2: Covert Strike
Review by Steerpike
Some years ago I reviewed a game called Project IGI: I'm Going
In. Of all the things I've ever written, from high school essays
to making my living as a writer, that review is a favorite of mine
because I was just so damned witty when I mocked the game's title.
I noted that Citizen Kane would not have been nearly as popular
had it been called Dude, Where's My Sled? and pointed out
that no matter how good or bad a game is, you're doomed without
a quality title. Project IGI: I'm Going In is an example
of a bad title.
It also had plenty of other problems, including a dumb-as-deadwood
AI, no in-mission saves, and a graphic engine that looked like it
had grown a coat of fur. I ridiculed and I lambasted. Just about
everyone else in the gaming press felt the same wayProject
IGI definitely won the "Nice Try" award but was too
deeply flawed to be worthy of serious attention.
Yet, years later, I still play the game. I still play the game.
On and off, yes; usually when I've been drinking, yes; but Project
IGI: I'm Going In has galled me for years because despite the
fact that it is desperately flawed, worthy of a 4 out of 10 at best,
it has a certain indefinable charm that has kept me coming back
to it over and over again. It is without question the only example
of a "bad" game that I play and replay.
So you can imagine my shame/excitement when Innerloop Studios announced
IGI 2: Covert Strike. They apparently sensed my derision
and retooled the I.G.I. acronym to mean not I'm Going In but
Institute for Geotactical Intelligence, a quasi-clandestine
international good-doers group. Once again you play the role of
David Llewelyn Jones, a former member of the British Special Air
Service turned mercenary. In a series of games best described as
a humorless No
One Lives Forever, Jones and the rest of the IGI
team trot the globe, righting wrongs and making the world safe for
The original Project IGI told the story of a nuclear warhead
stolen by Russian terrorists. Jones was tasked with first finding
and then securing the stolen nuke before the bad guys could flatten
a city with it. Helping along the way was Major Rebecca Anya, your
voluptuous blonde controller who offered mission briefings, occasional
witticisms, and moral support, all while sitting behind a computer
ten thousand miles away dressed in a completely unmilitary spray-on
T-shirt and jeans.
For those few who finished that insanely difficult and often ridiculously
frustrating game, one final disappointment awaited: after you secured
the nuke, Anya, having joined you physically a few missions earlier,
comes bouncing in to defuse it. Once she finishes, you're taken
without warning back to the Main Menu. There was no closure in a
game that had made a pretty serious effort to be a story-driven
Meanwhile, IGI 2: Covert Strike deals largely with
betrayal within the IGI ranks and the theft of some valuable computer
technology that's apparently immune to damage from the electromagnetic
pulse released by a nuclear detonation.
Compared to Project IGI's race-against-time broken arrow
franticity, the mystery terrorists led by Ekk, a seriously insane
former KGB wetgirl, and the elusive, irritatingly indispensable
information possessed by chunky arms dealer Jach Priboi, IGI 2:
Covert Strike tells a frankly more obvious and less gripping
story. Even the traitorous leanings of some characters don't raise
many hackles, as they're new characters in which we have no preexisting
Which is not to say the game is bad. It's a vast improvement over
the original in nearly every single measurable way; however, it
remains to be seen if this sequel holds me in the same mysterious
thrall that the original does.
My computer hates Covert Strike. Nine times out of ten it
returns an illegal operation when I try to start the game; that
tenth time, however, the title runs just fine. I blame the Radeon
9700 Pro (so does Codemasters tech support); ATI makes the worst
drivers in the world, has no interest in making better drivers,
and will go down in history as King Suck the Sucky, Ruler of Suckland,
when it comes to driver support. For those with similar stability
problems, there is a patch available, though you won't find it on
either Innerloop's or Codemasters' US websites; the UK patch is
out (the UK version of the game is apparently identical to the US
version) and can be found here.
This patch addresses some known issues with the Radeon's crapalicious
drivers, as well as some other basics. Other than my start problem,
however, I've found Covert Strike to be very stable.
Covert Strike uses an engine similar to that of its predecessor.
IGI's real claim to fame was the use of the Joint Strike
Fighter graphics engine, a flight-sim codebase that allowed
the game to model vast areas of outdoor terrain realistically. It
was the key to IGI's great exterior level design. Sadly,
the terrain, when viewed from person-height rather than airplane-height,
was little more than a gross, overfiltered soup. This sequel fixes
that while retaining good exterior modeling.
Covert Strike doesn't use pixel shaders, but it does employ
some slick water and particle effects, plus realistic landscape
features and human modeling. They're still using sprites for trees,
but the only serious complaint about Covert Strike's graphic
engine is the lack of dynamic lighteven so, it looks fairly
good. Engine-supported anti-aliasing and excellent positional audio
are icing on the cake. Innerloop didn't fail us technologically
with the first IGI and they don't fail us this time. The
tightness and stability of their engines (not counting the crappy
performance of King Suck the Sucky's video drivers) is likely the
result of the company's focus on the console space, where sloppy
code is less forgivable.
