Saturday, 13 December 2014

Game 48: Operation Stealth - Final Rating

Written by Joe Pranevich

Drumroll, please...

Being my first game that I have reviewed for “The Adventure Gamer”, I did not know what to expect either from the game itself or the process of documenting and reporting on my experience with this game. There is also a fantastic legacy of fairness to uphold. Trickster built a site that we all loved, and I want to live up to that expectation. I started out enjoying “Operation Stealth” very much: the plot was interesting, the atmosphere was the right amount of cartoony for the subject matter, and the puzzles were challenging without my ever feeling like I did not have a lead to follow even when I did need to backtrack. By the end however, I found myself frustrated by an experience that had gone off the rails, first by adding too many minigames and then by making the final section extremely difficult. I became increasingly frustrated by the interface, the poor translation, and the bugs. I came very close to quitting this game, which is not a great start for what I hope will be a few posts for this blog. Having had a week or two to think it over, I have mellowed out a bit on the game and I am curious where this PISSED rating will take us.


Puzzles and Solvability

I suspect this will be one of the more challenging categories for me to discuss in this review. Let me start off with the good: most of the adventure game puzzles are fair. The vast majority of the time I played this game I felt like I had leads or I had avenues to explore and that the solutions to the puzzles were logical in the game world that I was playing in. This does not mean that I did not find myself insanely frustrated at more than a few points, but I chalk this up to interface over puzzles. The puzzles were well designed; the interface was crap.

Looking back at the two puzzles that stumped me, the elastic band and the distraction with the electric razor, I realize in hindsight that both were at least somewhat reasonable. For the elastic band, for example, I completely clicked through a message that would have given me the hint that I needed:

Somehow, I missed this message twice.

I suspect this was because my CPU settings were too high (an issue which also hurt in the final confrontation with Dr. Why), but I give them the benefit of the doubt. Once I knew there was something to find, I found it easily enough (barring the interface problem). The electric razor was similarly logical if I had noticed the electric socket right outside Dr. Why’s room. That would have clued me in to the only “logical” solution given the items that I had. It is still crazy because of the metal door, but maybe they left it open. So for both of these, I think I'll give the game a pass. 

The only “adventure game” puzzle which I particularly have an issue with is the fake orders. When you are given a gag item that instructs you to play more Delphine Software games, you do not expect it to be something you can use in-game. Fourth-wall breaking is fine, but how exactly did that paper get me past the guard?

The action puzzles in this game were a huge drawback for me. One or two would have been fine, but too many hours were spent in mazes, banging my head against timed sequences, or dodging sharks. This may have been fun for some, but I felt that the game overall placed too much emphasis on these sequences to the detriment of the adventure game aspects of play.

I’ll give it a 4. It would have easily be a 5 or 6, but I’m still pretty steamed about having to do the rat maze again.

Rating: 4


Interface and Inventory

Let me take the gloves off: the interface in this game is not fun. The mechanics of it are fine: right-click to open a menu or operate on inventory, left-click to select an item. But the translation is challenging and it took most of the game to work out the difference between “operate” and “use”. (For the record, “operate” implies no direct object. If you need to act on something instead of just act with something, you use “use”.) The error messages in this game are useless, the vast majority of the inventory items have no description, and some of the inventory items change names as you enter different parts of the game. Nothing you cannot figure out, but still annoying.

Then comes the pixel-hunting. Especially in the last area, you have to really search to find the objects you are looking for. The “ink pad” for example had no on screen clue, and I do not think the “glass” did, either. (But the latter was clued in the description.) Mousing around with “examine” selected in each screen became a habit, but even after I had done it for hours I was still missing things because they were so darned small. I ended up playing through some sections several times and still missed details. This aspect of the game is just no fun.

Getting new spy equipment was always a joy.

