Genre : Action
Release Date: August 31, 2004
Buy 'Spy Fiction': PlayStation 2
Stealth action. A genre first explored in the late eighties by Konami director Hideo Kojima. The first Metal Gear games were solid releases (no pun intended), and received some attention, but they were not hailed by critics as the genre-busting first-comings they were. Jump to: late 1998. Some of the best games of all time are seeing release: The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and Goldeneye being the big guns from the Nintendo camp, and Kojima’s hotly anticipated Metal Gear Solid being the main salvo fired at the gaming market from Sony’s side of things. MGS changed modern games forever, presenting the medium with the evolution the series first tried to bring about a decade before. A fresh (if not completely brand new) style of gameplay was here, and it was poised to have a huge impact on the consumer, if MGS’ sales figures had anything to say about it. But where did it actually take us? Through a tepid swamp of mediocre MGS clones, none of which would make much of a dent in the sales charts, and almost all of which made most gamers and pretty much every reviewer in existence yearn to gouge their eyes and ears out with a spoon, and rip out their own thumbs so as never to touch a similar title again. Sure, Splinter Cell probably wouldn’t have released if not for the presence of Kojima’s flagship series, but that game had much more in common, with the exception of its third-person viewpoint, with earlier Tom Clancy games like Rainbow Six than anything involving our hero Solid Snake.
Which brings us to Sammy’s Spy Fiction, a sure sign of the maturation of the Stealth-action fad into something a bit more refined. How so? By moving away from what makes these games what they are known for: stealth. While Spy Fiction is still a spy game at its core, it is not of the “single wrong step means instant death” ilk of Splinter Cell, nor does it have much in common with the stealth sections in games like Everything or Nothing. Spy Fiction follows the paths of two spies, Billy Bishop and Sheila Crawford, as they work to take down an international terrorist agency. Their adventures focus on action and puzzles, so you won’t spend as much time as usual avoiding lighted areas and sidling up against walls.
The gameplay takes three distinct paths throughout the ten-hour experience: fierce action segments, puzzle solving, and stealing identities to maintain cover. The latter feature is the main catch of the game. By using the 3DA Cam, players can take a picture of an enemy and use it to create a disguise good enough to pull the wool over the eyes of other bad guys – unless they get too close, and your cover is blown. You can store a small number of different disguises in order to keep on the best possible faux face and clothing for each given situation.
While Spy Fiction’s disguise function makes for a more action-packed experience since you can spend so much more time out in the open, it still brings out some of the same tricks we’ve been very familiar with since the introduction of Metal Gear Solid. If you’re spotted by an enemy unit, you are forced to get out of sight for a specific amount of time until the enemy forces calm down and stop looking for you. This time, the alert meter depends on the amount of area scanned by your foes, forcing you to come up with better ideas than simply staying out of sight in the same good spot; there’s a much better chance they’ll come to the spot you’re hiding in. After they have searched 100% of the area, a “caution mode” percentage will count down from 100% to zero, with a few extra guards still hanging about the area looking for you. Once the second meter goes to zero, you’ll be able to get right back to the sneaking you were diving into before. I see two major flaws here. First, it’s mundane. We’ve all come to expect this sort of meter from our stealth games, and simply adding an idea or two to Kojima’s already established formula won’t win developer Access Games any medals. But mainly, it’s a pain to wait through. Both meters take so long to run down, you’ll be pulling your hair out by the end – if you were strong enough to stay by your Playstation 2 during the entire waiting period.
But if you’re the more gung-ho type, you could simply go out and take out each and every single guard in your path – and that’s just fine, if you’re skilled enough to handle it. Unlike other stealth-action adventures, Spy Fiction does not frown upon the use of lethal force. The game sports an auto-targeting feature when in third-person mode, and while it does sport a first-person mode similar to that found in Metal Gear Solid 2, the game moves at so fast a pace that you won’t find much use for it. These arcade-style forays into battle are a joy for the player who has spent a good deal of time with the game, but the irritating camera and sometimes overwhelming number of enemies on-screen at once make things difficult if you aren’t used to the oddities and intricacies of the game.
The most well thought-out portions of the game are in the puzzles. Yes, the puzzles, the one feature that so many other games seem to get so horribly wrong! Many of the more brainy moments in the game are extremely enjoyable, giving you lots of time to experiment with the 3DA Cam disguises and snipe out enemies from afar. Had Spy Fiction been composed entirely of this play mechanic, it would have been a better game for it. The thought process required during these segments seems to conjure up feelings of amusement in the brains of those who play through them, and it’s a shame more of the game didn’t feel this fun. There’s nothing quite like impersonating an enemy in a conversation – appearance, voice and all – and fooling the poor fellow on the other end of the conversation in order to meet your goals. It makes you feel like you’re actually doing something intellectual, yet it’s streamlined enough in its execution that you’ll have no problem pulling off the actions you need to.
Spy Fiction plays fairly well, but not incredibly. The graphics follow suit. Everything is very good on a technical level, especially for a Playstation 2 game, but the style is somewhat questionable. The game has an extremely Japanese appearance, with the weird hair and funky eyes trademark to the mainstream renditions of that style – and it seems somehow inappropriate here. The storyline is filled with very mature themes, and the pretty plastic sheen of the graphics seems somehow inappropriate for the game. This is a very personal complaint, however, and many players will either not notice this or perhaps it will make the experience better for them, but I thought it bore mentioning. Aside from this, while the anti-aliasing could use some work (more of a hardware difficulty than a software problem, however), the game looks great.
Spy Fiction is a much more refined take on Kojima’s formula, but it still shares too many features and most of its aesthetic feel with the Metal Gear series for my liking. The gameplay is vastly different from most other stealth games, though most of it is mediocre with the exception of the puzzle segments. Its crazy camera makes running and gunning difficult, and being stealthy is too much work and takes too much time. Had the game stuck with its unique, brainy moments, it would have been a much better experience. Metal Gear Solid 3 will likely be the better game overall, but Spy Fiction is a good diversion from the past of the genre that will keep most players sticking with it ‘till the very end.
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