IGI 2: Covert Strike
IGI 2 is being released into a crowded marketplace for stealth-based shooters. When the original was released a few years ago the genre was relatively fresh. To differentiate their title, the developers Innerloop opted to use large open levels with the purpose of giving players great freedom in their approach. The engine they used was developed internally and had been adapted from being used for a flight simulator. This heritage was obvious when you marvelled at the viewing distance but this engine also showed various weaknesses, namely the small details lacking in the buildings and the lighting. Innerloop have been hard at work trying to improve on the original, taking stock of the criticisms, so has it been time well spent? Yes and no.
In the game you play an agent recruited into the Institute for Geotactical Intelligence, a covert organisation set up after the cold war to fight terrorism and basically kick full tilt boogie for freedom and justice. Your name is Jones, David Jones. I use that James Bond affectation deliberately because the story and parts of the game are clearly inspired by 007 which isn't bad company to keep. The plot is pushed along at a frighteningly fast pace with cut-scenes played between the missions, as soon as a character is introduced they will attempt to kill, aid or betray you almost instantly. Despite all the twists and turns it also comes across as rather stale. The cut scenes are so short they fail to draw you in and infiltrating a secret facility to steal a briefcase full of microchips is becoming a bit of a cliché. The voice acting is well done throughout and some of the sequences are excellent, particularly the ones where you fly in or out of a mission showing off the landscape as you hover down a valley. But then there are a number of briefings by Major Rebecca Anya (I've noticed you never have blondes called something like Gertrude.) where she just sits in front of a bland terminal. So some cut scenes are fun and exciting and others very straight forward. I will also say that the ending of the game is quite action packed but very very short.
The levels on offer are also a bit of a mixed bag. On the one hand this title offers, or at least purports to, large expansive levels with lots of scope for player initiative. Unfortunately it seems to suffer from schizophrenia and at times and wants to more like a linear action game with scripted sequences. The two game styles don't really blend. For a scripted sequence to be effective it demands that you have fairly tight control over where the player is and what they are doing and thus the game tries to herd you along the path that the designers envisioned. The graphics are also affected by these conflicting game styles. On the one hand you can see huge distances, and they really are huge, but you'll often find yourself fighting inside buildings which then can't match the visual quality of games like those based on the Quake 3 engine. There has been a marked improvement since the original but lighting is quite harsh and many buildings are obviously copied and pasted in. They have remedied one aspect of the original and thankfully put in a game save feature which is very welcome. It is even a good compromise in terms of not making things too easy by only allowing a few saves per mission depending on the difficulty level.
Looking at the missions a typical outing might have you run through the scenery for a while and then you'll come across a compound that you are meant to assault. Instead of having a dozen ways of completing the mission there will likely be one or two ways into the compound, with a huge warehouse in the centre of it all that only has one door. Some are quite good linear action levels and a couple of the latter missions are stronger open structure levels. The very first mission, which is used in the demo, is one of the better missions where you fight your way from one side of a bridge to another and there are more than a few strategies for you to use. Again though it depends on the mission as some basically offer one route from start to finish. A couple of the missions have a very forced structure. For example you're flown in to destroy a bridge but despite the amounts of money that are spent on defence they don't give you any explosives. Instead you must steal them from the heavily armed compound nearby...good plan. A more open mission has you stuck on enemy territory and you have to get across the border. Do you want to sneak past all the patrols or fight through them, maybe you can kill one and steal his sniper rifle to give you the edge. Or you could do what I did which is run to the bottom of the map and crawl along by the road and bypass most of the guards.
There are a number of weapons available but you are limited to carrying one heavy weapon and one pistol at a time, with some extra space for things like grenades and mission specific equipment. The weapons are nicely modelled and you'll pick up many familiar names like the M-16 or the AK-47, each with appropriately solid sounds to go with them. Some are silenced while others are made for packing a punch but will draw attention. If you run out of ammo or wish to change guns, any weapon that the enemy drops may be picked up. The accuracy of each is also taken into account with cross hairs expanding as you hold the trigger down. You are also more accurate whilst lying down, rather than standing up. A big problem is that the enemy seems to not be bound by these same restrictions. You'll often find yourself being hit repeatedly from great distances by weapons that are wildly inaccurate when you use them, and certainly not accurate enough to land a three round burst on target which they manage to do.
Along this vein of thought the game does itself a disservice by not being consistent with its use of world rules. Some security cameras can be destroyed while others are bullet proof. One checkpoint will have glass that you can shoot through while another won't. There is no visual indication that I could see that let's you know which is which, meaning you must shoot first, thus giving away your position, to find out. These are familiar problems in many games but that doesn't excuse the error.
Problems such as these then have a negative effect on the stealth aspect of the gameplay. In order for you to plan effectively you have to know how your actions are going to effect the game world. Instead trial and error becomes the formula you employ. In order to stay hidden as you move around you have three basic positions, standing upright, crouching and laying down. Each position naturally has an effect on your speed of movement as well. A bar on the interface indicates your exposure at any one time. You are given binoculars which let you zoom in to examine enemy positions, but you rarely require them. A thermal scope allows you easily spot the enemy that show up as if they were wearing Technicolor dreamcoats. The thermal scope can also see through some walls and doors and will show you where reinforcements will appear from should an alarm go off. To top it all off there is an electronic map which lets you view everything from above, highlighting enemies that are within your field of view with small blue triangles and numbering the buildings according to the objectives.
Even with all these facets to aid you in sneaking about I rarely bothered. I found it much easier to kill any enemies that might get in my way and then afterward complete the objectives. You are given a rating at the end of each mission based on the time it took you to complete it and the number of times you were seen. Suffice it to say I was mostly unranked through it all but it provides a small incentive for the silent approach. Multiplayer games are also present and powered by Gamespy. They add some longevity to the title but I found the levels a little too large for my taste and being sniped the whole time wasn't fun. Naturally something like Battlefield 1942 that is designed specifically for multiplayer gaming makes IGI's offering look all the more weaker.
I think the games real failing is it doesn't satisfy as either a great stealth game or a great action game. The result is a fairly decent but flawed piece of entertainment though. As I said at the start it is a crowded marketplace out there and a title like No One Lives Forever 2 can be vastly more entertaining and fun. If you've already bought that and played through most of the other titles out there IGI2 is worth a look. If you are unsure, the single player demo which was graciously released along side the game rather than months after it, gives you a very good taste of what the full product will bring. So is IGI 2 good? Yes and no. It is a mix of the good, the bad, and the ugly.
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