The best stealth games occupy a curious niche in PC gaming. Occasionally, the best stealth games are their own thing, resulting from a developer channelling all the mechanics into the suspense and satisfaction of killing, stealing, and infiltrating unnoticed. Most of the time, though, stealth is just one of several ways you can navigate a game, as you consciously opt for the path of the shadowy rogue or incisive assassin over more forceful approaches.
Nothing beats the thrill of doing things on the down low, which is why some of these are the best PC games out there. Stealth games highlight that neat joy of entering a space and leaving it unchanged except for the briefcase you were told to extract or that one person who was your target now lying dead without anyone having noticed – the alarms going off at the precise moment you coolly walk away from the scene undetected.
The best stealth games are:
To us, stealth games are a lot like puzzles. Every move is considered and requires a dollop of thought. No wonder, then, that Gunpoint proves to be so thrilling. This stealth game puts you in the modded boots of a detective, framed for a crime he didn’t commit but was there to see.
As a trenchcoated problem solver, you’re not one for fighting. That’s why each level tasks you with hacking everything from light switches and door panels to CCTV systems and trap doors, creating openings to sneak on through to your objective.
Okay, if you want to cheat and pistol whip a henchman, you can. However, if you set off an alarm, a timer starts, rushing you toward the exit if you can complete the objective in time. Fail to do so, and a shooter will be waiting for you by the exit. It is a disincentive, challenging you to engage with the stealth-based gameplay Gunpoint demands.
It’s worth it, too, as whenever you complete a level, you creep your way out of the level and fade into the night, feeling like a proper spy in the process.
Mark of the Ninja
Those versatile folks at Klei Entertainment make their second appearance on this list – clearly, they have more than one hidden blade in their sheath. While Invisible Inc. is an indie game that focuses on tactics and big decisions, Mark of the Ninja ingeniously squeezes mechanics from stealth games into the form of a 2D platformer.
Lighting, sound, and hiding spots are crucial as you stick to the shadows in the platform game and leap between vantage points before swooping down on your prey with shurikens, blades, and smoke bombs. It is mechanically simple stuff, allowing you to plan out and focus purely on concise kills and swift 3-4 step combos – jump down, kill, roll through shadows, and kill some more.
The 2D plane makes the stealth gameplay feel wonderfully focused, letting you fully assess all available means of dealing with obstacles in the quietest possible way. Mark of the Ninja transcends stealth games and 2D platforming, managing to be a unique masterclass of both.
Some of the best stealth games can feel turn-based – even those that are not Invisible, Inc. They are the ones that have you marking targets, mapping patrol routes, and mentally solving problems – all before uncloaking and triggering the action when you’re ready. The Dishonored series is the epitome of that style and, as a bonus, is just as good for combo-slinging predatory combat when you’re spotted.
Beyond that, Arkane’s games are a Ghoster’s dream, with mission stats screens that track not only how many civvies you have killed but also whether you’ve been detected, raised any alarms, or left bodies in plain sight. Perhaps most enticing for stealth game purists is the opportunity to refuse the magical powers offered to you by Dishonored 2 and approach the game as a contemporary Thief sequel. Only, er, a good one.
Better still, if you have completed the first and second Dishonored and still want more of the best stealth games, then the standalone follow-up is brilliant, as you’ll find in our Dishonored: Death of the Outsider review.
Remember that trope about some of the best stealth games taking well-established game mechanics and dedicating them all to creating the quintessential sneaking experience? Well, this is precisely that.
Invisible Inc. is instantly accessible thanks to its turn-based mechanics. And you can find almost endless challenges in its randomised levels and permadeath design. It is a stealth game of sci-fi gadgetry, hacking, and slinking to and fro as you attempt to steal things from tightly-guarded bases, creating untold moments of weighty decision-making. Do you haul your incapacitated buddy to the extraction point, knowing that if you do not, you will lose them for the rest of the campaign, or do you use that precious time to try and steal a power-up that could make the rest of the campaign much easier?
Even though we associate the best stealth games with real-time suspense, Invisible, Inc. still captures that thanks to cleverly implemented time limits. This is a game for the tinkering stealth tactician.
Since the reboot back in 2016, the Hitman games have been creeping up to a dramatic conclusion as Agent 47 hunts down the leaders of the secret organisation: Providence. This cabal is largely responsible for the world’s affairs and Agent 47’s upbringing, but now he must dispose of its members in one of many elaborate ways.
Like the rest of the reboot series, the choice is entirely yours. You can find a vantage point to snipe your target or infiltrate the scene, sabotaging materials to get a clear opportunity to take them down. No matter your play style, Hitman 3 ramps up the tension nicely and even includes some one-off Elusive Hunts to ramp up the challenge.
Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory
The Splinter Cell series has always been inspired by Thief’s extreme focus on light and sound in levels. And with Chaos Theory, the series mastered it, even considering details like your noise relative to the environment.