A huge bright side? The inventory. The spy gadgets that you received during the game were interesting, well-spaced within the narrative, and always fun to figure out how they could be used to solve the puzzles at hand. While they were all described in the manual, almost none of them were used in the way that was implied. You never, for example, used the “electric razor” as a recording device, nor cross between buildings using the watch cable. Even the rocket launcher was just a distraction for you to do the real damage. Some of the other items were a bit silly, such as only having enough money to buy two flowers in the beginning or the flotation device which I still do not fully understand, but overall this was a strong area for the game.

I will go with a 3 here. No matter how much I loved the inventory puzzles, the interface overall was terrible. They made the game difficult for all the wrong reasons.

Rating: 3


Story and Setting

Surprisingly, this is one category where Operation Stealth really shines for me. While I am not an expert in “James Bond”, by any means, I am familiar with the tropes of the genre: the gadgets, the girls, and the somehow overly fashionable games of spy-vs-spy. Real spies, I am sure, do not go around being the center of attention. This game had all of those elements in spades, and put them together in a fairly interesting way, even being more than a bit tongue in cheek when things started to get too over the top.

Are you? Because I’m having trouble keeping track.

This game is a popcorn-entertainment scenario played out in a popcorn-entertainment setting. It was not realistic in the least, but there was something fun about having the CIA, the Russians, a homegrown resistance cell, and Spyder all playing in the same sandbox and crossing each others’ paths. The twists and turn of the story were fun, and I even forgave John getting captured so many times once I was informed (by a commenter) that this was a standard trope in James Bond films that I was unaware of.

I did at times lose track of the plot, and I had difficulty telling identifying characters on sight. We also dropped the subplot with the Russians and the resistance cell midway through the game. This is not Shakespeare, but it was never intended to be and it does very well at being what it intended.

I’ll go with a 6 for this one.

Rating: 6


Sound and Graphics

The tropical setting of Operation Stealth as well as the “colorful” world that John Glames/James Bond inhabits lends itself to a bright palette, and this game does not disappoint. I have already deducted points for pixel-hunting, so for this let me just consider the graphics themselves. Overall, I found the screens to be nice, the use of colors good, and the game appealing. There were no fancy scaling tricks or view angles, so from that perspective the game was quite vanilla, but it was still a pretty game to look at. One exception here is the design of the minigames and the underwater sequences, both of which looked very muddy and difficult to make out what was going on.

This is the most creative the game ever got with camera angles.

Sound in this was nice with a few interesting songs and the background music when it was present was not glaring. Sometimes you would get rooms where you had to turn the sound off because it was grating (and I did have to play sometimes without sound because I have a small baby), but mostly it was an addition rather than a drawback.

I’m going to go with a 5 here.

Rating: 5


Environments and Atmosphere

As I said earlier, I thought the story was great and the setting fitting for it. But when it comes down to the environments that were depicted for the game, they do tend to run rather vanilla. An airport, a town, a cave, an underwater spy base? It is not that all of these places were the same, but that there were few real stand out sets or scenes in the game. That said, the atmosphere did manage that cheesy 1980s spy-film feeling which is more or less what they intended.

I go with a 4 here. Not bad, but could have been less monotone.

Rating: 4


Dialog and Acting

This is another tough category. The actual story and dialog that supports it is pretty great. There are occasional jokes that work (the recurring one about spies using their real names when they are not supposed to comes straight out of “Get Smart”), as well as some ham-fisted fourth-wall breaking that does not work. The explanations and dialogs are clear and overall I never was distracted by the quality of the prose to get taken away from the game that I was playing.

But the interface text and error messages were terrible. From the very first post, I complained about badly written error messages and they never got better or more understandable. There were objects that would randomly be renamed or referred to in multiple ways, the duplicated “ink pad” issue, and a few other gaffes. For example, I’m still not entirely clear what the water safety device I bought in the second or third post was supposed to be.

It’s funny, right?

So once again, a mixed bag. I’ll go with a 5.

Rating: 5


Totals

Actually, not that bad. Except the ending.

