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.