Review by Old
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 underappreciatedThe
"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 bestthe 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 categorizetry "simulation/strategy/puzzle/adventure."
The Sting! is really for a certain kind of gamerone
who enjoys meticulous planning and has a high level of patience,
as well as high frustration tolerance. It's a hard and huge gameboth
in terms of the virtual world and number of missionsthat 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 noteour hero, Matt, is an
intellectual, cautious kind of thiefeschewing 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 vehiclesall 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 needstools, 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 ine.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 outa bit as it might in Majesty, for example.
Unfortunately, you'll typically find you missed somethingperhaps
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 playsthe
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 titleall 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
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, cartoonysupposedly 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
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.
Release Date: September 2001
Four Fat Chicks Links
PII 300 (PIII 600 recommended)
64 MB RAM (128 MB recommended)
3D video card