Explosive action, shaken not stirred

Covert Action logo

MICROPROSE * £34.99 * 1 meg * Joystick/keyboard * Out now

I gripped my Uzi tighter. My palms were sweating and my gloves felt sticky. I glanced over my shoulder. The motion detector was showing nothing, but I could have sworn something moved. The stun grenade booby trap was still intact. I went back to work.
The safe-cracking equipment did its job and I began to search through the papers. A name, a photo, a meeting place. I photographed them all for later use.

Carefully closing the safe, I moved across to the picture on the wall. I removed it from its resting guards were behind him.
As they charged into the room, I rose from behind the desk and raked my Uzi from left to right. The guards fired back,and a bullet shudded into my body armour.
Seconds later, and the guards' bodies were hidden out of sight and I was continuing my work, the alarm bells shrieking out a warning. Hard to believe that only one hour before I'd been soaking up the sun in Rio.

Blimey! It could almost be Anneka Rice on the Holiday programme, couldn't it? But it's not. No, surprisingly enough, that is exactly what you'll be doing when you play Covert Action. Yep, it's Microprose's long-awaited spy simulator.

Well OK, it's not really a spy simulator. It's actually billed as a "techno thriller", but th3re's no sign of drugged-up ravers in dust masks, you'll be glad to hear. In fact, it's quite hard to compare Covert Action to anything at all. It's actually, gasp, An Original Idea!

OK, so what do you do? Well, you take on the role of Max Remington, ace secret agent and inventor of that things that shaves jumpers. And by the way, Max can stand for either Maximmillian or Maxine, so there's noe of this sexism here.

You'll be given your tasks by the CIA bossman (who looks alarmingly like of Gorby) and you've got to do them. But it's not that easy.
Rather than telling you what to do, the bossman just tells you that some terrorist organisation or other is getting a bit suspicious and you've got to find out what they're up to. How you do this is, more or less, entirely up to you.

Or you can go for the obvious option and break into their buildings and have a rummage around to see what you can find. Slowly but surely you'll build up a case file on all the people involved in the operation. You'll now have to find out all you can about these agents. Who they are, who they work for, what their role in the whole affair is.

You'll also need to steal incriminating documents and decipher them to discover what they're up to, and also what their relation is to one another. Keep this up and you should be able to figure out what they're planning to do and stop it.

To arrest an enemy agent, you need to first find out where they are, and then break in. Search the building and you'll eventually find them sitting around.
If you're sure you know exactly how they're tied up in all the dirty dealings, then you can arrest them - otherwise they'll just walk away from the charges.

Work your way through the organisation and hopefully capture the Mastermind behind it all. Capture all the Masterminds from all the enemy organisations and you get to put your feet up at the taxpayers' expense. Phew!

So let's look at the four main sections in turn, shall we? First of all, there's Phone Tapping. This takes the form of a puzzly bit in which you have to cut off the flow of electricity to the phones without tripping alarms. And it's supernaturally hard. Luckily, it's not essential to progress.

Then there's the Car Chase section. This is, unfortunately, utter crap. It looks terrible and it's very hard to work up any excitement at all about it. Just watching some little blobby sprites chug round an unconvincing city map. Ho hum.

Now we come to Code Breaking. This bit is good fun, actually. Each letter in the coded message actually stands for a different letter, so A could really be F, for instance. Work out what each letter really is, and the message starts to take shape. Simple, but fun and rewarding.

And finally, the Computer/Break In section. This is the best bit of all. Pick your tools carefully from the inventory and then start to move through the building. Shoot guards, rifle through desks, crack safes, use gas grenades, set up traps - it's great.

The control system does seem a little strange at first, but it soon becomes second nature and you'll be leaping over furniture and dodging bullets with no trouble at all.
On top of all this, there's always the question of who's involved, and can you trust the local information? Should you arrest the enemies contact now, or later on? One wrong move and the rest of the operation goes into hiding and then you're really scuppered.

In short, Covert Action is massive. All the missions are interlinked, with all the enemy in cahoots and working towards some fiendish conclusion. Solve one mission, and you'll find that it leads to the next. The whole thing slots together perfectly to create probably the first every truly intriguing spy game.

There are a few moans. The graphics are a bit on the dull side, and the fact that you have to photograph a file to see if there's anything of use in it is a pain. This means that you waste precious film just looking in empty desks and stuff.

But what the hell? Covert Action is by no means a perfect game. It's not even brilliant. But it is an interesting and novel change from the currently creaking RPG bandwagon. You'll know already whether or not it sounds like your thang. If so, investigate it!

Covert Action logo

In the world of espionage and counterespionage, there is one name that is synonymous with excellence, power, stealth and above all independence. That name is Remington, Max Remington.

Max is not your average sort of undercover agent. Max is a mystery. He once worked for the CIA, but was fed up with all the restrictions imposed on their operations. Max left to start up his own freelance detective work to get away from all the red tap and continue with an operation only Max could handle. Not much is known about Max and now, through an identity change, he is almost untraceable - a legend.

