Back in the first US lead war in Iraq, the Gulf War, a team of 8 SAS soldiers were dropped into the depths of the enemy and carried out special operation missions. Three of those were killed in action, while four of them were taken prisoner. The only active soldier remaining from the team was acclaimed hero Chris Ryan, who crossed desert for eight straight days and finally escaped. What has this got to do with a PC game? well Codemasters have hired Chris to put his real-life input into IGI2: Covert Strike in an effort to produce the most realistic "behind enemy lines" action game to date. Has the unique inclusion of real-life input proved valuable? read on.
Gameplay - 7.5/10:
With the lack of any training mode it is a little hard to get into the groove of the game initially, as the first mission is quite a challenge in itself, but soon enough after maybe one or two restarts the feel of the game comes into your grasp and your ready to get serious.
Straight from the word go it is apparent that these enemies are not your common FPS boneheads. For one, they can actually shoot accurately, perhaps even a little too accurate at times, where the lying down position proves useless as a defence for fire. The only defence you have against fire is either your own firepower or concealment. If you really take your time and don't rush things, stealth can provide completion to most objectives or atleast it will get you close with a full bar of health.
Keeping yourself out of the enemies sight is not all that hard really, but it does test your patience. To correctly determine how visible you are, IGI2 includes a visibility bar which can also indicate when you have blown your cover with noise but enemies do not know exactly where you are. By crouching or lying down your visibility becomes lower, however this does not work at all times depending on the environment your attempting to hide in.
The one thing you do not want to happen in IGI2 is for an alarm to go off. Once this does happen, every man and his dog in the compound will go hunting for you. The AI in these situations is pretty solid, sometimes they will split into groups and take the flanks to corner you, other times they will take a good visible position and be on the lookout. If you open fire, they will take cover and return fire. As far as the gameplay goes, everything is very challenging and intense when a gun fight breaks out. Whether your sniping with a high powered rifle or your going in with the might of a M16A2, shooting feels realistic and very deadly, where one bullet could mean the end for a certain foe.
However the AI is then let down by the alarm system. If you manage to find a really good hiding spot and show no signs of movement the enemies will eventually stop the alarm and continue on their merry way like nothing happened. The main reason this is a disappointment is because, for an alarm to go off, you generally have to shoot something, or atleast be seen by the cameras. If you do happen to shoot down a guard and hide away until everything is back to normal, the other guards will walk around their fallen friend like he never existed. Somehow I don't think, if somebody was killed while inside a 'secure' compound, a guard would stop searching after 3 minutes.
As the single player mode carries on the story line behind it actually gets to be quite unique. The missions themselves are nothing new really, you go in, kill a few bad guys and go to the next mission, but the story has an unexpected twist towards the middle and continues on reasonably fresh. Another unique aspect of the single player mode can be found in the level size, which are at times huge. This makes for not only challenging missions, but very involved missions as well. I would say the average mission will atleast take half an hour.
IGI2 is far from the graphical perfection found in the Unreal Warfare based Splinter Cell, but the visuals are all-round reasonably good. Models in the game look realistic, with trees swaying in the wind, while special effects like reflective water surfaces are rendered appealingly. However it is clear that upon closer inspection some visual aspects like textures are not terribly high in quality, a lot of the time world textures appeared to move about and change form. On top of this, most textures are generally low res and look smudged when viewed closely.
Animations are another area which appear a little less impressive than expected. Closer objects will move decently however animated objects in mid and long range references look disjointed and generally jerky. Perhaps it is a way the engine improves performance, many games do it, but the idea is that the low quality long range animations don't come into the player's view, which is not true when you snipe.
Regardless, all in all, the graphics are a strong point of IGI2's as most of the negatives are only minor and generally unnoticeable during most of the gameplay.
Due to the clunky physics a lot of the control functions feel unrealistic and generally unpolished. For example, moving from a full stance, to crouch and then to a lying down position takes less than a second without any impressions of actually moving at all, for all we know the camera might have just moved down. IGI2 also seems to ignore the trend in FPS games these days, where moving while lying down is not portrayed as a viable mode of getting from point A to point B. Instead, in IGI2, moving around on your stomach gives the impression you are more snake than human. Maybe the SAS are hiding something from us?
Other than the above, the controls are relatively easy and effective. On top of extremely handy and powerful binoculars, you are also given thermal vision which is good for almost any situation where knowledge on close-by enemy positions are necessary. Also included is a peek function which helps to maintain your invisibility while recording valuable surveillance of the enemies.
Although IGI2 is far from a ground breaking sequel, it is a solid game that does offer a reasonably challenging experience. The issues and quirks prevent it from becoming a classic, and it is unlikely it will see widespread acclaim due to competing titles like Splinter Cell which is generally more polished. If I had to recommend the best special agent style game before I reviewed IGI2 I would say Splinter Cell, and after reviewing IGI2 I still stand by my recommendation, but whether Splinter Cell existed or not the fact remains IGI2 is an improvement on the original, and is a worthy challenge for even the upmost professional FPS gamer. In a sentence, what IGI2 lacks in overall detail it makes up in combat gameplay, and depending on your priorities that is either an acceptable fact or not.
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