IGI was teased because it tried to concentrate on realism
and stealth when it was really balls-to-the-wall action; it was
easier to go in guns blazing and ignore the alarms, despite the
fact that opponents respawned and seemed almost preternaturally
aware of Jones's presence. In Covert Strike, Innerloop made
a concerted and generally successful effort to produce a truly realistic
stealth/infiltration gameif the alarm goes off now, you're
doomed unless for some reason you've planned it that way.
Once you get used to the keyboard controls, which at first seem
daunting, you'll appreciate the ability to stand, crouch, or lie
prone; run, walk, or creep; look through thermal goggles as well
as binoculars, zoom and manipulate the map computer, and so much
more. Take the time to map your keys the way you want and you'll
soon be quite comfortable in the game's well-designed interface.
Finally, and rather inexplicably, Covert Strike includes
a Counterstrike-ish multiplayer mode. It's okay, but certainly
nothing to write home about; the missions deal mostly with planting
or disarming bombs. You can even buy weapons and equipment at team
spawn points, just like in Counterstrike. The two titles
even sound similar. Weird.
Note to developers: it is not necessary to include multiplayer
in every FPS you make. In fact, it wouldn't kill you to spend your
development dollars creating a really solid single-player game (which,
luckily, Covert Strike is). Just because multiplay is the
"in" thing right now doesn't mean that your audience will
not buy a game that doesn't include it as a feature. You should
especially avoid spending time and money to include multiplayer
if it's an exact copy of the most popular multiplayer FPS
available now. That is all.
Covert Strike's AI is certainly better than its predecessor's.
In that game, opponents ignored corpses, explosions, firefights,
and other subtle clues that something was amiss around them; you
could shoot an enemy in the head and the guy standing next to him
wouldn't notice. Try that in Covert Strike and you're going
to get your ass handed to you. In the same vein as Rogue Spear
and Counterstrike, a shot to the noodle will kill you
every time. This is not one of those games where you can absorb
gunfireyou'd be wise to not get shot at all, and wiser still
to not get seen.
But the AI is not perfect. Enemies still see you too easily, shoot
you too accurately, and have an unfairly strong sixth sense. For
example, a "realistic" AI would not assume that a person
standing in a tower with a sniper rifle is a bad guyespecially
if there's supposed to be a dude in the tower with a rifle. A "realistic"
AI would look twice, or radio in with the old TK-421, why aren't
you at your post? rather than screaming for its mother and spraying
the tower down with bullets. Nor would a "realistic" AI
assume that every click or pop or footstep is an opponent. So Covert
Strike's AI is not "realistic." In fact, it's not
very good compared to most stealth/shooter AIsbut it's better
than it was before.
Covert Strike also adds a limited in-mission save feature,
and it's a lifesaver. Project IGI was neither brief nor easy,
so the lack of in-mission saves (both IGI and IGI 2
save automatically between missions) made it a nightmare. Now
you can save a handful of times during the mission, which helps
a lot but still encourages you to be judicious about saving.
Jones's inventory also has been tweaked. You can only carry a handful
of weapons: a primary, which is a rifle of some sortusually
an unsilenced automatic like the MP5 or ever-popular AK-47; a secondary,
typically a silenced pistol like the SoCom or Glock, though the
.50 Desert Eagle and others are available; and your usual combat
knife plus some grenades. On special missions you might have the
opportunity to carry or find anything from an RPG launcher to a
laser designator, allowing you to call in airstrikes on enemy positions.
Ammunition sizes match in this game as wellthe AK-47 and Dragunov
both accept 7.62mm rounds, for example, so their ammo can be used
interchangeably, as it should.
Covert Strike's armory is even vaster than that of its predecessor.
Normally in the original you started out with an MP5 but always
wound up with an AK, since that's what the bad guys carried. Here
you start with any one of several cool weapons and have the opportunity
to pick up more. Sadly, to do this you often have to swap weapon
A for weapon B, a choice that can break a man's heart when he's
holding the glorious Pinelli Jackhammer and finds the magnificent
FN MiniMI on a shelf. Ah, dilemmas that warm the soul.
Yes, there are weapons galore in Covert Strike, and they
are not vague copies of one anotherthere are clear and obvious
benefits and drawbacks to each in rate of fire, clip capacity, range,
accuracy, penetration, and audibility. All told, some thirty weapons
with which to smite thine enemies are available. So many bullets,
so little time. One thing I want to see in IGI 3 (if
there is one) is the ability to customize your own weapons and equipment
loadout, NOLF style. That, plus some additional stealth options
like a garrote and rappelling line would make the game even more
The first two missions are stupid, boring, ill-conceived, and too
difficult. For gamers who are patient enough to suffer through them,
however, all of the following missions show a spark of the clever
design and attention to detail seen in the original IGI. Better
yet, you get some nice variety in the locales you visit. I preferred
the level design in the original to that in this sequel, and that's
the principal reason it gets the thumbs up rather than the gold
star; though Covert Strike is an improvement in many ways,
it also lacks qualities that its predecessor had.