Get the max
Max is good, and likes to promote this aspect by only ever taking on assignments that are personally challenging. This basically means that Max is a last resort. If ever there is a case of any major importance, that needs speed, deftness and a guarantee that it will be solved - it woll come to Max. It's this guarantee that makes him important to his contractors.

There is only one exception to Max's rule, and that is that any case personally requested by the President will see Max's personal attention, no matter how large or small. Max's reputation has earned him respect and of course malice. Sometimes Max is just too darned good....

Your mission varies from a small starter mission of minor importance, on a local scale, to a massive and complex mission on a global scale, involving worldwide parties, requiring skills only Max, with all the new technology and raw thought power, is capable of, utilising them to solve the mammoth tasks that these missions entail. Maximillian or Maxine - whichever you prefer, is trained in four fundamental areas of espionage.

The Four Commandments
One - Combat. This involves the use of fire-power and general tactics to overcome guards and other live agents in various ways, such as setting traps or using tools such as motion detectors to avoid encounters and generally take care of your well being. The use of machine-guns, grenades and other weapons is a must, and good skills in this area are vital.

Two - pursuit. Following suspects around is a major part of a spy's activities, and it is important that this task is done as stealthily as possible. You must select for a good car balanced between, speed, maneuverability, and as inconspicuous as possible, in order to keep up with any cars you might be following.

Three - Cryptography. This involves translating and deciphering coded messages intercepted from opposing organisations. This doesn't simply entail converting these messages to a readable form, it also requires a great deal of thought to pick out hidden clues embedded within the message, invariably giving pointers towards certain people or places.

Finally - Electronics. This is where you have to be able to construct or modify electronic circuits in car tracers, or to disable alarms. You also have to be able to tap phones without being caught and be able to link partially-connected circuits together. Speed is of the essence here, with guards all to ready to foil your attempts.

Apart from having to go through these four major sections, all the way through the mission, there are a load of other incidental exercises, where a combination of all your skills in the four basic disciplines is required to complete all of the tasks. The game is a very deep and involved affair and employs a unique kind of gameplay suited to a style that a complex operation such as this would need in real life, with clues falling together in an almost random manner.

With a multitude of scenarios and compelling gameplay. Covert Action is not a game you can easily put down once you have got into it. It's also very easy to come back to with a save-game option to take you right back with a save game option to take you right back into the thick of the action after a break.

It's also a good idea to save your game frequently as you progress, so you can go back a bit, just in case you take a wrong step. The game doesn't run very fast, but this is mainly because you spend most of the time thinking about clues, and your next move. This is a game that can really make you think, and put you in a 007-type position, it beats the Living Daylights out of a shoot-em-up any day of the week.

Covert Action logo

Burst into rooms and fire in all directions, screech around the city streets in a Lamborghini and blatantly disregard international law before legging it to the airport. Yep, you are a secret agent doing a spot of covert action. Well, it's not particularly covert, is it? If you want, you can opt for the more subtle approach, but what the hell, eh?

You play the world's number one secret agent on the trail of various nefarious groups of villains. You gather clues, follow suspects, tap phones and chat with your CIA cronies before going in for the arrest and the inevitable shooting or two. There are four sub games covering driving, code-breaking, electronics and break-ins.

The rest of the game is presented ina series of menus and information screens. There's no linear plot; you basically wander round the major capitals of the world until you've tracked down the masterminds behind each of the evil plots. Then it's back to base for a few pats on the back from the chief before sodding off to Paris for the weekend with the girl you pick-up along the way.

Closing the case
The style is original and the slow build up of clues and leads is interesting enough. But it's easy to get confused or frustrated and just opt for the brute force method of shooting your way through the case. The driving sub-game is crap and looks like an afterthought.

The electronic section where you rig up phone taps turns out to be a logic puzzle game, as does the code breaking. They add a little skill to the proceedings. The break-in section is where the arcade skills come in but it's pretty awful really. The graphics are uninspiring and as an arcade game doesn't cut any custard.

Those without hard drives may want to stamp on the disks; almost every change of screen requires a bout of accessing, making things very slow. Having said that though, the game has a strange attraction as you draw nearer your prey. The freedom of action means you need to plan things out if you're not going to end up slumped in a Cairo alleyway.

The sound is decent enough but unimaginative. It's not the game for action freaks; the more thoughtful types who fancy themselves as protectors of the free world by applying a spot of logic may be in for a buzz. The rest of us will get bored and wander away after a while. Nice idea, but no cigar.

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Der Moskauer Michi ist ja nun nicht mehr der böse Feind, trotzdem brauchen sich haupt- und nebenberufliche Spürnasen keine Sorgen zu machen: Microprose weiß, was Wanzen wünschen!

Nach den PC-Spionen sind jetzt also die Amiga-Agenten gefordert, die unheilvollen Aktivitäten diverser Geheimdienste und Terrorgruppen auszuschnüffelen - Sid Meier macht es möglich. Zu Beginn wartet das Adventure mit einer groben Beschreibung der drohenden Gefaht und (abhängig vom Schwierigkeitsgrad) ein paar weiterführenden Hinweisen auf.

