by Ingvi Snædal
previewed on X360
A Legacy of Challenge
The Death to Spies franchise has been one of 1C publishing's biggest in the last few years and there is a reason for that. Much like the infamous Demon Souls, its reputation stems from its often frustrating level of difficulty and its refusal to hold the player's hand as he faces the game's challenges. Unlike Demon Souls, however, the games have been criticized for lacking a tutorial and not making the goals of its missions clear to begin with, making many of them an exercise in trial and error. We got a bit of hands on time with the next instalment in the franchise, Ghost of Moscow: Death to Spies, at GamesCom and it looks like they've listened to the community this time around.
A Common Goal
Unlike its predecessors, Ghost of Moscow takes place during the Cold War. You play as a team of spies who are tasked with infiltrating bases and doing what spies do best. Much like the classic 2D Platformer The Lost Vikings, none of the levels can be completed using only one of the characters. The characters must work together to complete each task, and each of them has their own gadgets, special abilities, and weaknesses. Captain Strogov, who you may know from the previous games, makes an appearance and is the only one of the characters who can change into a fallen enemy's clothes. Olga Godunova-Lopes is a very good looking woman and can easily draw attention to herself, allowing her comrades to either sneak by unnoticed or get up close to the unwitting subject and take him out of the action. She is, however, the only character who cannot carry the bodies of downed enemies, as she is not as physically strong as the others, something she more than makes up for with her other talents. Not much has been revealed about the third character, Viktor Kovalev, but what we saw of him makes us suspect him to be a sneaky assassin, specializing in long-range and silent takedowns.
The difficulty level of the game has been toned down a bit so as to make it more accessible to newcomers to the series. The difficulty level can be changed, however, and the harder ones will feature the alert AI many of us have come to respect, and expect, from the previous games. On that setting, guards will notice you if the uniform you're wearing has blood on it, or a hole through it, and if your disguise is that of an officer of too high a rank, the soldiers will immediately become very suspicious of you, as every soldier in the world knows his superior officers. Although the game has been made a bit easier, the challenge is still there for those who choose to give it a go.
In every level, there are a number of smaller objectives to complete in order to gain access to the level's main objective. These range from breaking into offices, to turning off the power to the entire compound. Lock-picking is a mini-game where the player will have to match the pattern of a piece of metal to the options available on his lock-pick set. Once he finds the right combination, the door can be opened. Disconnecting a power circuit, on the other hand, presents the player with a blueprint of the circuit and a number of unknown elements on the paths. The player will then have to match the elements in pairs in order to break the connection safely. Both of these are timed, so the player will have to be quick about them. Each level can be completed in multiple ways, and it is up to the player to choose how he wants to approach any given challenge.
A Risky Move
The most obvious series to compare Death to Spies with is undoubtedly the Hitman series, but in that series, you can wipe the whole level out and still pass the test. The “Mass Murderer” rank is no better or worse than the “Silent Assassin”, it only indicates what gameplay style the player adopted to complete that particular level. In Death to Spies, however, the mission is over as soon as an alarm is sounded, adding a real emphasis on keeping it clean, and keeping it silent. This game is about the lives of spies, and it forces the player to act like one; or in this case, three of them. This is the first time the series appears on the Xbox 360 and it will be interesting to see how such a difficult game fares on a console. It has a legacy of challenge to live up to, and not one that just anyone can overcome.