Sam Spade or James Bond? Whether you enjoy a pulpy noir or a modern-day spy adventure, Espionage Noir Productions has a bit of something for everyone in their stealth action game Private Infiltrator. Two private corporations have been going head-to-head in an invisible war for decades with one agency trying to prevent the other from achieving global domination. With the side of good on the verge of victory, it’s up to the player to infiltrate the final enemy base and end the war. It won’t be easy, that’s for certain, but is it fun?
Much of the game focuses on the player getting deeper and deeper into enemy territory, and avoiding detection from patrolling agents is only part of the challenge. Security cameras must be disabled, computers hacked, doors re-wired, and barriers blown up all while staying out of sight (the enemy agents are apparently all deaf). Checkpoints are few and far between and should be located asap in order to avoid retreading past the same obstacles multiple times. The game offers multiple camera views, but the isometric angle will likely be how the player choose to experience the action since a lot of it takes place indoors sneaking from room to room.
There’s definitely an initial learning curve when it comes to succeeding at Private Infiltrator. The first struggle I encountered was with the lighting. Although pure darkness interspersed with the occasional computer monitor or wall light is certainly more atmospheric, it doesn’t lend itself to survival as well as turning on the night-vision goggles (an ability available to the default character). I liken it to the experience of having to play Arkham Asylum with the Detective Mode constantly on. The keyboard and mouse controls take just a little bit of getting used to. Figuring out that the on-screen avatar must be facing an object to interact with it is key to not getting caught in the middle of breaking and entering. It also requires some practice to twist the camera angle back and forth between the perils of the current room and getting a look inside the next room before entering. After about half an hour of fumbling through some of these issues I was finally on my way and enjoying the ambience.
The difficulties, however, don’t stop with player inexperience. Private Infiltrator is one of those rare occasions where I recommend the player swallow their pride and try the game on one of the easier difficulty levels first. Even opting for a sub-Normal difficulty doesn’t exactly make the game easy, but it does drop the range at which agents will be able to detect the player, providing a wider window to sneak between the agents’ search radii. I’ll be the first to admit I’m not terribly good at stealth games because of a lack of patience, but this game can be damned hard for even the craftiest Solid Snakes out there. Thankfully, additional settings exist for dropping the number of enemies and for disabling the finite number of lives.
While I did have fun playing Private Infiltrator, there’s an unevenness to the level of polish to be found. The soundtrack does a great job of establishing the tense, but playful noir feel the game aims for. The story is presented in monologue fashion through text and helps drive that pulpy feel. At the same time, that dialogue pops up in the middle of the action which means that either the player has to ignore it for awhile, or gets distracted by it and dies. The menu system presents a confusing array of options, some developer-centric, and typos can be spotted on more than one occasion in various areas of the game. I also failed to find a save game option, though players can elect to start a new game on any level of their choosing. It’s easy to see where the studio did and did not put the bulk of their focus, and it would have served the game better if it had received a more consistent level of attention across the board. It’s also good for the reader to know that the game is still being refined through updates.
There were some poor design choices made in terms of the openness versus linearity of the game. The first and perhaps best example comes in the first level. That stage includes a number of walls that must be blown up using C4 scattered throughout the area. The walls must be brought down in a specific order, otherwise the player will eventually hit a point where they can’t get to enough explosives to continue. It can be both frustrating and off-putting for players to have to repeat entire levels of a game through no fault of their own. Allowing the player to make a mistake that they can’t recover from is a big misstep. There’s also a lot of tense and/or tedious backtracking involved when finding out that a path has been taken prematurely without the right intel (i.e. computer passwords) having been gathered first.
As it exists right now, Private Infiltrator is a fun, yet flawed game. I love the atmosphere the game is going for with its mix of classic spy story and modern-day spy gadgetry. The developers are trying to get the game approved through the Steam Greenlight program, and they’re continuing to fix and improve the game based on player feedback. Hopefully some of the wrinkles I came across will be ironed out, but it’s still a game worth checking out now, sharing opinions on with the developers, and keeping an eye on its progress going forward.
Private Infiltrator was reviewed using a copy of the PC version provided by the developer for that purpose. The PC and Mac versions are available through Desura.
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