4+3+6+5+4+5=29 *100/60 = 45!

But I am going to use my discretion and give the game the “You Made Me Play That Rat Maze Twice, You Bastard” award for -1 points, giving the total as 44.

This is marginally better than “Future Wars” and that seems about right. It also is a bit lower than the first “Manhunter” which I recall also hating the controls for, so that also does not seem too far off the mark. This game would have scored significantly higher if the last section had not been so terrible, but honestly the early parts were not perfect either.


And the closest guess to 44 is... Ilmari... with 44!

Also, congratulations to Laukku who bet in the introduction post that Joe "won't find the rubber band in the sea without help." So a whopping 50 points for one of the few winning bets on this blog.

Caption contest winner: Kenny
Caption contest: The sermon by the leader of the Cuban Cult Of Smuggled AK47s was just too enrapturing for James and his Bond Girl.

James Bond Trivia Results
Post 1: Laertes = 1, Canageek = 1
Post 2: No trivia
Post 3: Charles = 1
Post 4: Ilmari = 1
Post 5: Andry_Panthro = 3, Ilmari = 1, TBD = 1
Post 6: No trivia

The winner is Andry_Panthro! On the basis of poor participation! ;) And a bonus 5 CAPs for all participants!

CAP Distribution

190 CAPs for Joe Pranevich
  • Blogger Award – 100 CAPs – For blogging his way through the game for our enjoyment
  • Classic Blogger Award - 50 CAPs - For blogging his way through Mystery House for our enjoyment
  • WYS Award - 20 CAPs - For sending his What's Your Story? -answers
  • Sponsor Award - 20 CAPs - For sponsoring the blog with a free DVD!

25 CAPs for Andy Panthro
  • Clue Award - 20 CAPs - For answering Request for Assistance
  • Shaken but not stirred Award - 5 CAPS - For contributing James Bond trivia

20 CAPs for Corey Cole
  • "Would You Like to Work with Adventure Games?" Award - 20 CAPs - For sharing with us how people were employed in Sierra

65 CAPs for Laukku
  • Delphine Historian Award - 5 CAPs - For pointing out the reference to Future Wars
  • Frustration in the Seaweed Award - 50 CAPs - For successfully betting that Joe would not find the elastic band
  • "Go for the eyes" Award - 5 CAPs - For continuing to look at the screen shots after the initial shock
  • It's Good to be the King Award - 5 CAPs - For announcing a trailer for a new King's Quest game

15 CAPs for Ilmari
  • Psychic Prediction Award - 10 CAPs - For having the closest guess of the final score
  • Shaken but not stirred Award - 5 CAPs - For contributing James Bond trivia

10 CAPs for TBD
  • Genre Support Award – 5 CAPs – For announcing a new sale on GOG
  • Shaken but not stirred Award - 5 CAPs - For contributing James Bond trivia

10 CAPs for Kenny McCormick
  • Cuban Cult Leader Award - 10 CAPs - For winning the caption contest

5 CAPs for Novacek
  • Genre Support Award – 5 CAPs – For announcing a new adventure game on GOG

10 CAPs for Fry
  • Psychic (Mystery House) Prediction Award - 10 CAPs - For having the closest guess to Mystery House's final rating

5 CAPs for Rowan Lipkovits
  • Mystery House Award - 5 CAPs - For sharing a link to Mystery House Taken Over

5 CAPs for Charles
  • Shaken but not stirred Award - 5 CAPs - For contributing James Bond trivia

5 CAPs for Canageek
  • Shaken but not stirred Award - 5 CAPs - For contributing James Bond trivia

5 CAPs for Laertes
  • Shaken but not stirred Award - 5 CAPs - For contributing James Bond trivia

5 CAPs for Tymoguin
  • "Go for the eyes" Award - 5 CAPs - For continuing to look at the screen shots after the initial shock

19 comments:

  1. Hey, those are my first CAPs ever!

    ReplyDelete
  2. I've gotta say that it would have been nice to have had a less painful game in the mix, here - I can only imagine how it would have been if one of us was, say, playing Monkey Island along with Operation Stealth in the background. It'd be a better contrast than two mediocre games that actually have some positives to them. I totally felt your pain of 'trying not to be endlessly negative in spite of how poorly I felt about the game I was playing' as I trekked my way through Countdown.

