Is it more frustrating to have a game that is just plain bad, or a game that is bad because it doesn’t live up to its own potential? This is my quandary as I play Spy Fiction for PS2, the latest release from Sammy Studios.
The premise of this spy/stealth game follows the same lines as almost every game in the genre. You play as one of two operatives for the SEA unit known as “Phantom.” Your mission is to avert global disaster by thwarting the plans of a terrorist group to release biochemical weapons on the unsuspecting masses. While the plot is familiar, there are a few twists and turns along the way.
Although Spy Fiction is entering a genre already inundated with games, it does have a few things going for it that could set it apart. For instance, similar to the Hitman series, Spy Fiction gives you the ability to assume the identity of any other character in the game. The difference is you’re not just a big bald guy wearing a disguise; you actually transform into the other person. You just need to be careful to not act suspicious.
So how’s this work? Simply snap a photo with your 3DA Camera, making sure to get a shot of the face or you’ll only have the clothing. Once you save the image, you just Clark Kent it: jump into any nearby barrel, locker, crate or dumpster and transform into another person. The only exception to this is if you play as the male character, Billy Bishop, you can’t masquerade as a woman.
Another cool feature that helps Spy Fiction stand apart is the active camouflage. When you crouch with your back to a wall you slowly blend into the background, making it almost impossible for the AI to see you. That could have more to do with the AI than the camo, but it’s cool nonetheless.
That’s right, the AI is stupid. Like most stealth-oriented games, you have a status bar that shows your alert meter based on four different settings: safe, danger, search and caution. While using the bio sensor goggles in third-person view, you can see your enemy’s field of vision. Steer clear of it, and you will not alert them. If you do alert an enemy to your presence, he will call for backup. When the guards come after you, the mode changes to “danger,” and all the hostiles in the area should be running at you trying to gun you down.
But they don’t. And simply disposing of the one or two enemies that actually do show up will make the danger alert pass. Basically, the danger isn’t really all that dangerous, since all you need to do is run and hide or throw a few punches. If you choose to run, it doesn’t take much to lose them. You can run around a corner and camouflage yourself before they see you. I’ve had guards standing three feet away staring straight at me, and more often than not they never find me. Once in a while, an enemy will sense that someone is there and shoot blindly in your general direction. Eventually he will kick out, and the contact will bump you out of your camouflage and turn the alert bar back to danger
After the immediate threat is over, the status bar changes to search mode, in which everyone should be searching high and low for you. Instead, this status consists of the enemy standing a few feet away staring in the opposite direction while you are cloaked against the wall. When they don’t find you, the search will be called off.
But as bad as the AI may be, the worst part about Spy Fiction is that it just doesn’t feel finished. There are glaring errors in the subtitles, including at least one typo, and even though you can play as either Billy or Sheila, the dialogue was obviously only written for Billy, since Sheila is constantly referred to as “he” and “him.”
The load times, too, are almost unbearable, mostly for the fact that the game needs to load almost every time you walk through a door. This is especially frustrating on a few of the close-quarter maps, where you walking through a door every 15-20 steps.
This frustration is compounded by the terrible camera, a rather surprising flaw, given how much control you have over it. Like most third-person games, you use the left thumbstick to move and the right to look around. You would think that all of these options allow a decent field of view. Nope. Most of the time, you only have a 180-degree view while facing your character, which would be fine, if every enemy would be polite enough to only approach you from behind.
The camera also seems to be “coded” to present cinematic top-down and hero-friendly views, but it fails miserably and interferes with the game. For some reason, the camera often swings around to face you, and you won’t be able to rotate it back around to see what’s in front of you. The immediate solution is to enter first-person view to see what’s there, but you can’t move while in that mode. If you toggle between the two views quickly, you might have an idea of what is going on around you. But the challenge should come from the gameplay, not fighting with the camera.
The graphics have an unfinished feel to them as well, leaning more toward an anime-styled Rogue Ops than a Splinter Cell. This is totally fine; not every game has to have realistic graphics to be good. Beyond Good & Evil proved that. It’s just that most of the environments look bland and lack textures. The characters are also very stiff, and they have bizarre gestures that are repeated over and over without context to the dialogue or situation. For instance, there’s one scene where Sheila is supposed to be laughing, but she looks more like she is having some sort of spasm. This is partly due to the fact that you can’t hear her laughing, but it’s a sad state when you figure out she’s laughing only after the guard makes a comment about it.
Which leads us to the game’s audio, another aspect that feels … wait for it … unfinished. Most of the time, your character doesn’t talk. If this were consistent, it would be fine, but I found out about a third of the way through the game that she can talk, but only occasionally. Other times, there is an odd gap in the conversation where your character should be responding. There’s also a distinct lack of ambient noise, and what little there is in the game is overdone. For example, the first mission takes place outdoors with the wind blowing. But the wind blows the whole time. Loudly. It’s pretty much all you can hear. You might as well be hanging your head out the car window like a dog. I have a feeling the few sounds in the game were made louder to compensate for the lack of variety.
The sad thing about Spy Fiction is that it almost gets interesting. There are some plot twists and a few entertaining cutscenes that toy with the idea of actually drawing you into the game. But they come too little, too late. And they certainly aren’t enough to make up for an unfinished game.
- Gameplay: 6
- A few cool concepts but too many frustrating flaws.
- Graphics: 5
- Unpolished, with bland environments and stiff characters.
- Sound: 5
- Cheesy dialogue, little ambient variety and serious conversation gaps.
- Replay: 4
- There’s not much to compel you to play through once, let alone a second time.
- Overall: 5.7
- A few things set it apart from other average spy games, but the game just isn’t done.
— Jocelyn Paradise