So yes, I quite like stealth. Although, judging by my reaction to Splinter Cell, apparently not all stealth. It's like what I say when people ask me if I enjoy anime: That's a medium, not a genre. It's an animation style. Ask me about specific examples. On second thought, don't. You're very fat and unattractive and you smell like old milk.

I've been trying to figure out why, exactly, the Splinter Cell brand doesn't push my sneaky buttons, and I think I know what it is at this point. I think it lacks the essential foundation of a stealth game. That is, that you are a shadowy, easily disregarded entity breaking into some kind of stronghold you're not supposed to be in, which isn't anticipating you and hopefully won't notice you throughout. You are an outsider in a world where you don't belong and which would prefer not to acknowledge you. That's something the Thief and Hitman games do quite well; they use big, open-ended levels with many different routes, full of guards and civilians going about their patrols, conversations and asinine daily lives. It all goes together to give the impression of a living, functional piece of human society. This, it says, is a place that existed before you arrived, and hopefully will exist after you leave. Poorer, though, and with a couple of its occupants assassinated.

Splinter Cell, however, is a linear game. You proceed in a constant straight path from one small network of hiding places to the next. And while there are a lot of linear games I like, they're all beset by this nagging feeling at the back of my mind that the only reason the environment would possibly be designed like this is as an assault course for visiting infiltrators. Enemies wander aimlessly about because they've been told you might be there. Rather than being a place that actually functions normally when you're not around, I strongly suspect that the universe only exists within a fifty foot radius from Sam Fisher's position. And it's hard to be stealthy when the world revolves around you.

But at least it is stealth, and it's always nice to see developers going some way to get away from pitched firefights all the time. You know, I was watching Kick Ass a while back, and I had a strange thought during the scene where Nicolas Cage was mercilessly gunning down a roomful of severely outmatched thugs. I remember thinking, "I do that sort of thing in games all the time. But from this perspective it looks completely psychotic. Nicolas Cage comes across as an emotionally ruined demented sociopath who I'd never in a million years leave alone with children, and the character he's playing isn't very wholesome either. Is this what outsiders see when they watch me playing Half-Life? And why didn't he drop a grenade there? Those guys were standing really close together."

So I've been thinking about conflict alternatives a lot lately. Now, your first response to that statement might justifiably be "What alternative is there to conflict? Passing around flowers?" Games are (and should be) all about conflict because conflict means adversity and adversity is the essence of drama. Even something like Animal Crossing has the overhanging threat of Tom Nook breaking your kneecaps for debt non-repayment. But conflict can be more than just two knuckleheads taking pot shots at each from either side of a disused warehouse.

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