Seeing as last weeks debate was a resounding success (I won) we thought it would be a good idea to keep churning them out. This week we’re talking about two contenders for the best ‘stealth series’ of games: Metal Gear Solid and Splinter Cell. An interesting thing this time though is that both Matt and myself absolutely love both series. It was actually hard to decide who would argue each side, as we would hate to see either side lose. But enough of the background, I’m fighting for Splinter Cell and Matt is siding with Metal Gear Solid. Remember we’re talking about which is the best stealth series, not best series overall.
Splinter Cell vs Metal Gear Solid
Ian: No, Splinter Cell wasn’t the first stealth series in gaming (the books weren’t even written by Tom Clancy despite having his name slapped all over them, but that’s another point) but it is by far and away the best. The first 3 games focused on hiding in the dark, making very precise movements and stalking your prey. They often required repeat play-throughs in order to get the timing right but never became frustrating in the same way that a Hitman game does. The 4th game however moved stealth from being about slow movements and patrol patterns into being about agility and finesse. In ‘Conviction’ you would silently knock out a guard and unlock a ‘Mark and Execute’ where you could, as the name suggest, mark two enemies then with the tap of the shoulder button effortlessly eliminate the targets. Very cool and very satisfying. All the while the game still makes you shoot lights, distract guards and find sneaky ways to pass people by. As Sam Fisher you are as silent and as invisible as a ghosts shadow.
Matt: First thing is first. The Splinter Cell series is quite fantastic. They are true stealth games. However the Splinter Cell series lacks something that that the Metal Gear series has mastered: storytelling. The Metal Gear series, even from its infancy was heavily stealth orientated. The game rewards those who are patient, and wait for the correct time to strike. However, as the tag line for MGS states, the game is “Tactical Espionage Action”. The Metal Gear Series uses its status as a stealth/action hybrid to push along a deep and compelling story. For example, in Metal Gear Solid 4, before you defeat Raging Raven you are shown a scene where Big Mama is wounded. Suddenly the stealth aspect is thrown out the window and you are racing around the streets taking down enemy troops. My point is that Metal Gear Solid strikes the balance between stealth and action. Lets face it, even as a fan of Splinter Cell, I some times get bored of tracking enemy movements, and just want to kill something.
Ian: I totally agree that MGS has the better storyline. I’m even one of those people who actually enjoys the whole beautiful mess of it, especially when compared to SC’s constant talk of cyber terrorists whose names you can’t remember and don’t care about blah blah blah. But, and it’s a big but, as Solid Snake you never feel like you’re truly a stealth master. The one point in MGS4 where you have to use stealth, Eastern Europe, (as opposed to it just being an option, the other option being running around with an M4) is the most dull and dreary section of a game that I’ve played on my PS3, if you get spotted by the person you’re following you just have to restart. This is far more tedious than anything the Splinter Cell series has shown. In Splinter Cell when you’re stalking an enemy and silently take them out it’s under your own conditions and can be done in any number of ways; you can follow them and stab them in the back, knock them out then hide the body, or find a way to pass them by unharmed. Your choice. Metal Gear Solid (especially 4) has constantly respawning enemies, making stealth some times the least desirable option, as you can never plan ahead. There are also moments (like when you first meet Meryl in MGS1) where you are required to loudly and franticly fire into waves of enemies, yet they then seem to forget you exist and the guards go back to the regular patrol. No wonder Snake completes his missions the security is crap! In fact in the first MGS the twist is the guards knew you were there the whole time and used you to arm Metal Gear because they couldn’t figure out how to. With Sam Fisher he infiltrates the vicinity, completes his objectives then gets out, all whilst never making a sound (if done properly).
Matt: Mgs isn’t perfect. Respawing is a pain, scenes with loud shooting can be confusing, the plot can be confusing and absurd at times, and that part in Europe can be tedious. I do have counter points here. There are respawing enemies because you are on a battlefield. You are in a war. If you took out every enemy and won the war on your own that would be stupid. Furthermore hiding within troops makes snake a great stealth master. Sometimes the best place to hide is in plain sight, how would you look for a spy in a battalion of troops. You can use the troops as cover and sneak on to your next target. It’s a good system. The sneaking part in Europe isn’t as tedious as you make out. It’s slightly out of character for the series, but it’s still an example of stealth. You sneak and hide, track and follow. It’s not that bad. I also find it slightly hypocritical to call out MGS on this point and then sing the praises of SC for similar silent stalking. You also mention the scene when you first meet Meryl. The thing is everyone already knows you’re there. Mantis senses you, your old master is actually liquid and by that point you will have at least aroused the suspicions of one guard. My point is the best stealth game doesn’t have to be the stealthiest; it’s the one that balances stealth with action and creates an involving and enduring experience for the player.
Ian: So it’s closing point time. I love MGS. I love it’s over the top story line that is so stupid and convoluted that it’s a masterpiece. I love the character of Solid Snake and really feel for him as you watch him slowly die in 4. I love the giant Metal Gears. I love the boss battles. I love how Otacon can never catch a break in love and I love how timeless each game is; but best stealth series? You must seriously be joking. Whilst Solid Snake is having one of his many 20-minute codec conversations Sam Fisher would infiltrate the base, disable Metal Gear then shoot Snake in the back of his mullet.
Matt: As I said before, the best stealth game doesn’t have to be the purist stealth game. MGS strikes a balance. The game allows for action when needed and stealth when it is not. As much as I love SC waiting in the shadow for the chance to strike can become tiresome, and this gets you killed. In MGS you rarely have this problem. What it all comes down to is preference. Both of these series have their merits and demerits and I feel I have put forward a case that does justice to the MGS series, without reducing to mudslinging. The outcome is now in the hands of the judge.
Jack: Matt is right about the storytelling of MGS that is important especially in a stealth game where action isn’t the main aim. The aim is to be tactical, use you brain and be stealthy, if you don’t invest in the characters and the story then what’s the point you don’t even get some good violence out of it. Equally it appears that MGS has more action (despite Ian’s attempt to add in extra evidence after this debate), my thought is that what’s the point of all the stealth and anticipation if you don’t get lots of violence at the end.
I take Ian’s point about SC being more stealthy and probably more realistic but the whole point is that we’re debating the best stealth GAME. That implies that it has to be fun and enjoyable which doesn’t always mean realistic or even pure in terms of stealth. My verdict this week in light of all that is Matt is the winner and MGS enters our hall of fame.