The two selectable heroes of Spy Fiction are a 25-year-old spiky-haired, smooth-faced guy and an 18-year-old blonde woman with an even smoother, blanker expression. The brilliant scientist they have to save along the way looks like she should be off somewhere watching some sappy teen melodrama or sending text messages to her high school classmates. ("Ohmigod! I just discovered this killer virus. Like, literally!") The story is pretty heavy at points, but nearly everything else lacks a certain gravity that might have helped push this game into four-star territory.
Assume the position
Playing through ten missions as either Billy Bishop or Sheila Crawford, field agents for the top-secret espionage group Phantom, is a good way for a gamer to spend eight-to-twelve hours. The action is varied and the gadgets are plentiful. The heroes can hold their own in a hand-to-hand confrontation or gunfight, but there are enough tools and enough opportunities to use them to make this a true stealth game.
In fact, there are so many gadgets that I didn't even use some of them in my first playthrough. The most useful toy, the 3DA camera, will get you out of the majority of tight spots. It's used to take a three-dimensional picture of any character you come across. The image is fed into the agent's advanced camouflage suit. If you include the target's face in the frame, you can disguise yourself as an almost exact duplicate of him. Even if you just snap the suit, you can often get away with a partial disguise. The uniform may have a big blank spiky-haired head sticking out of the top, but it'll still do in certain cases. If you get close enough to eavesdrop, there are even instances when you can record and replicate the character's voice.
As long as you don't goof it up by running or acting suspiciously in some other way, the disguise should work superbly. Enemies can still be taken out from behind, yielding valuable items. Once the outfit has outlived its usefulness, simply throw it off and resume your crawling around and shooting. Arouse suspicion, however, and the disguise will be rendered useless until the security alert expires or is cancelled using tags retrieved from unconscious guards.
The stealth suit does more than just help the operative play dress-up, however. Crouch against a wall (or use the spider grips to press up against the ceiling) and the spy will slowly blend into the environment. While the player can see a shimmering specter, the enemies won't see a thing until you move or unless they bump into you. In a questionable choice for a stealth suit, the default uniforms have a bright blue light on the back and wrist, but it is also possible to hide in some shadows without the need to activate invisibility.
Other tools enable your operative to rappel from ledges, see heat signatures through walls, and take 3DA pictures from a remote location, but guns and bombs are so tempting to use. To help keep the focus on stealth, knocked out enemies stay down for a moderately long time but dead ones are quickly replaced. My second favorite weapon, a powerful stunner disguised as an electric shaver, charges quickly and lays 'em out cold, with unlimited charges. It can re-shock enemies that are already down to keep them unconscious longer - and if you shock a foe that is laying on a metal surface you're treated to some nice sound effects as his body spasms noisily against the floor. It's the little things that add so much, you know.
Of course, my very favorite weapon is the steel-tipped playing card, which flies grandiosely through the air and hits the opponent in the neck for a one-hit kill. Hey, cards are little things, too.
You'll mostly encounter rank-and-file cannon fodder. Only three bosses are found in the whole game, and the last one is the easiest of all. These encounters are memorable insofar as they require your full attention - the bosses are cheap as hell and will almost certainly take at least a couple of times each to beat. Like the rest of the game, though, the boss fights are lacking a certain luster, and the last battle is just tacked on, adding even further to the not-fully-polished feel. Playing through a second time reveals the true ending, and there are a few things to unlock, but I still didn't like Spy Fiction as much as I think I should have.
In all fairness, Sammy and Access Games did tweak the game significantly from its Japanese release - adding to the AI, redesigning levels, upgrading a couple of the gadgets and abilities - but it would take some deep work under the hood to take it to the next level. I'm all open for a sequel by the same developer, but I'd drop the kid heroes, make the feel a little more claustrophobic and personal and less "My God is the enemy unspeakably evil!", and just butch things up more. Spy Fiction is, um, solid, but like it's camouflaged leads, it's likely to get lost in the crowd.
· · · Nick Vlamakis