The Sting!

Review by Old Rooster
March 2002

JoWood Productions is one of my favorite smallish distributors. Headquartered in Germany, they often make or remake titles we've seen in some other form before, typically with their own peculiar twists. Nations, a fine little game, is much like the famous Settlers series; WWII Black Gold uses the Earth 2150 strategy engine; while Jack Orlando is the "Director's Cut," updating an earlier adventurer favorite. Another distinction of JoWood is that their games usually start out in the U.S. at about $29.99, soon drop to $19.99, and finally can often be had for $9.99, or even a measly $2.99! Today we look at one of those $3 games, one for which I would pay $30, and one that is not only not a clone, but distinctive, perhaps unique, certainly greatly underappreciated—The Sting!

"There's a Small Hotel ..."

Matt Tucker is out of prison, with $15, a crowbar, map of Fortune City, and his unique VCR-type "burglary desk planner." His room at the hotel is small, but the city is huge, NPCs are many, cars to use are plentiful, and it's time to get back to what he knows best—the science and art of thievery!

JoWood Productions has delivered one of the most interesting and intriguing games I've seen in some time. It's almost impossible to categorize—try "simulation/strategy/puzzle/adventure." The Sting! is really for a certain kind of gamer—one who enjoys meticulous planning and has a high level of patience, as well as high frustration tolerance. It's a hard and huge game—both in terms of the virtual world and number of missions—that is also tremendous fun, can be approached in pieces for a half-hour or so at a time, and can be a real midnight-oil burner for a player with a particular (peculiar?) mindset.

"... By a Wishing Well"

Mild-manner adventurers, please note—our hero, Matt, is an intellectual, cautious kind of thief—eschewing the use of any kind of weapons or personal violence (this is a distinctly nonviolent, bloodless game, especially given the subject matter). Rather, to get back in the good graces of his underworld society, Matt must prove himself, as well as build up money and inventory, through the planning and successful execution of initially quite straightforward burglaries. Beginning with a gas station, he moves up to a movie theater, museum, greenhouse, hotel, and ever more demanding and intricate assignments. These open gradually during the game, being dependent on successful completion of easier tasks. Indeed, Matt himself gains reputation upgrades as well as more money to use.

JoWood claims the "biggest virtual town" ever. And it is large, sometimes too much so, even bigger than the worlds of Outcast or Omikron, particularly in its detail. There are 20 places to burgle, 70 other buildings that can be visited, 60 NPCs with whom to interact, 50 different getaway vehicles—all of these in a 1950s setting, bringing back some fond memories ("memories of what", says Helga, "your criminal past?").

We mentioned Matt's personal planner recorder. Use of this tool forms the unique heart of the game. After selecting a target, scouting it out (points of entrance, possible alarms and patrolmen), Matt will look to his needs—tools, possible accomplices, getaway car. Adding to his repertoire likely will involve exploring, meeting guys at the bar, conversations, more money. Back at the desk, Matt then selects what he believes necessary for "the job," starts his recorder, and literally proceeds to carry out the burglary. The genius of this approach is that this is still a planning phase. It's as if you're sending a virtual or ghost Matt and his team to the robbery site, finding where alarms are, how doors open, whether police are patrolling. You can't be arrested or caught. You're there, but not really. This is where the detailed planning comes in—e.g., "Uh oh, that crowbar was a bit too noisy on that door, attracted a security guard; better use a quiet lock pick." In the safety of your little room, you back the recorder up to substitute that lock pick, or make any other needed modification. Or you can scrap the whole plan and start fresh.

"The Best Laid Plans ..."

Your plan is sure to be foolproof! You've wandered the streets, recruiting the best helpers, have appropriate tools, found a good-sized and fast getaway car, and have walked through the target site in detail. Then what? Well, turn the recorder on, for real, and let it play out—a bit as it might in Majesty, for example. Unfortunately, you'll typically find you missed something—perhaps a tool made more noise than anticipated and was heard by a watchman, or the actual peripheral vision of a policeman (remember Commandos?) was larger than you had hoped. The solution? Why, redo your plan accordingly, and try again!

How Does The Sting! Control, Look, and Sound?

We've looked at what the game's about and, generally, how it plays—the most important attributes for most games. As to interface and control, The Sting! is played from a three-quarters overhead viewpoint, with Matt as the central character. The camera rotates and has about a three-to-one zoom. Much of Matt's movement and object/character interaction resembles an adventure title—all controlled by the mouse, with "examine, use, converse" choices made available by illuminated "hot spots."

The manual is 90 pages long and nicely done. The included online tutorial is excellent, covering all needed gameplay mechanics, and it can be revisited in whole or part (a necessity, if you take a break for a couple of days). Auto and regular saves anywhere are present, with the in-game interface (money, map, inventory) being effective.

Camera control, which can be automatic or manual, is sometimes awkward, but Matt is not under time pressure in foraging or planning, so you can put up with some occasional annoyances. During 30 hours of play, I only experienced two minor crashes. Finally, the game will install with only 100 MB of HD free space, a nice feature for those of us with hard drive and other mental limitations.

Graphics are colorful, vibrant, cartoony—supposedly a 1950s style. Resolution settings range from 300x200 to 1600x1200. Graphics do seem a bit dated and less than one may expect given the minimum and recommended requirements for the game. However, they're certainly at least serviceable and don't present an offense to this reviewer.

Speech is essentially absent, with NPC conversations taking place with captions. Sound effects are sparse but nicely done, and they become critical (much as with Thief) in most missions. Music is a very nice piano/jazz mix, presumably in fifties style.

Is The Sting! Fun and Recommended?

The Sting! has bite! It's a hit. There may be some rough edges (blocky graphics, clunky camera, spastic movement), but the overall play and fun far outweigh such picky faultfinding. This is a different (very different), inventive, large game that gives great value for the ridiculously low price. With its small HD footprint of 100 MB, it will stay with me a long time, while I retry some missions for more loot and better results. The game is very much a matter of taste and does require a love of detailed planning and the patient willingness to try, try again. But if you enjoy the preparation phase of Rainbow 6, the sneaky/burglary emphasis of Thief, the puzzle/strategy aspect of Commandos, and the joy of watching the results of selections in Majesty, I can't help but conclude you will share my surprise and delight with The Sting!

What I Liked the Most

The gameplay is very different, even unique; the setting is large, with many missions; the VCR approach to play is quite novel.

What I Liked the Least

The Sting! requires considerable patience; you have no control during a mission play-out; camera angles can be awkward. The End

The Verdict

The Lowdown

Developer: Neo
Publisher: JoWood Productions
Release Date: September 2001

Available for: Windows

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System Requirements

PII 300 (PIII 600 recommended)
64 MB RAM (128 MB recommended)
3D video card

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