Monday, 21 November 2011

Spycraft: The Great Game (MS-DOS) - Guest Post

Somebody get a doctor!

I'm playing an adventure game of my own volition!

"You wanna know what I believe?"

Some old guy is speaking into my ears about how rubbish being in the CIA is.

"Kipling called it 'The Great Game'..."

"You wanna win? Just remember one thing: everything you know could be a lie."

If he's as good at espionage as he is at making cakes, this advice is best heeded.

I am Case Officer Thorn, mysterious CIA operative. My hobbies are wearing sinister black gloves, standing perfectly still and holding newspapers. The newspaper is actually a short looping FMV, so it's as if I'm really there... in the game... being... sinister.

Strangely, I can't click on the newspaper to read the article. Hey, my half-computer is blinking!

I decided to leave the game on this screen for a bit to see if I'd lose by missing the message or something. I didn't.

The teeny tiny FMV man living inside my computer is Deputy Director of Operations Eugene Warhurst. He's stuck his webcam on the ceiling so he can order me to Langley for a new assignment.

"We've got a situation, WE'RE BUILDING THE TEAM."

Hell yeah!

Off Thorn goes, flying through the air without a care in the world.

It's a busy day at the CIA. For a moment there, the CIA theme sounded just like the Balamb Garden background music.

Warhurst leads the way. He stares at me silently through the entire lift journey. It's FMV, but he doesn't move at all through the entire scene. It's very disturbing.

The team are all bundled into the corner of the boss' office having a heated argument about how awesome we all are. There's plenty of furniture to go around y'know, guys! Thorn decides to stand in the corner furthest away from the gang, absolutely silent.

The absolute megaboss of the CIA, Peter Sterling. He's putting together a team of the absolute best of the best for a highly classified investigation. He likes to mumble. A lot.

By-the-book hard-ass Bruce Jeffries is leading the investigation. He needs a dependable field operative for some very serious business.

Thorn is to be pitted against Alexis Asai.

And Reginald Parker.

They'll be assisted by the CIA's Science specialist, Jamie Seaton.

Hello, nurse!

But let's not get ahead of ourselves. Thorn has to prove him... her... self first. Hey, wow, they really didn't say whether Thorn was male or female! That's really clever! Thorn could be either! Or a robot! That explains Thorn's robot zoom vision that lurches towards whoever's speaking. That is, unless Thorn is climbing all over tables and invading everyone's personal space.

Hey, Frank Milkovsky! Fraaaaannk?

Might as well poke around his office... He's got a rack full of rifles, CIA gun customisation manuals, an answering machine.

Sneaky sneaky!

I listen to his messages, but there's nothing interesting here.

Oh, there he is. He doesn't seem to mind my messing around with his stuff.

He's going to put me through my paces as an intelligence expert...

In the sinister room.

Yep, this is the actual challenging game part of Spycraft. The game is a bunch of CSI-like puzzles hidden within miles and miles of FMV scenes.

Puzzle 1: I have to get the license plate of the brown sedan. Which brown sedan?

This brown sedan!

Zoom in, click the O.C.E. button and the license plate is revealed, clear as day. At night.

Good job the answer submit box is multiple choice, because I can't read that.

"HOLY COW! YOU SMOKED THAT ONE, DAMN!"

I guess I got it right!

Puzzle 2: How many tanks have their engines running?

You can barely see the damned tanks! You're supposed to combine the infrared image with the normal image...

...like so, but now you definitely can't see what is and isn't a tank!

"ABSOLUTE CRAP!"

I guessed wrong.

"LET'S TRY ONE MORE TIME and see if we can do a little BETTER! If I show this to Bruce, he'll think you were guessing the whole time! Probably would have done better if you had."

But I did...

I get infinite goes and eventually guess the right answer. Ruddy tanks.

"Time to get serious. DEAD SERIOUS."

It's a firearms exercise. I've got to get from one side of a combat zone to the other without being dead.

Bruce isn't very hopeful. It's not my fault you've got such lousy satellige imagery! I bet he screwed up the tank question a few times on his first day as well.

Yep, it's a real shooting stage!

I start at the bottom of the map and have to make my way to the top. If I cross paths with a dot on the radar, an FMV soldier pops out of the landscape and I have to shoot 'em. The arrows on the outside of the goggles are the movement arrows and Thorn only ever faces North.

Waahh! Get out of my face, Frank!

I've got to do it again, only now I'm versus Bruce.

I complete the level fine but then the bastard jumps me, disarms me and takes my goggles off!

You're not gonna get away with this!

HOLY CRAP.

HOLY CRAP.

Bruce was killed by a sniper and there was nothing that could be done to prevent it. We're all very sad.

Worse still, Warhurst's bus STILL hasn't arrived.

Sterling puts me in charge of Bruce's original mission. Bruce was investigating some intelligence indicating that a Russian presidential candidate would be assassinated in the coming days.

Sure enough, the candidate was assassinated earlier that day. This sequence is actually startlingly brutal: a great big chunk is taken out of the poor guy's head.

Both the boss and the megaboss are very, very mad... the same source indicates the next target is the President of the United States himself!

My mission, investigate the assassination of the presidential candidate and determine the extent of the possible threat to the President. The other agents I met earlier are at my disposal. Let's get to it!

