Written by: Rik

Date posted: December 31, 2007

Extras:

The name’s Glames – John Glames.

Following the success of their first “Cinematique” adventure, the sporadically-bonkers time travelling caper Future Wars, French developers Delphine steered towards more conventional territory for their next in the series. In Operation Stealth, you play John Glames, a thinly-disguised Bond-alike sent to the fictional South American country of Santa Paragua to investigate the mysterious disappearance of a Stealth fighter (hence the title). As before, you are expected to point and click your way through the game, although most will be relieved to hear that despite the many demands made upon your character throughout the adventure, there is no call for your him change into a purple bodysuit this time around. Unlike the window-cleaner turned time-traveller, John Glames is a tuxedo man (of course), clearly evidenced by his reluctance to change clothing, despite the nature of his mission presumably calling for a less conspicuous outfit.

Plot and character differences aside, however, the interface largely remains unchanged from Future Wars, and those familiar with Operation Stealth‘s predecessor will experience largely the same frustrations and annoyances as last time around. For others, especially those used to LucasArts or other more modern adventures, it’s worth a brief re-cap: the inventory and available commands are hidden from view in-game, and are accessed via a rather unwieldy menu system which can be brought up at any time by clicking the right mouse button. Some things you can get used to – such as having to ‘Examine’ things that might be of interest before they’re available in a usable state – but others are downright annoying: why do we need to have ‘Use’ and ‘Operate’ commands, for example? As someone familiar with the interface, I thought I understood the demarcation between the two from past experience, but I still stood around for several minutes trying to use a pickaxe on the right place on a rock wall before it emerged that all I had to do was hit ‘Operate Pickaxe’ and my alter-ego would do the rest.

These chaps are Russian, and want an envelope from you. Can’t remember why though.

While instances such as this are annoying, generally the interface, while not exactly intuitive, is something that can be lived with. However, a lack of progression since Future Wars is also evident elsewhere, and Operation Stealth also retains annoyances such as puzzles that are too frequently reliant on pixel-hunting, stunted conversations, and a general lack of interactivity with anything in the game world that doesn’t happen to be essential to progression. You can also find yourself at a dead-end because the game allowed you to leave behind an essential item earlier on. More irritatingly, you can get permanently stuck by trying to solve a puzzle in a way the game doesn’t like – even though it seems perfectly logical to you. This most often occurs when you try to do things in a slightly different order to that required by the game – instead of finding a polite way of telling you that this is the case, it lets you make the mistake anyway, and provides no way of undoing it without resorting to a saved game.

Speaking of which, saving often is a must in Operation Stealth, not just because of the above, but also due to the fact that sudden death is a near-constant threat. Of course, the spy game can be a dangerous business, and at various times you’re required to think and act quickly to dodge a bullet or escape a sticky situation. Although such instances do occur within the normal adventure-y parts of the game (which, although requiring some sharp and accurate work with the mouse, are usually over quite quickly) more often than not you’re thrown headfirst into an arcade sequence. The inclusion of sub-games in adventures is a topic that has long been debated, and while personally I’m not a great fan of them, sometimes a game’s plot or setting might demand the occasional change of perspective, and they can be a harmless or even welcome distraction if they’re done well and don’t become all-consuming.

This bit is rubbish. But there’s worse to come.

Unfortunately, though, the arcade-action on offer here is frustrating, uninspiring and crops up all too frequently. In fact, come the second half of the game, action starts to outweigh adventure, and you’ll barely have had the opportunity to solve a couple of puzzles before you’re faced with another tedious and tricky click-a-thon. While I wasn’t exactly unprepared for this eventuality, with a swimming sequence early curtailing my initial attempts to complete the game when it was first released, and having survived the shooting and platform sections while completing Future Wars, I was nevertheless slightly taken aback by the sheer number of mediocre and repetitive sub-games that crop up here.

Having performed some fairly extravagant celebrations after beating the swimming-through-caves bit that had previously thwarted me, any lingering happiness soon dissipated after discovering what was to follow – another (pointless) race-against-time swimming bit, a lengthy maze section, a rubbish bit on jetskis, yet another swimming bit (this time with sharks), more fecking mazes (this time with giant killer rats) – you get the picture. Frankly, they’re all crap, and regularly call into question why on earth you’re bothering with the game at all.

“One Million Dollars! MWAH HAH HA HA HA HA!”

Perseverance (accompanied by a good deal of swearing) eventually brings results, but it’s at this point you realise that even as an adventure Operation Stealth isn’t really all that much cop either. While the dialogue in Future Wars may have been a little thin and erratically-translated, the time-leaping plot was at least quite interesting. Here, there’s nothing much to hold your attention, with both the story and characters bland and underdeveloped, and though a level of tension is achieved at the game’s climax, it’s mainly down to the frantic mouse-clicking required to reach the end rather than of seeing all the different strands of the plot come together.

Ultimately, it has to be said that Operation Stealth is a disappointment, and does nothing to improve on its predecessor in terms of interface or game mechanics. Although the graphics are slightly more impressive than those showcased in Future Wars, several important factors including a reliance on frequent, sub-standard, arcade sequences and a lacklustre story make this an inferior title. While it’s by no means the worst adventure game in the world, this is largely one for genre completists with excessive reserves of patience. The rest are advised to check out Future Wars first and see how they get on: those seeking retro spy-based fun should perhaps consider checking out Sid Meier’s Covert Action instead.