    I think this game probably has a slightly higher profile than it really deserves just because of the (potential) license that it held, though. If it was really a 'John Glames' title, I wouldn't be surprised if it didn't even make the cut under Trickster's counting mechanisms.

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    Replies
    1. Let me tell you this one simple trick that would have given the game five more points: Make it so you can see what objects you can interact with on each screen by pressing "tab" and having them glow or something. Eliminate the pixel-hunting and the game becomes more fair and more fun, also about 2 hours shorter (at least) for me.

      From there, just edit a bit. Make the timed sequences have a bit more leeway, make the mazes 2 or 3 levels instead of 4 or 5, and cut the number of sharks in half.

      Do both of these things and I think this review would have gone very differently!

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    2. The game's clearly still caught up in the old design principles that a) player must get as much playing time for his money as possible and b) good ways to increase the playing time are i) near-to-impossible problems, like hunting two small pixels, and ii) repeating time-consuming and boring tasks, like mapping mazes. I have a bad feeling that we will stumble on these principles quite a lot.

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    3. The rubber band puzzle is particularly terrible, and I don't forgive it for the reminder message either. The fact they had to add that in means that the dev team knew it was an issue, but couldn't find a better way to deal with it.

      In fact it feels like the final puzzle was an afterthought, and they needed somewhere to stash the rubber band, and then the reminder. Last minute rush perhaps?

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    4. If this had been a Guybrush Threepwood adventure, after the swimming section, he'd have made a comment like "oh, some of that seaweed got tangled on my leg. Hey, it had a rubber band in it." Much more humane way to give the hero a random item needed for the ending.

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  3. Always nice to help out (and collect some more CAPs!).

    I'm sure with a different engine (such as the Sierra or Lucasarts ones) and the actual James Bond license (film license, not license to kill!), this game would have been a little easier and perhaps a bit higher rated.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I'M CAUGHT UP! Finally!

    Ok, I have to list these sales now, before they expire:
    GoG:
    19 hours left on all of these: Fantasy Quests: Quest for Glory 1-5, King's Quest 1-8, 80% off ($8)
    http://www.gog.com/promo/big_winter_fantasy_quest_bundle_101214

    Daedalic Adventures: http://www.gog.com/promo/big_winter_daedalic_bundle_071214
    Memoria, Night of the Rabbit, The Dark Eye: Chains of Satinav, Journy of a Roach, 85% off ($11)

    Loads of Larry Love: Leisure Suit Larry, Leisure Suit Larry: Love for Sail, Leisure Suit Larry: Magna Cum Laude: Uncut and... 80% off, $4.

    Gabriel Knight Classic: Gabriel Knight 1-3, 75% off, $5
    http://www.gog.com/promo/big_winter_gabriel_knight_bundle_081214

    Horrifying FMV: http://www.gog.com/promo/big_winter_horrifying_fmv_bundle_121214
    Phantasmagoria 1 & 2, 11th Hour, 7th Guest. 80% off, $6

    Ok, that is all the ones that are about to end. I can get breakfast now. More soon!

    P.S. I'm going to have to do a TON of these if I don't want to be at the bottom of the CAPS rankings! That or be far, far more funny.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. OK, a few Steam games before I get some donuts. In celebration of being back I went through all 12 pages of Steam sales yesterday and found EVERY adventure game on sale. Given Caps for each one, I should be able to bribe a few people....

