Available :8-31-04

Spy Fiction© Sammy Studios
Preview by Jon

Sammy promises that Spy Fiction is the game that will flip the stealth-action genre into the action-stealth genre, or so the letter says that accompanied the preview copy of the game. The game makes use of a cool optical armor camouflage system that allows your character (whichever of the two you choose) to both blend into his/her environments and steal the identity of any other character in the environment. That’s the promise and the genre-twist, but read on.

Often when writers look at game that doesn’t quite live up to its promise, they say things like “only try this if you’re a big fan of the genre.” Well, in the case of Spy Fiction, if you’re a big fan of the stealth-action genre, then you’re probably going to find even MORE in this game that frustrates you than the average player. You’ll recognize all sorts of problems already corrected by the competition: the big ones here being camera placement, combat and voice acting.

Camera control is arguably one of the most important elements of a stealth game. Either a game does it really well and immerses a player in the situation by giving you a superior vantage point on your surroundings, or it doesn’t. Splinter Cell and Thief: Deadly Shadows are games that do it very well, but Spy Fiction isn’t even close. Camera placement leads to frustration in two major areas.

Hugging your back to a wall to peer around a corner has been a mainstay in stealth games since the first Tenchu and Metal Gear Solid, and Spy Fiction hasn’t evolved past either of those early games. With your back to a wall, your camera will only show what is around the corner and directly to your left and right. For some reason, you cannot rotate all the way around to also see what’s directly in front of your character’s face. You have to switch to first person view to see in that direction.

Camera violation number two comes in the form of the “cinematic angle.” In an attempt to make the whole experience seem more like a movie, the camera is often placed at what are supposed to be dramatic angles. In reality this often creates situations where the scene is zoomed in too far, and it’s hard to get an idea of what going on. Catch one of these “dramatic” angles in small hallway during combat, and you’ll be reaching for your power button.

A sore spot in most stealth games is that moment when you mess up, alert the guards and need to fight your way to safety. Spy Fiction also belongs on the offenders list in this category. Once you’ve alerted the guards, good luck! That crazy camera once again makes it extremely difficult to wade through combat situations, as you’ll neither see all of your enemies nor figure out quite what to do in time. If you do manage to escape, you’ll find yourself waiting a really long time for both the “Search” and “Danger” meters to go down. The first means the guards are done looking for you and the second meter appears to measure the guard’s desire to still notice you even if they’ve stopped searching. Whichever these mean exactly, you’ll be waiting far to long for the coast to clear.

While voice acting is an incredibly subjective thing, I raised an eyebrow at easily half of the spoken dialogue if not more. It’s cheesy folks. The dialogue and the disguise system lead to a lot of bizarre moments. In one scene my female character assumed the exact visual identity of a fat male doctor, but still spoke in a female voice. I thought for sure my cover was blown, but just as no one in Metropolis can identify Superman with a mere pair of eyeglasses on, the woman opposite of me in the scene thought nothing of it.

While this technically isn’t a review of the game, by the time publishers are ready to send preview builds out to online game sites, they’re usually pretty close to final code. Without giving Spy Fiction a score in this story, let’s just say if it’s on your “games to watch list” you won’t miss it if you scratch it off.