Most stealth action games on the market today aren't necessarily about stealth, but rather about random trial and error efforts. As beautiful as Splinter Cell is, the frustrating challenge of going through any given stage without being spotted can get on your nerves after a while, especially since so many games allow you to bail yourself out of a situation like that. On the other hand, games like Metal Gear Solid take it a little too extreme by making guards forget you even exist if you aren't spotted after a couple of minutes. Sammy Studios' Spy Fiction is a title that doesn't take itself too seriously, but offers a lot of fun gameplay.
The plot of Spy Fiction involves two spies, Billy Bishop and Sheila Crawford, that are part of the Special Execution Agency (S.E.A.) as they try to get their way to the bottom of an international terrorist agency. Players can select either character, and while the story branches in slightly different ways, you'll go through most of the same stages and scenario despite which character you choose.
What first struck me about the game as I started to go through it was that everything was so... clean. The environments are very sterile in the game, giving me an odd feeling. Perhaps it was games like Splinter Cell and Prince of Persia that has spoiled me, but none of the environments really appealed to me, even during the later stages. The game has a very clean feel to it, but at least it's not an ugly looking title. The areas are nicely modeled, and the characters have a cool, anime-esque feel to them, with large eyes and small mouths. What I find funny is that the characters seem so stereotypical in nature that it's sometimes hard to take the back-story to the game seriously, which is actually well-written in itself.
As far as the gameplay is concerned, it's a nice mix of new and old ideas. The good news is that many of the unique aspects of the game work really well in practice. The coolest thing to do with the game involves the use of your spy camera. If you're able to take a good picture of anyone in the game, you can assume their identity by hiding yourself in a secluded area for a couple of seconds. This allows you access to areas that would be impossible to get into otherwise. Many missions actually require you to snatch the persona of a guard or a high ranking official just to get in, and it works real well. One shocker here is that your disguise isn't fool-proof; you can be detected by guards easily if you get too close to them or otherwise act in a foolish manner. Assuming one's identity goes to another level by being able to even map their face to yours, or mimic their voice by using your microphone if you're in range. Mapping a face can be downright frustrating at times, but it adds a great bit of challenge that the game benefits from, since players can't take the easy route and take a poor picture of someone and use that as a 100% fool-proof costume.
Unfortunately the action bits that the game throws at you aren't nearly as impressive. In fact, they're downright bad at times, due to some questionable control schemes (not being able to use grenades and firearms at the same time?!). Much like Metal Gear Solid, enjoyment isn't extracted from most of the tense action sequences, but rather from the challenge of slyly defeating one opponent after another without being detected by anyone. There are some pretty inventive scenarios that you are thrust in during the game, many of which will test your photo-taking ability and your patience.
The game's biggest problem is that of the camera, which works well for puzzle-solving areas but is a small nightmare for duking it out with enemies. My other complaint is that many of the puzzles that don't involve stealth or camerawork are rather bland and uninspiring. Really, the real hook to the game is the ability to use the camera in inventive ways, so it's a shame that it wasn't used more extensively. I was hoping you could use it to mimic things in an environment to fool guards, say by taking a photograph of an area and 'mapping' it to a canvas to fool security cameras. Maybe we'll see that in Spy Fiction 2?
In any case, Spy Fiction actually turned out great, and even though I thought the game was pretty good at E3 2004, I had my doubts on how good it would be. There are a few oddities in the game, mainly due to the combat, but the puzzles and story both make up for that. The graphics are good, but I'd prefer something that's a little gritty than the clean-cut anime style too. In the end, fans of stealth action games should definitely check this game out!