Genre : Action
Release Date: August 31, 2004
Pre-order 'Spy Fiction': PlayStation 2
Since it started to get popular, stealth-based action as a genre has taken a few bizarre turns. We’ve seen stealth games as thinly veiled, uniquely Japanese metaphor (Metal Gear Solid); as slick and technical thrillers (Splinter Cell); as steampunk low fantasy (the Thief series); and as unbelievable crap (Alias, Mission: Impossible – Operation Surma), among a host of other interpretations.
Spy Fiction, by comparison, reminds me a little of “The Avengers,” or No One Lives Forever. It’s got gadgets, yes, but they’re mostly cool spy gear as opposed to some hightech framistat with an acronym for a name. Spy Fiction is all about cigarettes that double as flares, fountain pens that are actually flash grenades, bandages with plastique built into ‘em, and jumping out of a dumpster in disguise.
In Spy Fiction, you can play as either Billy Bishop or Sheila Crawford, Phantom agents in what appears to be the American Special Executive Agency. The job at hand has to do with a terrorist organization called Enigma, which has gotten its hands on a new and deadly bioweapon. You’ll begin the game infiltrating Enigma’s hideout in Austria, before flashing back a couple of months to see where the case began.
The gameplay is a blend of fairly typical sneaking action, aided and abetted by plenty of gadgets, with the ability to disguise your characters as virtually anyone else in the game. Billy is limited to disguising himself as male characters, while Sheila can impersonate whoever she wants. If you can see a character, you can use the Phantom spy camera to photograph them and thus duplicate their outfit. For a better façade, and thus one that’s harder for sentries to see through, make sure a character’s face is in the shot, and hold down L1 after the photograph to record your mark’s voice.
In most missions, you can play Spy Fiction as a full-out stealth game, avoiding all contact with your enemies, or you can walk amongst them nearly undetected as a soldier or civilian. It’s actually very easy to get through most levels without firing a shot, since you’ve got so many options with which to avoid conflict. You can also enter hand-to-hand combat with security guards, or slap on an incapacitating chokehold from behind.
If you decide to fight your way through the game’s levels, you can do so with a silenced pistol, a confiscated SMG, or several of the gadgets in the Phantom arsenal. This includes the aforementioned bandage bombs, an assortment of grenades (coming in flash, stun, stink, and explosive varieties), toe blades, tranquilizer darts, or razor-sharp throwing cards. Most of Spy Fiction is set in third-person, but you can aim in first-person by pressing R1.
One particularly useful option you have is the ability to select not only the game’s difficulty, but the amount of hints you’re given. Billy and Sheila are members of a team, as opposed to the stereotypical lone agent far behind enemy lines, and you can opt to be in nearly constant communication with your crew. This lets newbies blaze through the game with the help of radio transmissions from CPU buddies, while veterans can choose to avoid being spoon-fed their puzzle solutions.
Those puzzles, incidentally, are a varied lot, and most of them have common-sense solutions. You can actually shoot padlocks off doors in Spy Fiction, or convince a guard to let you past a checkpoint by disguising yourself as his boss. A particularly troublesome sequence is lifted straight out of the first Mission: Impossible movie, where the Phantom agent must rappel down the center of a long vertical room, dodging electric tripbeams and using a “cooling spray” to defeat a heat sensor, before hacking into a computer while suspended above the pressure sensors in the floor.
I’ll be the first one to tell you that Spy Fiction starts slowly. As a matter of fact, I hated the game until the third level or so, when I started to really get the chance to use the full extent of Billy and Sheila’s arsenal. It’s not a self-consciously epic thriller; instead, it’s an adventure game with a heavy stealth element, including some surprisingly difficult platforming sequences.
Spy Fiction is coming out in another one of those killer weeks for the PS2, on the same day as games like Phantom Brave, Star Ocean 3, and Street Fighter Anniversary Collection. It’s definitely worth a look, though. This has the makings of an interesting franchise, and I’d hate to see it join the dozens of other overlooked titles on PS2.
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