      Elegy for a Dead World: 10% CDN$ 15.29: "Explore dead civilizations, write about what you find, and share your stories with the universe: a game about writing fiction."
      This looks SO pretty. I love games that use art instead of rendering or pixel graphics. I'm not sure it is an adventure game, but hey, It kinda looks like one in the screenshots and PRETTY.
      http://store.steampowered.com/app/252290

      The Talos Principle: -10% CDN$ 39.59. This is a modern game, DLC and everything. Puzzle based, and there are lots of reviews and youtube videos on it. I'd wait to buy it, since the price will plummet in a year, but hey modern adventure game. Wait, Release Date: 11 Dec, 2014. NEW ADVENTURE GAME! DING DING DING DOUBLE CAPSSSSSSSSS. I mean, cough. Oh yeah, Triple A adventure game, Whaaaaaaaaa? http://store.steampowered.com/app/257510

      Silence of the Sleep: -50% CDN$ 9.49. 23 hours left! "You play as a man called Jacob Reeves. A man who has lost his reason to live. He throws himself into a blackness to end his misery, but instead of it being the end he wakes up without a memory of his life before."
      Not bad looking, but not great. Looks like a fairly traditional adventure game. http://store.steampowered.com/app/321870/

      Lifeless Planet: 50% CDN$ 10.99: 23 hours left! http://store.steampowered.com/app/261530
      I've seen this one streamed. Adventure game through and through. Very odd, plot twist near the start. Platforming elements. It looked good enough that I um, bought it. Not played it yet, I'm thinking of doing that with Mara, my girlfriend. Big adventage of adventure games: Few graphical depictions of violence.

      Mind: Path to Thalamus: 23 hours left. -50% CDN$ 6.99: http://store.steampowered.com/app/296070
      "MIND: Path to Thalamus is a First Person Puzzler that throws you into a fantastic and surreal environment. You will bend the natural elements to your will in order to progress in this emotive, mindbending tale."
      Modern game, and based on the screen shots nice art direction. Sure sounds like an adventure game.

      The Raven — Legacy of a Master Thief: Purchase includes all three episodes as they become available. Offer ends in 22:48:05 -75% CDN$ 6.99.
      "The Raven - Legacy of a Master Thief' is a thrilling crime adventure in three chapters from the creators of 'The Book of Unwritten Tales'. Full of twists and turns, it immerses you in both sides of the story, combining thrill-of-the-chase whodunit with the risk and reward of a heist story. Paris, 1960."
      I'm sure we've heard about this one before. Sounds cool though.

      Ok, I want breakfast now. Bye.

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    2. What can we say but - Canageek strikes back!

      Delete
    3. Don't worry, I'll sort out which ones are part of the same sales at the end. Note, the times should be taken from whichever one is the bottom one as they are all the same, I'm just cutting and pasting them in.

      A Story About My Uncle: http://store.steampowered.com/app/278360
      Offer ends in 19:53:14 -75% CDN$ 3.49
      "A Story About My Uncle is a first person platforming adventure game about a boy who searches for his lost uncle, and ends up in a world he couldn’t imagine existed. The movement is a crucial part of the games core gameplay – focusing on swinging through the world with a grappling hook that gives the"
      Yes, it just ends there. 3D platforming adventure game.

      Syberia Bundle: Nikopol: Syberia, Syberia II.
      Offer ends in 19:48:25 -75% CDN$ 4.24
      http://store.steampowered.com/sub/8224/

      Dracula Trilogy: Offer ends in 19:47:19 -75% CDN$ 4.24
      Dracula 1-3: http://store.steampowered.com/sub/40595/


      Gold Rush! Anniversary Special Edition: Offer ends in 19:46:05 -33% CDN$ 4.34
      http://store.steampowered.com/app/328690/
      Note: This is DLC. Wait, isn't this the game that Trickster played through? They remade it and added freaking DLC? How do you add DLC to an adventure game? Also: ONLY the DLC is on sale.

