The Stealth Fighter is a new, ultra-modern spy-plane, that is so secret and hush-hush that even its inventor doesn't know what the hell it is. It is invisible to radar and has devastating firepower, a huge range and can even tell you the time in Buenos Aires. But this 650 billion dollar, 1400 ton, secret, locked-up somewhere very secret plane has been 'nicked', abducted, absconded, fled, gone... (We get the message. Ed)
Emergency stations! An APB was put out instantly for a man with a big (415 foot) triangle in his trousers, but that only reeled in a lot of Swedish men called Dan from various video locations around the city. The problem still remains... the Stealth fighter is gone.
You play 'John', innocuous secret agent, assigned by the CIA to track down and retrieve the fighter, or else die horribly in the process. Intelligence suggests that the fighter is located in Santa Paragua, a 'greasy hombre' South American country (the kind of place you might be the capital of on Fifteen-to-One).
You are flown there instantaneously, with only a suitcase and a basic knowledge of the local dialect (i.e. you can say "The Pencil of my grandmother is in the back garden").
As super secret agents go, 'John' is very average. Decked in a dinner suit to suggest Oxbridge descent, knowledgeable on a range of subjects from elephants' gestationperiods to obscure Babylonian demigods and complete with thinly disguised innuendos like, "Can I try my new weapon on you Q?", John fits the bill in every respect.
But your plan is thwarted from the start. Somebody has instigated an official double-secret uncover espionage counterspy subterfuge plan, which, as its name suggests, is there to confuse you and your search for the 'man with the oversized samosa in his pocket'. Your mission is littered with double-agents, faked assassinations and cloak-and-dagger midnight rendezvous.
The game places you in the 'Cinematique' environment, which leads you by the mouse pointer through a series of exotique locations: airport terminals, flower shops, rural parks, hotels, caves, subterranean swimming pools - the usual James Bond locations.
Control is all mouse. The left mouse button brings down an options menu. EXAMINE, USE, OPERATE, TAKE and SPEAK are your choices. Once you've chosen what you want to do, you must select what you want it do it to. This is done by either consulting the INVENTORY or scanning the screen with the cursor. The name of important objects pop up if you brush them while 'vacuuming' the location. Your mouse operations make a sentence (e.g. OPERATE BIG KNIFE ON HELPLESS ANIMAL) which John then enacts.
The mouse also directs the movement of 'John'. You click the pointer where you're heading and he dutifully heads there, cleverly circumnavigating any furniture, dead bodies, sea defences etc. in the way. Also, to ensure you're on the right track, there are certain 'set pieces'. The computer then takes over your speech and movement to handle complicated tasks like getting into a taxi or being cornered by two Russian spies.
The puzzles require a soupcon of logical thinking. For instance, it's not logical to OPERATE THE YOUNG MAN (you can still get arrested for 'operating' young men in some countries), but it is advisable to USE THE PASSPORT ON THE CUSTOMS OFFICIAL and not USE THE SHARP PICKAXE ON THE CUSTOMS OFFICIAL. Simple. Objects are generally linked to other objects in different locations. Using them correctly has a 'knock-on' effect - so solving one task gives you a clue to the next and so on.
The last 'Cinematique' game, Future Wars, had me swinging from chandeliers, appearing in tea commercials, installing a series of dangling tyres from my bedroom roof and generally going 'ape' all over it. And the reaction for this new 'bijou' from the Delphine stable was much the same, perhaps even 'ape-ier'.
The main problem with Future Wars (and even that was slight) was that the objects were too small. You often had to vacuum every square millimeter of the screen, trying to find the pixel that meant there was a key under the carpet or a flush on the toilet. Now in Stealth only the major objects register and the rest just comes under 'scenery'.
Also, the computer was inherited the pessimism of its Future Wars forefather. The key to a good life is experimentation but try and experiment too much with the Stealth environment and you'll receive unimaginative comments like "That's not going to work" and "Why would I want to do that?". So 'OPERATE TOILET PAPER ON JOHN' is received by "What is the point of that?" Maybe the French don't wipe their bums.
The text is generally intelligent and useful, but there are lapses when the oh-so-witty programmers slip some 'jokes' in. This would be okay under normal circumstances, but in this case the programmers are French. When it comes to humour, the French are as funny as the Germans (i.e. not very). So the razor that says it will self-destruct, then counts down and doesn't explode (he-hah) are about as gripping as a bowel movement.
