and I just don’t mix very well.
I just don’t like it very much — the waiting around, the timing. It can sometimes feel tedious. And well, I’m not particularly adept at it either.
I can barely stand stealth in any of my games. Link sneaking into barrels or along hedges to get past pirates or Hylian guards? The worst part of any The Legend of Zelda. Tenchu? That was scary good but stressful at times! There are other games I’ve stayed away from, such as the Metal Gear series, after trying the first. It just didn’t sit right with me. And let me not even get started on how much I loathed when Uncharted 2 utilised the mechanic. That’s one of my favourite games but I like to pretend that part never happened.
You can only imagine, then, how much it pained me to be greeted by a field full of enemies in Uncharted 4, and the game’s gentle prompting to activate my inner ninja.
I know, I didn’t have to actually go stealthy in some scenarios. The options to tackle levels which gave a feeling of choice and control over your preferred play style, was a nice addition. However, when faced with all those enemies, and so many weeds and tall grassy areas to hide in — I found myself doing just that. Whenever it was available, I used it. It was the easiest option and maybe just a little too convenient at how well-placed it all was in relation to buildings and enemy positions.
In the game’s Scotland level at the graveyard, I became very reliant on hiding in the grass and thistles. The same thing happened in a later chapter upon reaching and exploring Libertalia. When I got to Madagascar, however, my instinct was to use it when I could have approached differently. I did for a while until I realised snipers were thrown into the mix.
It then became a matter of playing cautiously and sneakily in a tower’s ruin (it’s Uncharted, of course it was a ruin), until I could snag a sniper rifle of my own. I spent so much of my time trying to go unseen, when in previous instances, I probably would have just gone into shooter mode much sooner than I did.
Even when I got the sniper rifle, I considered jumping into the grass along the towers to continue playing like a sneak. At some point, that option was no longer viable where I was positioned, and so I had to pull the trigger. In that moment right before, I felt pretty concerned that I couldn’t use the grass effectively, and I missed it.
I missed the grass.
I missed the grass in Scotland the most. It was strangely comforting. I reckon it smelled nice, too.
It is incredibly unlike me to miss some grass because it means I was lamenting being unable to go into stealth mode.
Who am I?!
The mind-blowing part about all of this for me, is that I actually enjoyed creeping up on people. It wasn’t just the convenience of tall grass placed close to a building, or hapless AI wandering too near to your grassy locale (although I often wondered how it was they couldn’t see all that landscape rustling, but I just rolled with it).
It’s that I became pretty efficient at the take-downs, as well as using ledges to my advantage. I liked the satisfaction of clearing out so many as quietly as possible, and the added joys of watching smart AI buddies do same. I witnessed Sam, in particular, do some excellent, thrilling work.
But I also became too dependent on doing these stealth maneuvers. Too complacent in how I approached the game for a portion of it. I realised that I started playing in a repeated pattern whenever the stealth options were available. I had no intention of playing Uncharted 4 like that at all, but the game felt as though it sort of ushered me into it.
It’s not my usual approach to the series, which can be said, is a testament to how varied and better this latest instalment is in its gameplay design. The game still forced certain scripted action sequences to occur but not always, and when left to my own devices, I kept taking down as many as I could via stealth, and cleaning up the few remaining if they saw me. With so much grass around, it became the most subconsciously logical choice to use.
That is interesting to me in hindsight, as there was nothing actually stopping me from hiding behind a wall and taking the first shot.
Now that I’ve finished the game, I’ll have to go back and try my hand at going in guns first, asking questions never. For me, the Uncharted series is more fun when I’m up against a barrage of bullets from enemy fire from a fight I stupidly started — then seeing how steady my aim is to rack up head shots (maybe that’s a tad disturbing).
I love when the game puts me in an outrageous situation, and I make poor, quick decisions which land me in trouble. I don’t play third-person shooters very often, so I don’t tire of the endless waves. The rush of excitement is there, and with stealth, as satisfying (and at times, the wisest option) as it can be, it’s not particularly stressful in Uncharted 4…not always, anyway.
In this game, the enemies’ approaches are smarter when they’re privy to your presence. They seemingly appear from nowhere too, so I may actually have to be a little more strategic on who to shoot first, and from where. That’s the challenge I think I’d like to take on. Just for fun. Just to see how far I can really get. And who knows, maybe I’ll be just as bored once I start doing it for too long. I’ll also have to take the difficulty level into consideration.
I played on normal during my first run. If anything, mixing up my tactics is probably how I should approach the game to get the most out of it — not just by relying heavily on one style versus another.
I’m not sure if I’ll actually follow through with this plan, though, if I play it again a second time. The stealth tactics are so convenient, that when I did go back to take a few pictures via photo mode in a few levels, I found myself returning to old habits of hiding, and being overly cautious as with my initial playthrough. It signals that I’ll have to make a conscious effort to adjust my thinking, and I don’t really like that at all.
I want the thrill of the risk, and I won’t get much of that by constantly relying on stealth.
Or maybe, it’s just that the game taught me how to be a better player by making careful decisions, as intended — and I’m just pushing back because I’m a stubborn fool. One longing for a return to my hazardous Ape Escape days, and refusing to admit that perhaps my thoughts on stealth are changing.
Teaching me how to actually enjoy stealth? How sneaky of you, Uncharted 4.