Some of the "improvements" are, well, not. Everyone who
played IGI remembers the SVD Dragunov, perhaps the best-loved
sniper rifle of any FPS. It's back in Covert Strike, but
... they took the silencer off. The earsplitting KERBLAM that
followed my first pull of the Dragunov's trigger in this sequel
broke my heart (figuratively) and Jones's head (literally) as another
sniper across the map bisected me with his own round. Stealth nuts,
the secrecy of long-range sniping is no longer an option. The MP5,
also, lost its sound suppressor. If you want to be quiet, you can
sneak up behind people and snap their necks like twigs in
this game, which is awesome though difficult because you have to
be very sneaky indeed.
Jones is played by a different actor, one who in fact sounds even
less British to me than the original, and the voice acting in general
is mediocre. The actor playing Jach Priboi, the brutal, hammer-wielding
arms dealer you can't help but want to hug, is especially poor;
I don't recall him speaking much in the original, but if he turns
up in IGI 3 they'd better get someone with talent.
The two lead characters are okay. The actress playing the (American)
Rebecca Anya is so appallingly Canadian that it's amusing to listen
to her (Americans don't say "aboot"), though her acting
is pretty good. The new guy they got to play Jones is also all right,
except for the accentI'm going to be mortified if he turns
out to be Britishbut I don't approve of changing actors in
midstream unless they're bad actors. The last guy who played
Jones was better. Other than that, the voice actors really chewed
up the scenery, and Innerloop should look to Shiny's insistence
on quality voice acting as part of the package. Getting Rob (or,
rather, Bjorn, since Innerloop is Norwegian) from Human Resources
to play the role of Mekvlar the oddball alien pilot never works
As stated above, Innerloop is from Norway, so I can forgive a certain
ignorance of American politics. Still, about nine seconds on the
internet would have revealed their most obvious and embarrassing
error: specifically, Senator Patrick Lenahan, founder of IGI and
unfortunately a Republican, is "the leading Senator in the
House of Representatives." Take a minute with that. Leading
Senator. House of Representatives. If you still haven't guessed,
go back to high school.
Then there's the portrayal of Anya. In the original IGI she
was overtarted, but she also kicked ass and was obviously the brains
of the Anya/Jones partnership. It was Anya who directed Jones to
his objectives; Anya who told him what his next steps were; Anya
who helped him when he was injured, alone, and terribly frightened
as in the awesome "Border Crossing" mission of the first
IGI; and finally, Anya who defused the bomb at the end. In
fact, the only reason she wasn't doing Jones's job throughout Project
IGI (according to the instructions) was because she'd been hurt
in Desert Storm and was confined to a desk. Truth be told, it's
Anya's unexplored potential for character development that keeps
me coming back to the crappy Project IGI. So I'm deeply disappointed
with Innerloop for how Anya is treated in Covert Strike, and
I expect better behavior in the futurethough a glance at the
splash page for Innerloop.com
says a lot about how they treat women in their games.
Anya doesn't turn up until the middle of Covert Strike, and
when she does, she's wearing a new midriff-baring T-shirt. She constantly
examines her nails. She talks like a Malibu Barbie ("nuclear
physics is hard"). She has manga-sized baby blues. She would
win a Lara Croft-Rebecca Anya-Cate Archer Boob Off. Worse, she's
not cool any more. She's just a curvy chick, not a brilliant
strategist and soldier who happens to be female.
The writers failed to further develop her as an interesting female
character. And I say this as a male who approves of hot chicks as
much as the next but believes that story and character development
deserve more importance. Just once I'd like to see a developer create
a cool female character first and worry about her bust size second.
Ultimately IGI 2: Covert Strike is more of the same with
most of the critical improvements that the original required. Unlike
its predecessor, playing this game is not an exercise in rage managementit
is challenging but logical, difficult but fun. Speaking as a person
who can't help but like the desperately flawed original and who
is usually disappointed by sequels, I was pleasantly impressed by
Covert Strike. It is, without question, worth your money
if you're an FPS fan who happens to enjoy FPS games in the vein
of Thief, Deus Ex, and Rainbow Six.
It addresses the gross inadequacies of the original by adding an
in-mission save and improving enemy AIthough the AI is still
nowhere near as good as it should be. These two items were really
all that kept Project IGI from potential worthiness. At the
same time, however, it lacks as compelling a story and similar attention
to design detail; in the IGI series, some of the missions
from the original are so great ("Eagle's Nest II," "Protect
Priboi," "Nuclear Infiltration") that their quality
may never be achieved again. Still, the work they did in Covert
Strike is nothing to sniff atand though the game doesn't
deserve a Gold Star, it's well worth the award it has received.
Stealth/shooter fans sick of playing mediocre console ports, rejoiceIGI
has returned. To say it's "better than ever" is going
too far; instead let's just say "it's a heck of a lot better."
Release Date: March 2003
Four Fat Chicks Links
Pentium or Athlon 700 (1.2 GHz recommended)
128 MB RAM (512 MB recommended)
32 MB compatible video card (64 MB recommended)
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