Chaos Theory is ripe with innovative stealth game mechanics that still feel good today. You can extract information from enemies by holding knives to their throats (and relishing the startled looks on their faces), pulling them over edges, hanging them upside-down from rafters to break necks, and phht-phht them with a silenced pistol. With his night-vision goggles, Sam Fisher is a master of the game’s nocturnal, shadowy environments. It is great fun shooting out lights and tormenting your disoriented enemies like a less ostentatious Batman.
It’s one of the few stealth games that also works well as a co-op game by letting you take on dedicated missions with a buddy – complete with co-op stealth moves like holding a cable while the other player reels down it and hurls each other like cannonballs into enemies.
It might be regarded as one of the best horror games – and one of the best games of 2014 – but what do you do? You hide in lockers, hardly ever stop crouching, and stay out of sight, desperately trying not to attract the attention of an instant-killing xenomorph. Sure, Alien: Isolation’s atmosphere evokes pure horror, but mechanically it is also one of the best stealth games around.
Our Alien: Isolation review shows that what makes it special is that, unlike many of its peers, your enemy is volatile and unpredictable, and there is no way to anticipate its patterns other than by tracking that foreboding blip on your radar. Noise is both your best friend and your worst enemy. An ill-judged sprint can result in an alien tail through the stomach, but a noisemaker chucked into an enemy patrol can lead to their swift deaths and your equally swift getaway.
Few people have ever been any good at Commandos, but everyone respects it as one of the best stealth games. The grizzled WW2 game puts you in control of a squad of elite soldiers, each with unique skills, and chucks you into gruelling puzzle-like levels to sneak and sabotage your way through.
Each mission takes a long time, and ‘taking things as they come’ is the worst strategy you could possibly adopt. You must always plan several steps ahead, monitoring enemies’ lines of sight, patrol patterns, and notable hiding spots. One wrong move, and you won’t be able to click your mouse fast enough to get out of it. Fail to control the situation, and it’s a swift execution.
With its pre-rendered backgrounds and isometric perspective, Commandos 2 is one of those stealth games where you can grumble that ‘they don’t make ’em like they used to’ and ponder wistfully about what a faithful modern rendition of it would look like.
Metal Gear Solid 5
Metal Gear Solid 5 is many things: an open-world adventure with one of the maddest gaming stories of 2015, an explosive action game, and a sandbox game packed with fantastic systems you can toy with to your heart’s content. Despite all this, we found in our Metal Gear Solid 5 review that it does not forget its roots and remains the best Metal Gear yet. That’s provided you can resist the urge to open fire with an MG when skulking through an enemy base.
Snake’s movement flows smoothly between crouching, diving, and crawling as you infiltrate outposts from any angle using knives, heavily customisable firearms, and the classic cardboard box that MGS enemies still have not grown suspicious of after all these years. It is a joy to sneak up on an enemy and interrogate him for valuable information before dispatching him into the cosmos with the devilishly fun Fulton Balloon.
The new Reflex Mode encourages the silent approach, which grants you a couple of slow-mo seconds after you have been spotted to take out your enemy and continue your mission undetected. After all these years, Snake’s repertoire of moves keeps him among our most beloved stealth game protagonists.
It may be old, but at least it’s better than the reboot: our Thief review shows our disappointment at the game’s anti-open world. At points, it is as creaky as the Mechanist Sentinels patrolling its later levels. Still, Thief 2 is peerless among pure stealth games – others only dare to borrow elements from it rather than try to replicate it wholesale.
That is because Thief 2 does not pander to the cheap thrills, slick action, and bloodshed that we modern gamers crave. It is almost stark in its stealthiness as you wander around the seminal, sprawling levels while staying out of sight at all costs. It remains one of the few games to utilise lighting as a viable stealth mechanic, and your ideal conditions are those in which you can hardly see a thing because that means your enemies cannot see you either.
Its open levels are brilliantly designed, set around grand mansions and cathedrals that you do not feel the least bit guilty about robbing blind. But you will not be exploring them using radars, x-ray vision, or fancy abilities à la modern stealth games like Splinter Cell and MGS; it is just you, your senses, and your blackjack if you need it.
Deathloop is a stealth action game set on the fictional island of Blackreef, where you play as Colt Vahn, a man who wakes up on the beach surrounded by empty beer bottles and a hazy recollection of the day before. It’s not long until you’re introduced to the island’s hostile and manic inhabitants; mask-wearing fanatics and a group of assassins called the Eternalists.
Deathloop isn’t exclusively a stealth game, but it can be played as such, and its many missions, puzzles, and fights warrant the stealth approach. The island is teeming with enemies, and everyone is your enemy. While it’s fun to blast your way through areas with your collection of powerful abilities and special weapons, it’s sometimes easier to crouch and avoid detection, so you don’t have to start all over again.
There we have it: The best sneak ’em ups available to play on your stealthy PC. Wait, no, not yours: you need to calm down your GPU fans. You won’t get by undetected with all that whirring going on. Anyway, if you’ve had your fill of murder all on your lonesome, take up arms as part of a massive fighting force with the best war games. But for now, we must disappear into the shadows. And so should you…