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Stalking Mission

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He doesn't suspect a thing…

A gameplay segment in which the player is tasked with following an NPC to a designated area, either on foot or in a vehicle. However, there's a special provision: for one reason or another, your target can not be alerted to your presence, as this will cause them to panic and flee, resulting in mission failure. Some games provide a "suspicion meter" that reveals how close the target is from getting spooked, and which can be reduced if the player further distances themself.

You must avoid following them too closely as doing so will typically end the mission instantly. Sometimes, this makes no sense as your target would logically have no idea what the Player Character or their vehicle would look like and they are never the slightest bit suspicious of the NPC traffic all around them. But rest assured if you get close they will instantly know you're following them. On the other hand, feel free to be as obvious as you need to in your efforts to stay a safe distance away: stopping your car in the middle of the street while the target is waiting at a red light is apparently not suspicious at all as long as you're not too close.

In any case, you are required to follow them from a considerable distance, which may prove to be problematic in crowded areas or in intricate environments, especially if your target is unmarked and difficult to identify. On the other hand, no matter how easy it would be to find the target again, losing sight of them (or rather, getting too far from them) even for a short while will typically cause the mission to be declared a failure instantly. This also means that even if you already know the target's ultimate destination, you can't simply go there directly and wait for them. You must follow the target all the way.

Almost invariably a forced-stealth Unexpected Gameplay Change, the Stalking Mission is often viewed in a negative light for a variety of reasons. They may be lengthy and contain no Check Points, and if the target takes a difficult-to-follow route to their destination, it may be necessary to resort to trial-and-error. Finally, the target may walk painfully slow, jarring to players who are used to constantly running. This is even worse in driving variations, as the NPC will typically drive at a normal speed and obey traffic laws, something the player has hitherto been unbound by. Said traffic will sometimes flatten the target, resulting in mission failure.

See also Escort Mission, which may also involve tailing an NPC but for different reasons, Stealth Escort Mission when the target must remain unaware that he's in danger in the first place, and Assassination Sidequest if you need to follow your mark until they reached a designated location so you can kill them there. A subtrope of Stealth-Based Mission; the difference is which person, or rather how many people, whose detection you need to avoid.


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    Action Adventure 
  • After the final boss battle in Ecco the Dolphin: The Tides of Time, you have to let the Vortex Queen remove a few doors for you, and then squeeze ahead for the last stretch and get to the time machine before she does.
  • Some side missions in inFAMOUS make you follow a Reaper courier around without being spotted, to see what he's up to. All he does is go somewhere to hide some blast shards.
  • Judgment features a bunch of tailing missions where Yagami has to follow a target, both as part of the story and optional Side Cases. If you get too close, or don't stay out of view when the target is looking at you, their Caution Gauge will rise, but you can hide behind walls, signs, cars, etc. to stay out of their sight. Thankfully, the longer ones tend to feature mid-checkpoints you can restart from if you fail, and there are upgrades to help you (such as making the Caution Gauge rise slower, or giving you more time to find your target again if you lose them). The sequel Lost Judgment brings them back but also gives you the ability to do things like check your phone to blend in with the people around you and placate the target.
  • The Legend of Zelda:
    • During "The Stolen Heirloom" quest from Breath of the Wild, Link must quietly follow several NPCs who are suspected of stealing the eponymous heirloom. Another quest requires Link to follow a young Korok to a shrine while protecting it from monsters without being seen.
  • Inverted in Soul Reaver: In order to defeat Dumah, Raziel must lure him all the way from his lair to a room containing a mechanism that can be used to set him on fire. Get too big of a lead, and Dumah will lose interest and head back to his lair; allow him to get too close, and he'll smack the crap out of you. Also, Dumah is about five times Raziel's size.

    Adventure Game 
  • Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis: In Egypt, you must follow a man through a crowded bazaar, zoomed out so far that everyone is represented by a single pixel. While it is technically possible to follow him by eye, the intended way to follow him is to get a fez and trick him into wearing it, which causes him to appear in the zoomed out shots as a bright red pixel.

