Final Glimpse: WWII stealth? Where do I sign up?
Okay, so there's really no shortage of WWII games in the world. There are the RTSs and the FPSs and their sequels, not to mention the sequels to the sequels and the expansion packs and the mods and the maps and so on and so forth. Even if you are a WWII junkie (and there are plenty of us out there), you have to admit that many of them cover the same ground. Not to take anything away from the men who fought on both sides at places like Cherbourg or Sainte M?re ?glise, but some game developers might want to broaden their horizons. Enter the stealth genre. Stealth games have a way of stirring things up in the PC gaming world. Way back in 1998, when games like Half-Life, Starcraft, and Fallout ruled the world, a little game called Thief: The Dark Project came along and showed us that there was more to PC games than just shooting stuff. All of a sudden, it was better not to be seen, better not to fight, better to stay quiet. And in just a few weeks, Death to Spies is bringing all that to the WWII setting.
If you read last year's interview with Haggard Games' Alexei Agalamov
, you'll know that one of the fruits of the Atari-1C union will be a World War II-themed stealth game called Death to Spies. The name comes from the ultra-secret, ultra-brutal Soviet counterintelligence agency known as SMERSH?or, Death to Spies for us non-Russian speakers. During WWII, SMERSH reported directly to Stalin himself and was tasked with combatting not only German spies, but anyone Uncle Joe branded as a traitor, including defectors, deserters, and even Soviet soldiers taken as POWs and released. To put it mildly, SMERSH agents were feared across the USSR?many people who came in contact with the secret department didn't live to tell about it.
This game puts the player in the role of Captain Semion Strogov, an operative in what looks like the 4th Section of SMERSH?The Organization of Counterintelligence behind Front Lines. The mechanics of the game will be familiar to stealth game players since it uses a third-person perspective and allows for a lot of the usual activities: sneaking, hiding, hiding bodies, and picking locks, just to name a few. The lock picking minigame looks like it might be interesting, since it will have players manipulating a combination dial in order to match tumblers and open the lock. Other unusual?and particularly nasty?additions to the player's toolkit will allow knife-throwing and boobytrapping. The player can mine the body of a fallen enemy so that when his friends come to check on him, well, bad things happen. Or good, depending on which side you're on.
Death to Spies will expand on the minimap feature that many games use, making it much larger and placing it as a translucent overlay in the center of the screen (though it looks like it can be turned on and off as needed). The larger map gives Strogov plenty of intel on the whole situation he faces, including the lay of the land and also the placement of all enemy soldiers. The minimap will prove invaluable, since it shows enemy soldiers' facing and line of sight, so Strogov can effectively plan his entry and egress. Enemy soldier icons will appear in different colors depending on how aware they are of Strogov's presence. There will also be detection icons and an awareness indicator in the main game screen that shows when Strogov is close to being detected or has been spotted. The indicator seems a bit different from the usual light indicators in Thief or Splinter Cell, since it looks like it will monitor an enemy's awareness rather than how visible the player is.
Missions will have Strogov carrying out tasks familiar to players of any recent stealth game. He'll steal important documents, or sometimes just snap photos that he can take home. He'll be tasked with kidnapping or assassinating enemy agents. And he'll have to sabotage key enemy assets. One screenshot has him eyeing a particularly important-looking bridge. And just so that we don't forget how vicious the SMERSH sections could be, some missions may have Strogov eliminating friendly agents that he's located in deadly situations but is unable to rescue. Most of the gameplay footage released so far shows Strogov fighting the Germans, but there is one scene that shows him snapping the neck of a member of the U.S. 82nd Airborne Division. This gives him access to a uniform that he uses as a disguise to sneak into what looks like some sort of nuclear research facility: there are scientists, big pieces of machinery, and lots of equations scribbled on chalkboards. Other missions will put Strogov in civilian clothes.
Now, I'm not sure I can vouch for that mission (Did the 82nd guard such a lab? Did the Russians infiltrate it? It would be news to me!), but the devs claim that the missions are based on reports made by real-life counterintelligence agents of the period. We'll see some authentic locations and missions, and we'll also see weapons that are based on what was really used at the time. Developer Haggard is also working on making the enemy A.I. more realistic than what we've seen in previous stealth games. For instance, Strogov can steal enemy uniforms as disguises, but he has to make sure to get the details right. If he carries a Russian weapon, the A.I. should pick up on it. If he wears a uniform stained with blood, he'll blow his cover. The A.I. should be smart enough to pick up on other suspicious activity, too. If Strogov is sneaking around an area where he shouldn't be, or if he runs through an area where he should be walking, the guards should perk up and sound the alarm. Effective enemy A.I. is essential to the stealth genre: how the bad guys act and react is what sets the mood of the game. Nothing breaks the suspension of disbelief quicker than faulty A.I. that ignores you just because you're outside of its attention radius.