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SummaryStupidly addictive fun
The Good-The wiretapping puzzles were, for me, really fun. The perfect combination of challenge, fun, and flexing the ol' grey matter.
-The simple, addictive gameplay.
The Bad-The breaking and entering aspect of the game makes the other parts redundant and unnecessary.
The Bottom LineCovert Action is a game that harkens back to an arcade style of gameplay that existed in the days when a huge variety of games existed in the arcades. Back in the day when "top down view" wasn't a dirty word, and first person views were rare.
You take on the role of Max Remington, Secret Agent. You can play as a male or a female. Your gameplay is not affected, though Sam, your secretary, will be male if you are playing "Maxine," and female if you are playing 'Maximillian." The closing "reward" screens will also be similarly affected.
There are four parts to the Covert action game:
- Combat (aka "breaking and entering")
Combat is the portion of the game where you break into the office of a known criminal organization and, using a top-down view, snoop around for clues. With your trusty safecracking kit and spy camera in hand, you can rifle through filing cabinets, look through safes, check out the drawers of desks, and so on. You can also plant bugs to potentially overhear what the bad guys have to say. And once you find out who the actual criminals are, you can go in and arrest them. (Or, if you're lucky, you can find incriminating evidence which will turn them into an informer, and let them rat out their co-conspirators.)
Driving is a puzzle-ish part of the game, in which you and another car tail a suspect. The cars you drive have varying ratings for handling, top speed, and "conspicuosity." The idea is to keep the car of the suspect in sight without him noticing you, until such time as he stops and enters his destination building. If the subject you're tailing notices you, he'll dash into a nearby restaurant instead of going to his intended destination, and you lose the trail. (You also get this portion of the game if bad guys tail you from a hideout you've been investigating. At that point, you have to ditch them.)
As you go through your investigations, you will run across coded messages. The Crypto section is where you decode these messages.
And finally, Electronics covers wiretapping and electronic car tracing. You are presented with a circuit-board interface featuring several rows of microchips. Current flows through the circuits, and the chips alter the flow in various ways. At the beginning of the puzzle, the "phone" circuits are powered and the "alarm" circuits are unpowered. Your goal is to cut the power to the phone circuits -- and avoid powering up the alarm circuits -- by switching the chips around.
The game also features four difficulty levels:
- Local Disturbance
- National Threat
- Regional Conflict
- Global Crisis
These difficulty levels affect many aspects of the game.
- Clues - At the Local Disturbance level, you start each mission with a 10-12 clues, including the locations of several key organizations and suspicious characters. As you play the higher difficulty levels, you start each mission with progressively fewer clues. At the Global Crisis level, you start with 2 or 3 clues, usually unrelated, and usually not very helpful.
- Double Agents - At the Local Disturbance level, you don't have to worry about double agents within the CIA. At higher difficulty levels, you deal with more. Global Crisis missions will usually have 3 double agents within the CIA, and sometimes 4. CIA double agents don't actually hamper your progress in any way, but if you don't find them, you lose points in your final score.
- Combat - At the easiest levels, combat is simple: Max is lightning fast on the draw and never misses. The bad guys are slow, stupid, and can't shoot worth a damn. At the higher levels, Max slows down and misses occasionally. And the bad guys improve their aim, their speed, and are much quicker to sound the alarm.
- Driving - Easier levels give you faster, less conspicuous cars with better handling, while saddling your suspects with Yugos. Higher difficulty levels reverses the situation.
- Crypto - At Local Disturbance level, the coded messages have all the punctuation and proper spacing, and the code is a simple 1-to-1 substitution cipher. Additionally, you can get computer assistance to help you crack the code. At higher levels, the punctuation is removed, the computer stops helping you, and some common letters are represented by more than one letter in the code. At the highest difficulty levels, all the spaces are removed, so you just end up with one big chunk of random letters.
- Electronics - At lower difficulty levels, all chips are visible, all chips are switchable, you don't have to deal with inverter chips, and circuit-joining chips make things a lot easier. At higher levels, some chips start out "covered," so you don't know exactly what kind of chips they are. Other chips are "fixed," meaning you can't move them. You also see inverter chips and circuit-splitters show up, and circuit-joiners disappear. At the highest level, you have chips that are covered AND fixed.
Finally, when you start the game, you are given four points to spread among your four skills. These points have the effect of lowering the difficulty level for that specific skill only. So if you think you're ready to play a Global Crisis mission in every area except for Combat, put 3 of your points (the max you can put into a skill) into Combat, which will have the effect of reducing the Combat portion of the game to National Threat level while leaving everything else at the Global Crisis level.
Believe it or not, the game is insanely addictive. There's always one more mission to take, one more bad guy to track, one more hideout to find, and one more Mastermind to capture. I call the game "stupidly addictive" because the gameplay is so mind-bogglingly simple AND repetitive. And yet you can do it for hours and never get tired of it.
My only gripe with the game is that the Combat portion of the game really makes the other portions of the game useless. There is no information available from the other three aspects of the game (Driving, Crypto, and Electronics) that isn't also available from the Combat portion. But, on the other hand, there are several key pieces of information that are only available from breaking into a place and snooping around. Breaking and entering is the only way to find out where the CIA double agents are, for example, and is also the only way to find "incriminating evidence" which will turn a criminal into an informer. And since time is limited, breaking and entering is the fastest, most efficient way to find out clues and info.
Occasionally you run into a situation where you cannot turn a criminal into an informer, due to a lack of floor safes in his/her building. (Incriminating evidence is only found in floor safes. No floor safes, no incriminating evidence.) At that point, wiretaps and/or bugs may be useful to be privy to info you would otherwise get from the turned agent. But this is rare. 90% of the time, you can turn the agent, and get all the info you'd get with a wiretap or a bug.
Anyhow, despite this complaint, it's still a fun game (and I still do wiretapping from time to time anyways just because I like it so much). If you've never played it, give it a whirl.