      The Last Express Gold Edition: http://store.steampowered.com/app/252710/
      Offer ends in 19:44:09 -70% CDN$ 2.33 Um, are my sales now diffrent then everyone elses? This goes on sale a LOT, so I thought I'd look it up and Steamalerts isn't showing it as being on sale....

      Jack Orlando: Director's Cut: "1933 will go down in the history books as the year America passed the 21st Amendment to the Constitution. Prohibition is over. To the delight of millions, alcohol can now flow freely across the thirsty land. Two days before the official announcement, bars and clubs across the land are"
      Did steam just change how long the game description can be? Also: Another ugly vintage adventure game! At least it isn't as bad as some of the ones the sales ended on before I could post them. Offer ends in 19:41:19 -86% CDN$ 0.76
      Wait, 86%? That is a rather odd number. Typo you think?

      Dammit, all the Tex Murphy games were on sale, but I was too slow. Sorry about that. Same with Rex Nebular and the Cosmic Gender Bender.

      Delete
    4. Ok, so I'm never sure how to count these, so I guess the GoG sale counts as one?
      Then there is the weekly sale, which would be a second one. Then there are two others from other sales. Then there is the new game, so that would be 4 sales and a new game?
      Man, that was a lot of work for 4 sales and a new game. Can we count each Steam sale as its own thing or something?

      Delete
    5. Oh wait, since the last set of sales ended as I was writing that, there are new ones up!
      Ethan: Meteor Hunter: Offer ends in 19:23:32 (DAMMIT, this was last sale, I just missed it) -62% CDN$ 4.17: "Freeze time and manipulate the world with endless possibilities: build the solution YOU want where nothing is scripted and levels can be solved in multiple ways. When Super Meat Boy meets Braid, you may die repeatedly and enjoy it!" http://store.steampowered.com/app/266330 Wait, 62%? Um....

      Overcast - Walden and the Werewolf: DO NOT BUY THIS. It is apparently TERRIBLE. That said, if you make your living streaming bad games and MST3K them, now is the time: ffer ends in 19:20:55 -90% CDN$ 1.09.

      NEW ADVENTURE GAME: Fire. Just that, "Fire".
      http://store.steampowered.com/app/325520
      Available: 6 January, 2015
      This game will unlock in approximately 3 weeks, 1 day and 20 hours < Do I get the new game bonus if it isn't out yet? -10% CDN$ 12.59

      *****NEW ADVENTURE GAME******
      Last Inua: Puzzle-plat former, which I think counts. -25% CDN$ 6.59
      http://store.steampowered.com/app/331980
      "Last Inua is an immersive and emotional platform adventure game developed by Glowforth. A captivating experience, Last Inua tells the tale of an Inuit family’s fight for survival in the harsh elements of the mythical Arctic. The Tonrar, a demonic trickster, has awoken in the arctic."

      Albedo: Eyes from Outer Space: Do early access games count? Offer ends in 19:16:19
      -60% CDN$ 6.79 http://store.steampowered.com/app/277520

      Screw it, we have a full committee now, just let me know how many CAPS I get.

      Delete
    6. Good to see you back in form, Canageek You've been missed!

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    7. Now if I can just catch up on Chet's blog....

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    8. TBD: Sorry, I reread that and realized I wasn't grateful enough.
      Thank you, if feels good to be back. I've missed you all. I saw you forming the new blog format, and was just too busy to read the emails, let alone join up. New girlfreind, new project at work, class, getting ill for three weeks, you know how things go. Finally I'm recovering from my illness, and have lots of time when I'm laying on bed getting my energy back to catch up, yet am not too tired to read, so I've been trying to catch up and rejoin the community.

      So yes, it feels good to have been missed. I just hope you are all not secretly cursing my name for my spammy advertising posts.

      Delete
    9. *hugs Canageek, remembering when he was sick last winter*

      Delete
    10. *Hug* Yeah, Mono sucks. Still not sure how you didn't get it. Guess we know how far behind me you are now.

      Delete