    Driving Game 
  • Pursuit Force: One particularly egregious example requires the player to follow the bad guy's car. Not too bad, right? Well, for one thing, he's almost as fast as you, and invincible, and the worst driver ever, smashing into all sorts of obstacles without so much as a slight decrease in speed, whereas you have to avoid his path of destruction because your car is not invincible, and can explode before you reach your destination. And then, once you reach your destination, you have exactly four seconds before he kills his target and you fail your mission, and what you have to do to prevent that is ambiguous at best.
  • Test Drive Unlimited 2 has some missions where you are supposed to tail certain cars without being too far or too close.

    First-Person Shooter 
  • In the Far Cry 3 main story mission "Bad Side of Town", after being prompted in a hallucination, Jason must follow the stranger through the streets of Bad Town. He will stop periodically and glance behind him. If you lose sight of him (even if he hasn't moved!) for more than a few seconds, a twenty-second timer counts down to mission failure. Of course, he's a CIA agent who already knew you were tailing him from the start.

  • In the first level of A Hat in Time, Hat Kid notices Mustache Girl beat up some mafia, and decides to follow her. Unlike most stalking missions, the player can choose to go right to MG's ultimate destination if they're replaying the game, and there's even a secret achievement for doing this.
  • In one of the missions in Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time, the player has to follow undetected in The Grizz's footsteps and listen to the phonecalls he makes to his boss to gain vital information.
    • There are a few others in the other games in the franchise as well. For example, the second game has a mission where Sly must tail Dimitri as he walks throughout the area around his nightclub, and he ends up finding out where the nightclub's main pumping system is.

    Role-Playing Game 
  • Early on in Anachronox, Sly Boots is tasked with following an NPC on the eponymous planet, but not getting so close to them so as not to get spotted himself.
  • The Elder Scrolls:
    • In Morrowind's Bloodmoon expansion, one of the East Empire Company quests at Raven Rock has you follow a suspected Ebony thief into the mine. Once deep enough into the mine, you can confront him and he will confess.
    • Oblivion:
      • There's one quest in which you must follow a specific NPC to a meeting and then listen in on said meeting. The AI is a little on the forgiving side in regards to the whole "don't let them know you're following them" thing. In fact, the fact that the mission briefing says not to make your presence known is really the only attention the game pays to the idea at all. In execution, you're completely free to wear your heaviest armor and illumination rings that glow bright enough to make you walking daylight incarnate, run in laps and circles around the target as he's walking toward his meeting, talk to him on the way (several times,) stand between him and the person he's talking to when the meeting starts, and more, all without penalty.
      • In the "Paranoia" miscellaneous quest, Glarthir, a paranoid Bosmer (Wood Elf), wants you to follow several NPCs around to see if they're doing anything, which one would assume they are. But they aren't. They barely know the guy, and if you do follow them around, you find them eating, sleeping, going to church, going to the bar — basically, the same thing you'd find if you followed any other NPC. And since they're not actually doing anything, they don't much mind being followed around. Of course, since Glarthir is a fairly obvious nutjob, the game also gives you the option to straight-up lie to him about having stalked anyone at all rather than waste your time following normal (unscripted) NPCs around.
    • An unmarked sidequest in Skyrim has you tracking Morthal's self-appointed wizard protector into the swamp in the middle of the night. The way it works out is similar to the Oblivion cases. You might even end up saving him from the swamp's native creatures and he won't comment on your presence until the quest-appropriate time.
  • In the Final Fantasy XI quest "All By Myself", you have to keep your target from dying without him noticing you do it while he fights every monster he so much has seen an inch of, aggressive to him or not, while capped at level 10. The usual approach is to cheat — have someone not on the quest, and thus not on his radar and not capped, run ahead of him and kill things.
  • A recurring event in Freshly-Picked Tingle's Rosy Rupeeland has you following a boy through one of the areas.
  • In Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days, Roxas and Axel have to stalk Pete during one of their visits to Agrabah. Obnoxiously, not only do you have to stay out of Pete's sight (easy enough), but you also have to keep Pete in Roxas's sight — Roxas's, not yours. If your player model is positioned wrong, you can "lose sight of him" despite him being plainly on screen.
  • In Mabinogi, G13 has you tail Claudius all around the stage. Problem? You character is 'sneaking' and walks way slower then Claudius himself.
  • In Mass Effect 2, Thane's loyalty mission has you stalking his son's target as he walks through the Citadel markets. Helpfully, you're on a catwalk above him rather than on the ground. No matter how obvious you try to be (surely they could have at least gotten you to put on disguises) however, you cannot spook the target, and nobody on the market floor will actively notice you... even if you're running around in evil-looking armour that is illegal in Citadel space.
  • In Summoner, Flece must reach Lord Yago without being seen by the palace guards. In the sequel, Sangaril must escape detection by the Daldyran guards, although she is allowed to kill them as long as she does it by slitting their throats from behind. In both cases, faliure results in returning to the start of the level rather than a non-standard game over.

