Splinter Cell for Dummies.
Sometimes you have to wonder aloud exactly how and/or why a marginal game gets a sequel. It makes sense when they sell like hotcakes or have an enormous, dedicated following, but what about when they're just a mediocre game to begin with?
Such is the case with IGI 2: Covert Strike, a stealth-oriented FPS published by Codemasters for the PC and arguably one of the least intelligent stealth-oriented games available. This sequel follows its predecessor's lead in more ways than one, the most offensive of which is the moronic AI. It's so bad it's almost open-ended; you can exploit the enemy AI in so many different ways that there are always new ways to beat a level. Unfortunately, none of them are convincing or realistic enough to be engaging. However, figuring out ways to manipulate IGI 2 is mildly entertaining, if only because it makes you feel clever.
However, such a false sense of intelligence (it's not that you're smart, it's that the game is stupid) is only satisfying to stupid people. Fortunately for Codemasters, there are a lot of stupid people in the world. Unfortunately for Codemasters, I am not one of them.
Where to start? The story involves a top-secret task-force that deals with threats to peace. A routine mission unfolds to become something far more sinister. Your name is David Jones. Your mission: a Covert Strike.
Very generic. Cops and rednecks will love this one...except for the fact that Rainbow Six 3: Raven Shield and Splinter Cell just came out. Poor David Jones - he never knew it was a suicide mission, nor that he was on the Special Olympics version of a counter-terrorism unit.
IGI 2 is easiest to compare to Splinter Cell because it borrows liberally from Ubi Soft's masterpiece. In IGI 2, you can creep around and kill people. You can also open doors. There are graphics. The similarities pretty much end there. I could say a lot more about Splinter Cell (and have), but have little to say about IGI 2, thus the minimalist style. Form should match content that way, I figure. There's a lot missing from IGI 2, an impressive amount of vacuum. This game fails better than any other title on the market right now.
The gameplay is ubiquitous. You can run, crawl, jump or lie prone. You can shoot guns and you have a context-sensitive action key that will do just about anything for you as long as you hold it down long enough. You get binoculars and heat vision goggles. However, both of these are rendered moot (usually) by the fact that you have an insanely helpful GPS system on a mini-computer. This map will show you the layout of the immediate area, the locations of your objectives, all the enemies outside, their movements and the direction they're facing. Since a large portion of IGI 2 takes place outdoors, the GPs is almost overly useful.
Since emphasis is placed on stealth and sneaking, being able to observe your enemies' patterns would seem important. Indeed, if you let a guard hit an alarm before you kill him, you'll see all the enemies on the map run toward the source of the alarm. Then you can flip the thing off, crouch and kill every last one of them as they run through a doorway several feet in front of the source of the alarm.
The stealth aspect of IGI 2 is flawed in that it consists entirely of sneaking and shanking people (you can break necks too, but knifing is more effective). You can look around corners and over boxes without being seen, but you can't shoot around corners. It's unrealistic and uninteresting. Otherwise, you simply creep through the shadows in a crouch (which means slowly) past all the stupid guards. There's an occasional scripted event to either blow your cover or make things a little hairy, but it doesn't add much.
Then there's killing everything. This is the safest and most entertaining way of going about things. Here's what you do: shoot a guard in front of everybody. Run around a corner. Kill everybody as they come around the corner. There are some minor complications involving flashbangs, but they're made up for by AI weaknesses. For example, I once shot a guard and then ran behind a box. A box. The guards only approached me from the side of the box I ran around. I killed all ten of them. An entire squad, from behind a box.
Once you've killed everyone (you can tell by looking for blue blips on your GPs), you can proceed through that stage of the level without a care in the world! Run, jump and slash as you frolic across the empty compound unimpeded.
There is one upside to IGI 2, and that is the outdoor environments. They're just for show, but they're huge and you can go anywhere. Some of the facilities in IGI 2 are really big and looking at them from a distance is very impressive. However, this doesn't translate to open-ended gameplay. There aren't usually multiple entrance points into a compound, and in spite of the open appearance, IGI 2 is very linear.
The first level, for instance, takes place on a huge compound. I mean HUGE. You would think there'd be a thousand ways in for a guy like David Jones. Turns out, there are two. One is through a door that's guarded by a padlock. The other is through the front gates (you wind up having to kill everyone in the level right off the bat, though). And then, the second level takes place in a mine.
There is a multi-player option that is infinitely more interesting than the single-player campaign, although no less generic. Your team has objectives, completing them is good, you die and respawn. You get money to buy weapons. It's somewhat like Counter-Strike, but not nearly as good.
The graphics are fairly bland aside from the impressive vistas. There are no interesting lighting effects (unless 'red' is interesting), the models are typical and the animations are pretty unimpressive. At least the sounds are decent with good gun noises, an unobtrusive soundtrack and adequate voice talent.
IGI 2: Covert Strike isn't so much terrible as it is pointless. The success of a stealth-based game relies very heavily on complex AI and interesting moves. Sadly, IGI 2 fails on these fronts. There are some nice graphical moments with the vistas and being able to kill everyone at once is a nice (albeit unintentional) touch, but IGI 2 just isn't a game you'll want to keep playing.