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IGI 2: Covert Strike Review
developer: Innerloop Studios
PIII 700, 128MB RAM, 32MB Video Card, 1.9GB HD
|ESRB rating: M
release date: Mar 03, 03 (released)
|» All About IGI 2: Covert Strike on ActionTrip|
How many times have you wanted to say these words: "I'm going in, baby!" Personally, I would've liked to have used them for my first encounter with a hot supermodel, but as it turns out, that isn't likely to happen in any foreseeable future. (Ed. - For obvious reasons) So, I have to settle for the next best thing - my wife. No wait, I meant to say the sequel to Innerloop's fairly popular sneaker shooter Project: I'm Going In, IGI 2: Covert Strike.
The original IGI game was published back in the December of 2000 by EIDOS Interactive. It was met with lukewarm response from the press as it was plagued with numerous gameplay bugs and other nuisances that thwarted the gameplay experience. But despite all of its drawbacks, most journalists and game fans alike agreed that Project: IGI had elements of gameplay that were addictive and that it was actually fun to play. This time around, the game was published by Codemasters under a different name. There is no "Project" in the "IGI" any more; it's simply "IGI2;" and while this is essentially a cosmetic change, it is supposed to signify a more mature approach to the development and a new beginning for the franchise. One that will not result in a title with as many silly bugs that can ruin the gameplay experience.
The chopper drops you off, and you're on your own.
Maybe if I hide behind this tree, they won't even notice me... Ooops!
Continuing from where the first game left off, IGI2 once again puts you in the role of David Jones - a seasoned SAS (British Special Forces) operative who acts as the "field guy" for an elite counter-terrorist unit dealing with various threats to the world peace and security. David is once again at the forefront of preventing international terrorism, world catastrophe and betrayal at the very highest level. He's sent to a remote corner of Russia to gather intelligence and ultimately steal top-secret microchip technology so that it doesn't fall into the wrong hands. (Ed. - Bill Gates)
David Jones character is based off a real person named Chris Ryan - an ex-SAS and Gulf War hero who has agreed to act as a military consultant on the project and offer some tips and tricks to the design team. Chris' experience in the field is supposed to bring a more realistic feel to the game, as well as improve the AI code, which has really been one of the biggest stumbling blocks of the original game.
IGI2: Covert Strike features a 19-mission campaign set in real world locations spanning three continents. These missions, can include all-out base assaults, covert surveillance and infiltration, even thefts and escapes both indoors and out, in either an urban or rural environment. The game also features an impressive arsenal of over 30 weapons, which is quite an improvement over the original. If I remember correctly one could only use the Dragunov sniper rifle in Project: IGI, and now, we get to use all kinds of snipers - silenced, bolt-action... you name it.
This is all well and good of course. It's good to have a military consultant, plenty of missions, and an impressive arsenal, but did Innerloop improve the gameplay and in such a way that it would be appealing to even those players who hate waiting for patches and other similar hot fixes?
Even though the gameplay in IGI2 is in many ways similar to the one in the original there are some slight differences that make it different and more unique. The game is now even more stealth-oriented than before, and the programmers have included such novel features as a visibility indicator, which works similarly to the one in Splinter Cell. If you go prone and you're hidden in the shadows you're in less danger of being spotted by the armed guards. Besides using the ol' "sneaking behind the bush" technique David gets to utilize all kinds of neat high-tech gadgets - thermal imaging devices, digital binoculars, and a portable map computer showing real-time satellite data. This equipment will be vital if he's to quietly slip in an enemy base unnoticed. And besides, David won't be fighting mango-throwing savages, your opponents will use various types of high-tech security to try and catch you, such as electronic doors and switches, sentry guns, security cameras, alarm systems, and base security systems. And that ain't even the half of it. The bottom line is you will have to observe the area and THINK before you act. My advice is to take your time and plan your moves, learn the guards' patrol patterns and time your movements. Of course, you can always try to go in with all guns blazing, but that is rarely going to work. It all depends on what mission you're playing. Generally speaking, the programmers have tried their best to encourage you to analyze the area, enemy patrol movements, and security camera locations before infiltrating the hot zone. This challenging and fun type of gameplay is made all the more interesting by the huge levels and a relative sense of unrestricted movement and non-linearity you get from being able to take slightly different approaches to every problem. If the object of this game was to make the players feel like they're truly a lone wolf operative dropped by a chopper right in the middle of nowhere, then IGI2 has passed this test with flying colors. The atmosphere is quite genuine, immersive and intense. The huge maps help you feel like you're a part of a virtual world and not just a Tetris block being streamlined to your final destination. This is probably the game's biggest quality and for that I wholeheartedly recommend the single-player campaign. I had loads of fun playing as David Jones and the "thinking" aspect coupled with the sense of non-linearity is what made me stay glued to the screen for hours. Sometimes, it's fun to go all-out and just use all the weapons at your disposal. Most of the times though, this game is about sneaking with your silenced pistol and trying to make the baddies look like idiots. This is what I liked the most about IGI2.