    Shoot 'em Up 
  • In Kolibri levels Terra Decay, Penetration, and Remission, Kolibri must follow a particular insectoid creature in order to pass through gates that are meant to keep out hummingbirds, but the creature doesn't acknowledge Kolibri at all. The challenge is in keeping up the tail while everything else is trying to kill you.

    Simulation Game 
  • Black & White:
    • A sidequest in the first game requires you — a God who manifests as a giant Spark Fairy — to sneakily follow someone down a mountain. The man repeatedly looks in awkward angles, he disappears if you look away for a single second (despite the fact he's walking down a small mountain path with nowhere else to go), and the camera controls add a source of Fake Difficulty.
    • The sequel has a similar quest wherein a guy accuses you of impregnating his daughter. (Your evil conscience's reaction is hilarious.) You can either pay him off with wood, or track her to her actual lover's house. Thankfully it's much easier than in the previous game, to the point where you can keep one eye on the girl and do your job with the other eye.
  • One Mystery in Magician's Quest: Mysterious Times tasks you with playing a game with an ogre. You must hunt the ogre down, but cannot be seen in the process. He moves after you find him, meaning you have to be on your toes just to find him.
  • In Wing Commander IV, in one of the early missions, you are supposed to follow a pirate fighter back to its base, while staying far enough away to not be noticed. There is static in the commanding officer's transmission at the exact point that he gives the distance measurement unit.
  • In X3: Terran Conflict, you are told to follow a randomly spawned NPC ship and find out its destination. This destination is prominently displayed in the ship's info window, but of course you can't just report that to your employers and call it a day. You also can't just jump there with your jumpdrive and wait for it, you have to follow the ship. You can't set one of your other ships to follow it for you or keep track of it on your network of spy satellites, you must do it personally. And of course the ships tend to be painfully slow. At least the game has a hotkey to match speeds with a target...

