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The Name's Max... Max Remington: Sid Meier's Covert Action

by Angry Jedi » Wed Jul 30, 2014 6:01 pm

Covert Action1.jpg


I recall seeing an ad for Sid Meier's Covert Action back when it originally released, and was thoroughly intrigued by the premise. Being barely more than a nipper at the time, however, I wasn't in a position where I could purchase new games for myself, and so it was that I never got to sample its delights.

Until now, that is, thanks to the fact it's on GOG.com.

Covert Action4.jpg


For the uninitiated, Sid Meier's Covert Action (hereafter simply Covert Action) is a spy simulator from the great mind that gave us Civilization and Pirates. In terms of execution, it's much closer to the latter than the former (unsurprisingly) but is very much its own beast in its own right.

Taking on the role of Max or Maxine Remington -- to use the rather tired "joke" that the games industry is oh-so-fond-of at the moment, take note at how easy it is to include a female character, Ubisoft -- you're tasked with uncovering a series of elaborate (and randomly generated) plots from various bands of evildoers around the world. In order to do this, you'll have to snoop around, tap phones, tail suspects in your car and decode messages. As you proceed on your merry, discreet way, you'll uncover various pieces of information about the various ne'er-do-wells who are involved in Today's Big Plot of Evil, and ultimately gather enough evidence to be able to 1) track them down and 2) arrest them. Your ultimate aim is to arrest the 26 "mastermind" characters who are causing substantial amounts of trouble for the world -- only then will Max/Maxine be able to retire and enjoy life to the fullest.

Covert Action2.jpg


As you can probably tell from the description, Covert Action is an enormously ambitious affair held back somewhat -- though surprisingly not as much as you might think -- by the technological limitations of the time. Despite being randomly generated, the game manages to spin a series of convincing, compelling mini-thriller tales that you're right in the middle of -- and you feel like you're an important part of the emerging, unfolding narrative.

Your various spying activities are represented by minigames. Wiretapping and planting tracers on cars is represented by a game in which you swap chips around in an attempt to prevent electricity flowing to certain destinations -- particularly alarms. Tailing a suspect or arresting them in a car chase takes the form of a bizarre driving game in which you control two cars simultaneously as you navigate them around a sprawling city map. Cracking codes requires you to actually crack codes using your own powers of deduction. And when you break into a building, whether it's to arrest a suspect or simply to gather some information, the game shifts into a top-down tactical shooter-action-adventure-stealth-type affair in which you rifle through drawers, shoot enemies, steal their clothes to disguise yourself and hopefully manage to not set off any alarms.

Covert Action3.jpg


Your efforts in these games will reward you with pieces of information, each of which will help build up a dossier on the evildoers involved. You'll be provided with a few simple clues at the start, and these files will be further fleshed out as you progress until you reach a situation where you have enough conclusive evidence to take someone down and make the charges stick. But if you leave members of a plot at large, don't count on them seeing the error of their ways -- there's every possibility they might show up in a later case to break their buddy out of the clink.

I've only played one case so far, but I'm already thoroughly enamoured with this game, despite its minimal sounds and revolting EGA graphics. There are a ton of cool touches -- having to recognise people visually without prompting when observing a building is very cool and "spy-ish", while the codebreaking is legitimately satisfying -- and it's a game that I would absolutely love to see a modern-day remake of. In the meantime, though, the original version holds up a lot better than I thought it would, and for those of you starving for some authentic-feeling espionage action, I can highly recommend it based on what I've played so far.
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Re: The Name's Max... Max Remington: Sid Meier's Covert Acti

by Alex Connolly » Wed Jul 30, 2014 10:05 pm

Always wanted to play this! Now seems to be the time!
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Re: The Name's Max... Max Remington: Sid Meier's Covert Acti

by Angry Jedi » Mon Aug 04, 2014 11:48 pm

Surprised and delighted to discover that there's a whole wiki devoted to this game and how it works. Take a look -- be warned, though, spoilers abound; the game is a lot more fun if you play through at least a few cases and see how things unfold for yourself.

It's a really interesting game. Rather than things unfolding as a single, ongoing campaign, it's instead split into smaller "cases" that take 30-60 minutes to complete. Each case is led by a criminal mastermind, and it's your ultimate aim to capture all of these masterminds. They're not the only participants in each plot, though; they have a team of accomplices helping to make their plan come to fruition, and in order to get the best evaluation on each case you're going to need to think carefully about who does what and arrest people in the right order -- because arresting someone before they fulfil their role in the major crime of the case will break the plot and cause the other participants to go into hiding, preventing you from catching them. This may include the mastermind.

Let me give you an example. A case I played today saw a group attempting to kidnap a scientist who knew important information about satellites. The sequence of events ran something like this:

- Organiser sends a message to Financer
- Financer withdraws money
- Financer holds on to money
- Financer hands off money to Kidnapping Mastermind
- Kidnapping Mastermind sends message to Kidnapper
- Kidnapper kidnaps target

If I were to, say, arrest the Financer before he handed the money off to the Kidnapping Mastermind, the latter party would realise that something was up and bolt, as would the Kidnapper themselves. I'd have prevented the crime, but at the expense of being able to arrest some of the participants. In other words, I'd get credit, but not quite as much as if I'd have arrested everybody involved in the plot.

What you can do in some situations, then, is seek incriminating evidence while you're infiltrating an agent's headquarters. This allows you to "turn" them to act as a double agent, which means they will go back to performing their role as normal, but feed you information as they go, allowing you a much better chance of being able to capture everyone involved quickly and efficiently.

The minigames involved in cracking the cases are simplistic but fun, and the whole thing hangs together a whole lot better than Meier himself reportedly believed it did when he first released it onto an unsuspecting world.
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Re: The Name's Max... Max Remington: Sid Meier's Covert Acti

by Beige » Fri Aug 15, 2014 1:38 pm

I had absolutely no idea that this even existed. The Sid hole goes deep dunnit? I remember digging into Pirates back in the day and being confused and delighted that the oeuvre outside of Civilization was as weird and comprehensive as it was. Will have to check it out sometime -- spy stuff is has so much unrealized potential in the world of gaming.
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Re: The Name's Max... Max Remington: Sid Meier's Covert Acti

by Angry Jedi » Thu Sep 25, 2014 9:19 am

Yep. Covert Action is held back a little by the limitations of its technology, but it's a solid effort. Would love to see a 2014 version.
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Re: The Name's Max... Max Remington: Sid Meier's Covert Acti

by Angry Jedi » Sun Oct 12, 2014 9:57 am

This is now available on Steam, for those who are into that.
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Re: The Name's Max... Max Remington: Sid Meier's Covert Acti

by Alex Connolly » Sun Oct 12, 2014 11:30 am

It's installed and waiting until I can infiltrate the schedule and slot it in. But it's installed!

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