Um nun die Entführung oder den Bombenanschlag zu verhindern, ist zunächst Schreibtischarbeit angesagt: Mit Hilfe verschiedener Menüs darf man sich die neueste Aktenlage zu Gemüte führen, abgefangene Botschaften entziffern oder befreundete Nachrichtendienste kontaktieren.

Aber ein Bond ist kein Buchhalter, deshalb gibt es natürlich auch Action in Form von Lauschangriffen, Einbrüchen oder Verfolgungsjagden mit dem Auto samt Festnahme der Verdächtigen. All dies wird in Form kleiner Unterspielchen präsentiert, teils recht liebevoll, teils nicht recht so überwältigend.

Geht man clever genug vor, blasen die Bösewichte alles ab und tauchen unter - der Fall darf zu den Akten, und die nächste Verschwörung ist an der Reihe.

Grafisch kann der Tanz der Spione nur selten überzeugen, Titelsound und FX sind auch nicht gerade opernreif, und schließlich wirkt die Steuerung mittels Tastatur und Joystick etwas unausgegoren.

Wegen der originellen Idee und der hohen Komplexität ist Covert Action zwar insgesamt trotzdem ein gutes Game, beeindruckt aber längst nicht so sehr wie Mr. Meiers frührere Großtaten. (jn)

Covert Action logo

Oh blimey, it's another MicroProse game. Batten down the hatches, no phone calls please, I've got some serious reading to do. Don't you wish that once, just once, MicroProse could release a game that came with a manual less than a foot thick?

Anyway, several hours later, I've expertly deduced that Covert Action is a deep (surprise!) and complex (surprise!) simulation (surprise!) of the world of international espionage. As a top-secret troubleshooting James Bond type employed by the CIA, your mission - should you choose to accept it, naturellement - is to stop any of 20 terrorist groups from perpetrating various terrorist-type crimes across the world.

This you do by stealthily breaking into secret hideouts, cracking coded messages, following suspects, tapping phones, and all manner of sneaky spy-type stuff like that, until eventually all the bad guys and gals are banged up in the slammer (ouch) and the world is safe for capitalist imperialist pigs everywhere once again (oops).

Okay, so the real question here is, as ever, "Is Covert Action worth the huge amount of effort you'll need to get into it?". And the answer in this case is (surprise!) "Yes". Against all my expectations I really enjoyed this game, and found myself getting right into the feel of the whole thing, even pressing the movement keys softly when attempting a break-in, lest the noise alert the guards.

It's a level of involvement very few games achieve (Colin had a similar experience with MicroProse's Silent Service II a couple of issues ago), and it's a long time since I've fallen for it. The code-breaking section and the phone-tapping sections would make respectable puzzle games by themselves, so the fact that you can practise them individually before playing the game proper has to be seen as a real bonus.

You can choose, to some extent, how complicated (i.e. difficult) you want things to be, and the manual is comprehensive and helpful if you do get stuck.

Unfortunately, not everything's been so well thought out. The keyboard layout is a ridiculous handful (arrow keys to move, spacebar to fire your gun, shift to jump, various function keys for other, crucial, operations, '5' to crouch down - not too ergonomic, is it?), and if you use the joystick for movement you get in even more of a tangle.

Inexplicably, though, you can only perform diagonal movements by using the stick, which is a serious handicap to keyboard control. Disk swapping, while not as bad as it might have been, is still a bit intrusive (a real shame in a game this atmospheric), and some of the trudging around office blocks in search of clues can get just a fraction tedious.

But wait - I'm not trying to put you off here. Covert Action is - perhaps more so than any MicroProse title I've seen, with the exception of the golf game also reviewed this month - a lot of fun, and it'll reward the effort you put into it more than adequately.

The only blot on the horizon is the price - at £35 (just about justifiable for a top-notch flight sim, perhaps, but a real cheek for most other products) it's certainly going to cost you enough to make you think twice, but if this sounds like it might be your sort of thing then don't hesitate. This is, without a shadow of a doubt, a good one.

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Microprose/£Tba/Early 1992

Amiga reviewToby: MicroProse has certainly taken its time with this one. Paul reviewed it on the PC about a year ago and used up all the best spy jokes, so this'll just have to be a quip-free zone. (No change there, then. Ed.)

You're the CIA's finest agent and it's your job to prevent an imminent global crisis. However, the CIA aren't exactly sure what the crisis is yet, so you've not only got to stop it, you've got to find out what to stop. You choose what to do from a menu system which leads into one of four subgames: car chases, bugging phones, decoding messages or breaking into places.

Psychotics will be disappointed to know that blowing things up takes a back seat here - the idea is to gather evidence and make arrests using strategy, not hot lead, and the combat section's more like Laser Squad than Commando.

The graphics are good and the music's horribly catchy, but it's the sheer scope of the game that impressed me most. With so many different missions and so much stuff to do in each, you'll be playing this one until Timothy Dalton finally realises that he's actually quite crap and stops making those dreadful Bond films.