The graphics are not as outstanding as Future Wars. They are very good, colourful and detailed, but on the whole are less sit-up-and-dribble than its predecessor. Future Wars had a problem with everything being very small. Stealth has solved this problem by making everything bigger but has ended up looking more like a Sierra game to me. But they do look great, especially the sandy beach side locations. The sound is no way near as atmospheric as the Amiga's ditties and is frankly pretty annoying, but then, a swift twist of the 'volume control' will solve that problem.
For some reason Operation Stealth is incredibly addictive. I'm not sure why. It could be the vast freedom of movement and the fact you can do anything you want (within reason); it might be the lure of more exotic and intriguing locations; or the wealth of characters and situations - oh, the list is at least a page long. But for me, if I had to pin one down, it's the 'knock-on' object effect. Half an hour spent brainstorming over one clue is rewarded by another which leads to another and so on.
You and everyone around can become completely involved, as the ZERO office will testify. At one point we had several freelance contributors, the staff writer, the publisher, and an Australian man called "Barbera" all grouped around the monitor.
Operation Stealth stands up as easily the most compulsive play since my Mum told me it wasn't exactly a 'sausage' that I always found in the bath.
Well beat me round the head with a soggy back issue of Trout Fishing Monthly. There I was thinking that adventures were boring graphic monstrosities with about as much addictiveness as a packet of Junior Asprin and yet the clock's rushing towards midnight and I'm still in the office doing desperate battle with Operation Stealth. Much more of this and I'll have to start growing a beard.
Since it's so late I'd better rattle off my write-up pretty damn quick. Hmm let's see. Ah yes. "Operation Stealth is easily as good as, and probably better than, Future Wars. If you liked that game then you'll love this one and, even if you didn't, then this is well worth a look." There, that was easy. Money for old rope this reviewing lark. (Get on with it Lakin. Ed.)
In any half way decent adventure game there are a good few seemingly insurmountable problems which can tie you down for hours or days or... you get the idea. The measure of a good adventure game is: do you still keep badgering away at the problem, even when it means going back six screens to see if you made a mistake? Or do you chuck the whole dang caboodle in the dumper and reach for a good old-fashioned shoot 'em up to vent your frustration on? With Operation Stealth you keep on keeping on because a combination of great screens and music make the game drip with atmosphere. Wrenching yourself away from a good spy film. Except this time it's you, not Sean Connery, who has to make the smart moves. (Unfortunately it's Sean Connery and not you who gets to wear the smart suits. Check out those flares!)
The Stealth control system is quite an improvement on that of Future Wars. Instead of the pixel precise positioning necessary to examine an object you simply click on it and your character will wander over for a quick shufty. Occasionally if the screen is very cluttered it can be a bit of a pain highlighting exactly the object you're interested in. (No, no, I do not want to talk to the lamppost!). However this is nothing too unbearable and a good deal less hassle than the time when I was caught... but enough of that.
The only time that moving your, seemingly wooden-legged, character becomes seriously hasslesome is when he's near doors, staircases and the like. Since the cursor guided movement isn't completely accurate it only takes a slight twitch and you find yourself back in the room you've just left, which can mean waiting for another screen to load and then waiting to get back to the original screen. This may not sound a massive problem but this game gets you so tensed up you start getting hack off with the most trivial of things.
Once you've sorted out the difference between using an object and operating it, the rst of the control system is straightforward and easy to use. As with Future Wars speech is fairly limited - you can choose when you want to talk and who to, but not what you say. Still this is no great loss, as the game occasionally reminds you you should be concentrating on "A little less talking and a bit more action."
The action in the game ranges from tricky mental problems to sudden and violent action. This may be something of a shock to traditionalists. It's one thing to sit down on a rock and work out how to open a secret door, quite another when someone guns down the man you've spent the last five hours trying to talk to.
As for the difficulty level, well it's all a matter of taste but I thought it was pretty well pitched. Real bafflers to slow you up just when you're getting cocky, nice easy ones every now and then to boost flagging morale. Without giving anything away I would offer one word of warning. Some of the problems change each time you load so don't think "Oh I know the solution I did it yesterday" - you may be on a short cut to a very dark and rather smelly goal.
Delphine have produced another classic adventure that's going to have enthusiasts locked to their computers all through a long hot summer. I'm going to sit back and wait for someone to send in the complete solution - or maybe I'll just have one last go.