There was once a time when the best stealth games would come out seemingly one after the other, which was just a part of the industry following what people wanted. If you’re sick of battle royale games, don’t worry, because they will eventually die out — it’s just the nature of the gaming climate to chase what’s hot. Just look at what’s happened to cover shooters and survival games over the years.
It doesn’t feel like the stealth genre is on the way out, rather that it’s difficult to find a “straight” stealth title that isn’t interspersed with other conventions, like an open world or open approach that gives the player plenty of choice on how to approach obstacles. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing — adaptation and evolution is part of why Mario is still as beloved as ever.
The stealth games you’ll find below, however, lean more towards being pure sneaking and strategy over running and gunning. A quick qualifier for this list of the best stealth games: we’ve limited ourselves to just one entry per franchise for the sake of variety.
The Best Stealth Games
Developer: Rockstar Publisher: Take-Two Platform(s): PC, PS2, PS4, Xbox
Once you strip away all of its controversies, what are you left with when it comes to Manhunt? Well, you’re left with a game that’s so violent that it feels a little satirical of Rockstar’s flagship, but also a very solid game with some surprisingly great stealth gameplay all-round.
By design (and also possibly the restrictions of the time), James Earl Cash is not great at hand-to-hand combat, so stealthing and “plastic-bagging” is the aim of the game instead. You can perform many of the stealth pillars (corner-peeking, noise distractions), but the real headline act of Manhunt — and also the reason why it earned itself so many newspaper headlines — is the brutal executions.
While Manhunt was ahead of its time in many regards, time hasn’t caught up to it too harshly and is still a bloody joy to play. It may even still make you feel a bit queasy, despite its triangular nature.
While not necessarily an outright stealth game, Sekiro’s handling of stealth means that unless you embrace it, you might be in for a bad time. In a game that throws tonnes of enemies at once and a giant monkey who refuses to die, you have to take any help you can damn well get.
Playing as a downbeat shinobi, you must leap and dash your way across buildings while trying desperately to maintain the little vitality you have — a couple of quick hits and you’re out in Sekiro. This makes creeping up on enemies and performing Stealth Deathblows an absolute life-saver, particularly if you can get one off against a mini-boss.
While there’s nothing revolutionary here in terms of stealth, there’s something to be said for making blood spurt out of someone’s windpipe like a fountain.
“Sekiro is a tremendously fun and difficult game — everything from the combat to the world itself is crafted in a masterful way. The only thing I had a minor issue with was the camera: it can be a bit temperamental when you move around quickly sometimes. Even after spending around 40 hours to beat it, I still want to come back for more in the coming weeks.”
There’s a surprising amount of stealth that comes before shooting someone’s testicles all the way off. Sniper Elite 4 doesn’t massively change things from the third installment but instead has some welcome QOL improvements, which is why it makes the cut for the best stealth games.
With levels that consist of open sandboxes that have many different ways of approaching your objective, Sniper Elite 4 feels closest to Hitman in terms of gameplay. However, can Agent 47 wait patiently in some shrubs for the target to expose themselves before masking their gunshot with the sound of an overhead plane and then sitting back and watching on with smug satisfaction as their head explodes?
Didn’t think so.
Developer: Bithell Games Publisher: Bithell Games Platform(s): PC, PS4, Vita
The immediate comparison that springs to mind when you load up Mike Bithell’s Volume is — if you had a good childhood — Metal Gear Solid: Special Missions. It has an aesthetic not a million miles away from Kojima’s weird side-content, though Volume has its fair share of original ideas to make it worthwhile.
Inspired by Robin Hood, Volume tasks you with stealing sensitive data from the rich and famous to spread it worldwide and incriminate evildoers. It’s a challenging game with a difficulty that creeps up on you the deeper you go thanks to its deep puzzles, though you can always take a step back, take in the beautiful visuals, and then take another stab at it.
16. Sly 2: Band of Thieves
Developer: Sucker Punch Productions Publisher: SIE Platform(s): PS2, PS3, Vita
Does this really belong here? Not really. Is it a pure vanity pick because I remembered it as I was having a shower and its incredible box art? You better believe it.
While its status as an out-and-out stealth game can be argued thanks to its emphasis on platforming as well, it’s still a heck of a load of fun.