    Stealth-Based Game 
  • Assassin's Creed:
    • The original Assassin's Creed has pickpocketing and interrogation missions, which require going unnoticed beforehand.
    • Assassin's Creed II has missions which require you to tail somebody to a certain location (usually a meeting of your targets) without being detected. Expect the game to throw countless minstrels and men carrying crates in your way.
  • In the H-Game Biko, you stalking young women through the streets of Japan. Because it's possible to take the stalking to it's creepiest possible conclusion, people tend to overlook that you have the option to simply confess your love instead.
  • In Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots, you have to track someone by their footprints. The second stalking mission was actually pretty good, because it gave a good reason for the target to be spooked, as well as a justification for being able to single him out easily. Also, it has several check points and you can go where you want instead of babysitting him all the time. Getting spotted by him is also not an instant game over or mission ender. If he does spot you, he may draw a pistol and attack you or otherwise run away, but neither of these is a big deal because for the former, his pistol is very weak and he isn't all that accurate, and for both cases, you can get out of his sight pretty easily, and once he loses track of you for a few minutes, he'll return to his normal route, allowing you to stalk him again. You also have to protect him from getting spotted by the PMC guards around the city, however he's pretty good about avoiding most of them on his own, meaning there's only a few guards you actually have to tranquilize or kill, and there's usually a good spot on the map for you to take them out from without being spotted by the guards or the mark. And, lastly, you don't even really need to keep the guy alive - if he dies for whatever reason (most likely by your hand, just to troll Otacon), all you have to do is take out the scanner again and find another guy to tail.
    • There's also a possible bug in the game that makes the section even easier. If you equip any FaceCamo other than the default or any of the Snakes, you can go through the entire level without having to worry about detection, as both the resistance member you have to follow as well as the PMC guards in the city will not pay much attention to you (even though they logically should) as long as you don't do anything suspicious to draw their attention, like equipping a weapon while in their field of vision. If you do alert them while wearing a FaceCamo, you'll no longer be able to use that camo to sneak past them, but you can always equip another one to do so, as long as you don't do it in front of them. Alternatively, when the resistance member is disguising himself as a PMC guard, you can follow him normally, and any other PMC guards you come across, including a pair that patrol with him and vehicle patrols, ignore you entirely.
    • And as a final alternative, if you know where you need to go, you can just go there and wait for a resistance member to catch up with you.
  • On one occasion in Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow your objective isn't so much avoiding being noticed by the person you're following as it is making sure nobody else she comes across notices you while she leads you to a specific point. And then once you're where you need to be, your CO radios you and orders you to kill her. It also had a subverted example where you're supposed to follow someone while staying out of sight of everyone she comes across, but shortly before any sort of stalking happens, one of the guards radios in that she's The Mole, and it instead turns into a defensive shootout as multiple armed guards come after her.
  • Syphon Filter has one level late on in the first game where the objective was to follow a scientist through a series of catacombs to reach the cell containing your partner. The obvious route is to follow him all the way, picking off the guards as he passes them, and then getting to the door, where he will happily stand around and not bother to open it. This was because of an oversight that made the game sometimes get into a situation where the scientist had noticed you but didn't fail the mission; the usual solution was to take an alternative route around, letting him out of your sight unpenalized and meeting up with him later on on his route.
  • Tenchu Z: In mission 16, "Pursuit Of Echigoya", you have to stealth kill every guard in the level, all the while keeping close to Echigoya, which sucks because it's the only level in the game with strict Ninja 5 conditions (in any other level you really have to try to get anything lower).
  • Thief series:
    • One level in Thief: The Dark Project begins with Garrett's fence being assassinated right in front of him. Garrett then has to follow these assassins throught the streets of the City to find out who employed them. If those assassins spot Garrett or get too far from him, it's game over.
    • Thief II: The Metal Age has a mission where Garrett has to follow a Pagan sympathizer from the City Watch to the point where she drops a letter for a Pagan contact, read that letter, put it back and then follow the contact, all without being caught or letting the mark get too far.

    Wide Open Sandbox 
  • In Alba: A Wildlife Adventure, you need to follow the mayor after he turns down your petition but if he sees you, he just tells you to go away.
  • [PROTOTYPE] inverts this. In one mission, you have to get a Leader Hunter to stalk you. Too far and it will lose interest, too close and it will beat you to death. You also have to attack it occasionally to keep its attention. Several missions do play it somewhat straight, though. An earlier mission has you chase a Leader Hunter who just kidnapped your sister. It's a stalking mission because you have to keep up, but it doesn't actually matter if it can see you. You're better off if it doesn't, though, because it's invincible and will kill you for getting too close. The second to last mission has you stalk Col. Taggart's thermobaric tank. Again, him spotting you is bad not because you fail the mission, but because he's riding a thermobaric tank.
  • The Saboteur has a mission early on where Sean and Jules tail Kurt Dierker so they can steal his racecar and get revenge for his cheating at the race. There's another mission where Sean has to tail a Nazi official to find the snitch in La Résistance. In both cases, a "Paranoia" meter shows how close the mark is to getting wind of Sean following them.
  • Many side missions in Shadows of Doubt entail an extended round of stalking. This usually entails learning the identity of your target first, such as by stealing corporate records or digging up government ID papers. After this, you have to follow your mark without being spotted until you have the opportunity to complete your objective, such as discreetly taking their photo, stealing a valuable item from them, or simply throwing spoiled meat in their face, kicking the shit out of them, and vandalizing their apartment.

Non-video game examples