On a side note, what the hell kind of camera angle is this? He's hunched over... or sitting down... or what?

Hello, nurse! Again!

She briefs me on the first piece of investigation stuff I need to do. I have to use some computer software to recreate the scene of the assassination and correlate the ballistic evidence from the scene with video footage taken during the candidate's speech in order to gather clues as to the identity of the assassin.

Meanwhile, she'll sit there and do the old Hollywood CLICKETY CLACKITY fake keyboard typing.

Alright, this is the K.A.T., the Kennedy Assassination Tool. If you've got a Kennedy that needs assassinating, this is the place to do it.

I'm supposed to be connecting the bullet holes to find the trajectory of the bullet. If I know the trajectory, I can find where the sniper was located, and then use that to find the identity of the sniper.

There's a video tutorial that explains how to do this, but it didn't make much sense to me.

Well, here are some bullet holes. What am I supposed to connect them to? Each other? I clicked on them a couple of times and this possible trajectory appeared. Let's see what's on the other side.

Where most 90s 3 CD movie-clip driven adventure games provide a portal into breathtaking fantasy worlds, Spycraft perfectly simulates the exhilarating experience of using applications on a computer.

Hey! It's a guy in a window!

I can't see him very clearly, but I've put together a photo-fit as best I can. Does the CIA computer recognise him...?

No. Damn. Let's try again.

Ahhhh...

I've connected the bullet holes to the podium where the candidate was standing. If the bullets travelled in a perfectly straight line and passed through the candidate to hit the wall, then the other end of this line has to be lead to the sniper.

Oh yeah! The trajectory hits one of the windows exactly. Who could this guy be?

Our guy is looking suspiciously detailed! Let's put together a photo-fit and see what the computer brings.

Thomas J. Phillips, aka 'Harmonica'. Ex-CIA Operations officer gone bad.

He... could be the guy in the window. Doesn't really look like him though. Looks like a completely wasted Niles Crane. I'll try him as the answer.

Frank tells me that this guy is bad news. One of the best operatives the CIA ever had, before he went rogue. If Harmonica is the bad guy, we're in deep crap.

Now I have to find out what kind of gun Harmonica was using. First, let's check out the bulletholes. What bulletholes?

These bulletholes. Well, there's over a dozen holes and they're tightly grouped. I received an audio message from one of the other agents saying that the gun didn't make any noise whatsoever and there were no bullets found at the scene. What kind of crazy gun is this?

Well it's obviously not that, is it. It's time to call upon the CIA's mighty sciencepedia! (It's got the boring name 'PinPoint'. I'd have named it the Weaponomicon.)

Thorn's got access to a CIA intranet site detailing several experimental weapons. I don't think the sniper used a shotgun. What else do we have?

Buh... this isn't helping... hey! Needle pack?

According to the text for this weapon, this gun makes no sound whatsoever and fires a tightly grouped pack of mercury shards! This sounds like it.

Warhurst is very, very unhappy.

In the space of fifteen minutes, I've given him conclusive evidence that the best agent in the universe has gone rogue and somehow stolen a prototype untraceable, deadly accurate and perfectly silent sniper rifle. I've got to go to Moscow and meet up with our agents there, it looks like the Mafia are involved.

A disc change and some waiting later and I'm in Moscow.

Holt rings me up on the computerphone to warn me that they've traced Harmonica's passport and now he's in Moscow too! Couldn't they have nabbed him in the airport? Or in flight? Or as he got off?

While I'm dodging bullets and saving the President, big Dave has to make sure those filing cabinets aren't escaping. Look behind you! THEY'RE GETTING AWAY!!

Hmm... I can choose the safe, warm and comfortable Lobby or the dark Alley.

Let's get adventurous.

Thorn creeps down the alley, one still picture at a time.

Nothing happens. Nothing at all. What a letdown.

This is my contact in Moscow, and this is the first conversation where I get conversation options. She's got lots of useful information about the Russian Mafia's possible involvement in the assassination. There's a "So, who is our mole?" option available that seems to be somewhat out of place, and I'm reluctant to click it in case it turns out to be the obvious 'Don't ask that!' question that gets me killed. I click it anyway. Turns out it's safe! I can meet with the mole if I want to, but they're in a dangerous situation. I ask her if that's a good idea.

"It's not my call, it's YOURS!"

Deep.

I check out the CIA's base of operations in Moscow. We've got... a bloody scary interrogation room.

When you're installing Spycraft, you're given the option of disabling 'extreme and illegal methods of gathering intelligence' such as 'scenes involving the use of torture'. This must be where the magic happens.

I carefully leave the room without pushing any buttons and head to my office to find...

CRAP.

Harmonica killed Parker... I should have been more careful. This isn't Game Over, but it certainly doesn't look good.

Spycraft is tense as hell. It's a good adventure game because there's not a lot of 'traipsing between locations' and there's tons of 'actually getting stuff DONE'. When you've got a puzzle to solve, you're given everything you need to solve it. Later on, the puzzles get more complicated but they've not yet been ridiculous. Even if you get it one thing wrong, you don't immediately lose, you get a small hint telling you to check everything again.

It works in XP or DOSBox! Play it now!

After writing this, I got right to the end of the game and then it crashed just before the penultimate puzzle! I was SO CLOSE! In an adventure game, of all things!

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