Created by Sucker Punch in their pre-inFamous days, Sly 2 is an affable mish mash of different ideas and mechanics. At one point it’s a stealth game as you play, at another it’s a brawler as Bentley goes crashing through enemies.
Its status as a PS2 classic is uncontested, but Sly 3: Honor Among Thieves gives it some strong competition if you want to stick to the same franchise.
PS4/PS5 sequel when, Sony?
15. Syphon Filter
Developer: SIE Bend Studio Publisher: SIE Platform(s): PS1
A PlayStation favourite that came out a time when Solid Snake had only just made his PS1 debut, Syphon Filter never reached the fanfare of Metal Gear Solid, but it certainly had plenty of fans all the same.
It had so many fans, in fact, that Syphon Filter was a valuable IP for Sony for the next ten years, and then — nothing. The last entry in the franchise came way back in 2007 with Logan’s Shadow for PSP.
It’s been all quiet on the Syphon Filter front since then with its developer and originator, Bend, going on to produce portable Uncharted games and also the upcoming Days Gone. If you squint hard enough, Deacon actually even looks a little like Logan.
Probably the least well-known game on this list, Echo is an indie with a seriously interesting twist to gameplay; indies are always where you will find the most unique mechanics. You must fight yourself (or many different versions of yourself) as you traverse a constantly twisting and changing palace. If that sounds nuts, it all makes sense within the game, trust me.
You have a gun, thought its uses are limited and won’t permanently kill any of your “echoes”. This means that stealth is your best option and what a nerve-racking proposition it is. Your enemies react to your actions and even follow what you do: if you start shooting everything up, they will do the same.
Developer: Rocksteady Publisher: WB Games Platform(s): PC, PS4, PS3, XB1, 360, Wii U
For all his gadgets and bone-breaking, Batman is at his most effective when he’s stalking his foes from the shadows.
Arkham City celebrates that by giving The Bat a big ol’ playground full of miscreants to incapacitate but apparently never kill, despite the fact that he has probably caused his fair share of haemorrhages over the years. You, too, can get in on the questionable act in what many see as the best in the Arkham series.
By expanding on the fundamentals introduced in Asylum with a grander scale and more polish, City allows you to approach being The Bat however you like. There’s something undeniably satisfying about the game’s combat, but equally so is stringing up bad guys from lampposts.
Arkham Knight is also worth a look, but only if you’re not on PC and also not averse to spending a whole bunch of time in the Batmobile.
12. Mark of the Ninja
Developer: Klei Entertainment Publisher: Klei Entertainment Platform(s): PC, 360, Switch, PS4, XB1
From one Klei stealth game to another, Mark of the Ninja represents the absolute best in 2D side-scrolling stealth games.
Admittedly, the competition isn’t exactly stacked, though Mark of the Ninja can more than hold its own against the biggest hitters. We may often reel off the adventures of Sam Fisher and Snake as the best stealth games around, but the innovative trials and tribulations of Mark’s unnamed ninja are certainly just as worthy.
The game places a huge emphasis on the little details with sound being something to be constantly aware of. The AI is a great deal smarter than in most stealth games, which means that even the smallest of noises could be your undoing. Luckily, the protagonist is more than a dab hand at evading detection, meaning that, with a lot of dedication, you can make Hattori Hanzo proud.
A remaster was released for consoles in 2018, though with it being available for a relative pittance on Steam, you shouldn’t wait around.
11. Invisible, Inc.
Developer: Klei Entertainment Publisher: Klei Entertainment Platform(s): PC, iOS, PS4
My first introduction to Invisible, Inc. came during its reveal as one of the free PS Plus games and the maelstrom of negativity that followed from jaded subscribers. I quickly found out that this was incredibly unfair on Klei Entertainment’s relatively low-key stealth affair — it may not make as many headlines as Bloodborne, but it’s arguably just as worthy of your attention.
Failure in most stealth games simply means trying again (or losing your mind and massacring everything in sight), but not with Invisible, Inc: death is as debilitating and fearmongering as it is in something like XCOM. The stakes are high no matter the mission, so playing strategically is key — you’ll be afraid to fail, but you should be prepared for the inevitability of it.
Featuring a drop dead gorgeous art style and unique, engaging mechanics, Invisible, Inc. offers randomly generated delights and frustrations in equal measure. Check out Hacktag for something similar.