- Year: 1990
- Developer: Microprose
- Publisher: Microprose
- Type: Commercial
- Mobygames Link
I’m actually cheating here since this isn’t technically a new game today, but rather something I played around December. The cheating is necessary due to my computer problems. However the game was “new to me” only a few short months ago, as someone I know was getting rid of old “computer junk”, and I convinced him to let me grab any games that looked interesting. That’s how I ended up with a box of Sid Meier’s Covert Action. Now some gamers swear by Sid’s works, citing him as one of the few people in the videogames industry whose name in the title motivates a purchase (sorry American McGee… I don’t think you’re on this A-list yet… I really tried to like Scrapland though, so keep plugging away :). In any case, I had never heard of or played Covert Action before. Covert Action in short is a spygame. Obviously influenced by the secretive spy world of ciphers and tracking suspects and gathering clues together and even a slight touch of 007 thrown in. After a few hours of playing though, my attitude is somewhat adjusted: I’m playing the adult version of Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? Only there’s nothing about matching geographical clues. Instead I’m trying to figure out which enemy agents are working for which organizations (some politically apropos 20 years later) and what exactly they’re planning.
To give better detail, Covert Action is a series of minigames linked together by the common theme. The four minigames are basically: Wiretap (get hidden messages and clues, Cryptography (decode hidden messages), Break-in (the bulk of the game can be spent here, as clues are more frequently found) and Driving (chase down a suspect). Even including the extra challenges brought about by difficulty levels, the Wiretap and Driving minigames can be completely ignored and the player is still able to solve his or her case. Each sequence plays differently, Wiretap and Cyrptography are logic puzzles… while Break-In and Driving are action games from an overhead view. Each of these minigames is only so-so on it’s own. The real fun comes after clues are gathered with these methods: Trying to piece together the puzzle of the enemy plot and decide which partipants to go after first. However as the heat starts closing in and arresting the plot participants, they start to panic… and the most important ones go into hiding. Thus it’s always a gamble whether to arrest the peons, and delay the success of the evil scheme… or try to gather enough evidence to capture a criminal mastermind. All the while the clock is ticking and none of these agents necessarily have to be anywhere near one another on the globe, so it’s not uncommon to be traveling quickly to a new city hoping to arrest an enemy sniper BEFORE he kills his target. It’s particularly satisfying to find “incriminating evidence” (in the Break-In minigame only, hidden in conspicious red safes) which then can be used to turn enemy agents… which has the same result as an arrest, but without alerting any other members of the plot (turned criminals will “go along” with the scheme up to the point of actually making it a success (e.g. pulling the trigger)).
Covert Action was a game that’s never quite listed among Sid Meier’s greatest achivements. Sid himself complains that he doesn’t really like the game, thinking it an uneven mishmash of minigames that can’t quite decide what they want to be. In that he’s right, but the overall product and experience is still an enjoyable one and I had a lot of fun putting pieces of a international intrigue puzzle together. In that, it’s probably similar to the “spy novels” or Tom Clancy-esque material that sells well at bookstores. A worthwhile experience, but one that’s not “heavy” and can definitely be laughed at.
Screenshots available via the Mobygames Link