Two down, three hundred more to go!
Thermal vision is on.
Those of you who like to shoot first and think later, however, should know that the properties of the weapons are closely tied to the excellent physics model. All of the weapons are fun to use and they are VERY realistic in terms of their kick as well as the projectile and bullet trajectory. I really enjoyed sniping bad guys and just firing short bursts from my M16 rifle. Your aim largely depends on your stance; you'll be much more accurate with a rifle if laying down or crouching. Also, when a bullet hits you, your body is kicked back and your vision is blurred which is again a real nice touch that adds a lot to the authenticity of the fire fights. Killing all the guards will be very hard, occasionally impossible, but there are some tricks that help.
Though the AI code has improved over the original (which just plain sucked) you can still exploit some AI blunders by your opponents and actually get away with murder, so to speak. The AI still is easily led into traps and kill zones. Most of the time you can lure the baddies to follow you into a room where you can calmly set yourself and line them up one by one. Your opponents are quite accurate and deadly in open spaces. They'll toss those pineapples at ya like you wouldn't believe. But, if you manage to get your ass into a small space they'll have real problems figuring out that they're not supposed to just casually walk in one after another. An obvious solution might've been to make a routine so that the AI would fling a grenade before walking into a small confided space where you're hiding, but that was obviously too tough for the folks at Innerloop.
Don't get me wrong though, most of the time, the AI will act quite sensibly, and they aren't nearly as stupid as in Project: IGI. They'll use zigzag movement tactics, shout when they spot you and even go prone before firing. They are also environmentally aware. In most cases, the AI reacts believably, it's just that sometimes their predictable movement patterns (when they're alerted to your presence) can ruin the game. Especially since the AI makes it easier for you to trap them in a small room than sneak past them. The problem with such a strategy, is that you'll raise an alarm and that means the patrols outside will double and you'll have a nearly impossible task of finishing all of the mission objectives, especially in the later missions. It's achievable, but I wouldn't recommend it. Other than this "hit zone" AI problem, I was also slightly bothered with the way some of the baddies moved over longer distances. For some reason they would use the exact same route to get to a location, but this has only happened once or twice (most notably in the SP demo mission). This is not a common occurrence in the game. Overall, the AI is better, but still not on the level of some of the other most successful games in the genre (most notably Splinter Cell).
Graphically, IGI2: Covert Strike is a mixed bag of blessings. The new engine looks solid. Its biggest advantage has to be the ability to render detailed backgrounds even for wide-open spaces. As I said, the physics model is awesome, and there's no talk anymore of "low-gravity" jumps. The character movement is much more believable except for the fact that prone movement is way too fast, and it seems kind of unrealistic. I do believe, however, that the problem with the textures still exists. It's not as apparent as in the original, but it's definitely nowhere near the quality of, say Unreal 2. The shadows are also too simplistic, but I guess that's the price of having huge, outdoor environments in a game. Still, if we're going to use the Unreal 2 engine as a sort of a reference for the quality of 3D code, then I have to say that Innerloop could've done better. Unreal 2 also features big outdoor levels, but the overall quality of the graphics is on much higher level. IGI2's frame rate is really bad in certain areas even though I couldn't notice any apparent reasons why this would be so, and the player models look fairly simple. The water surfaces and the gun models look awesome on the other hand, and so do some of the levels in terms of the quality of the atmosphere generated by the visuals. The night mission is especially nice with the distant lights flickering on the hills in the background, etc.
The musical score does wonders for the game's mood as well, as it adds a dose of suspense, but it also sounds soothing at times. This really helps you to feel like you're playing in a real good movie, rather than just shooting bad guys in the middle of nowhere. The sounds of the wind and dogs barking in the distance, muffled sounds of Russian TV and chatter set a nice tone in the game as well. The only real drawback in terms of in-game sound has to do with a low number of enemy shouts, which at times sound pathetic. Yes, they do speak in their native tongue, and if you know the language, it helps to know when they're calling for help or saying they'll raise an alarm, but their shouts are way too repetitive and get irritating really fast.
In closing, I must say I've really enjoyed playing IGI2: Covert Strike. It offers plenty of single-player gameplay hours, as well as a fully functional multiplayer mode, which doesn't bring anything radically new, but it's fun to try nonetheless. Essentially, the sneaker shooter gameplay is a lot of fun. You can literally spend days on this game, which is a good enough reason to shell out some of your cash for it. IGI2 represents a solid sequel that in many ways improves on the original concept. It rarely happens that a sequel outperforms the original, so I think the team at Innerloop deserves credit for their hard work.
8.0 Very Good
The gameplay is fun, intelligent and atmospheric; plenty of single-player playtime and a multiplayer mode to boot. Excellent physics model;
AI is still spotty, ruining what would otherwise be a great game; graphics engine needs work - severe framerate hits, even on high-end rigs.
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