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Game 48: Operation Stealth - Final Rating

Written by Joe Pranevich

Drumroll, please...

Being my first game that I have reviewed for “The Adventure Gamer”, I did not know what to expect either from the game itself or the process of documenting and reporting on my experience with this game. There is also a fantastic legacy of fairness to uphold. Trickster built a site that we all loved, and I want to live up to that expectation. I started out enjoying “Operation Stealth” very much: the plot was interesting, the atmosphere was the right amount of cartoony for the subject matter, and the puzzles were challenging without my ever feeling like I did not have a lead to follow even when I did need to backtrack. By the end however, I found myself frustrated by an experience that had gone off the rails, first by adding too many minigames and then by making the final section extremely difficult. I became increasingly frustrated by the interface, the poor translation, and the bugs. I came very close to quitting this game, which is not a great start for what I hope will be a few posts for this blog. Having had a week or two to think it over, I have mellowed out a bit on the game and I am curious where this PISSED rating will take us.


Puzzles and Solvability

I suspect this will be one of the more challenging categories for me to discuss in this review. Let me start off with the good: most of the adventure game puzzles are fair. The vast majority of the time I played this game I felt like I had leads or I had avenues to explore and that the solutions to the puzzles were logical in the game world that I was playing in. This does not mean that I did not find myself insanely frustrated at more than a few points, but I chalk this up to interface over puzzles. The puzzles were well designed; the interface was crap.

Looking back at the two puzzles that stumped me, the elastic band and the distraction with the electric razor, I realize in hindsight that both were at least somewhat reasonable. For the elastic band, for example, I completely clicked through a message that would have given me the hint that I needed:

Somehow, I missed this message twice.

I suspect this was because my CPU settings were too high (an issue which also hurt in the final confrontation with Dr. Why), but I give them the benefit of the doubt. Once I knew there was something to find, I found it easily enough (barring the interface problem). The electric razor was similarly logical if I had noticed the electric socket right outside Dr. Why’s room. That would have clued me in to the only “logical” solution given the items that I had. It is still crazy because of the metal door, but maybe they left it open. So for both of these, I think I'll give the game a pass. 

The only “adventure game” puzzle which I particularly have an issue with is the fake orders. When you are given a gag item that instructs you to play more Delphine Software games, you do not expect it to be something you can use in-game. Fourth-wall breaking is fine, but how exactly did that paper get me past the guard?

The action puzzles in this game were a huge drawback for me. One or two would have been fine, but too many hours were spent in mazes, banging my head against timed sequences, or dodging sharks. This may have been fun for some, but I felt that the game overall placed too much emphasis on these sequences to the detriment of the adventure game aspects of play.

I’ll give it a 4. It would have easily be a 5 or 6, but I’m still pretty steamed about having to do the rat maze again.

Rating: 4


Interface and Inventory

Let me take the gloves off: the interface in this game is not fun. The mechanics of it are fine: right-click to open a menu or operate on inventory, left-click to select an item. But the translation is challenging and it took most of the game to work out the difference between “operate” and “use”. (For the record, “operate” implies no direct object. If you need to act on something instead of just act with something, you use “use”.) The error messages in this game are useless, the vast majority of the inventory items have no description, and some of the inventory items change names as you enter different parts of the game. Nothing you cannot figure out, but still annoying.

Then comes the pixel-hunting. Especially in the last area, you have to really search to find the objects you are looking for. The “ink pad” for example had no on screen clue, and I do not think the “glass” did, either. (But the latter was clued in the description.) Mousing around with “examine” selected in each screen became a habit, but even after I had done it for hours I was still missing things because they were so darned small. I ended up playing through some sections several times and still missed details. This aspect of the game is just no fun.

Getting new spy equipment was always a joy.

A huge bright side? The inventory. The spy gadgets that you received during the game were interesting, well-spaced within the narrative, and always fun to figure out how they could be used to solve the puzzles at hand. While they were all described in the manual, almost none of them were used in the way that was implied. You never, for example, used the “electric razor” as a recording device, nor cross between buildings using the watch cable. Even the rocket launcher was just a distraction for you to do the real damage. Some of the other items were a bit silly, such as only having enough money to buy two flowers in the beginning or the flotation device which I still do not fully understand, but overall this was a strong area for the game.

I will go with a 3 here. No matter how much I loved the inventory puzzles, the interface overall was terrible. They made the game difficult for all the wrong reasons.

Rating: 3


Story and Setting

Surprisingly, this is one category where Operation Stealth really shines for me. While I am not an expert in “James Bond”, by any means, I am familiar with the tropes of the genre: the gadgets, the girls, and the somehow overly fashionable games of spy-vs-spy. Real spies, I am sure, do not go around being the center of attention. This game had all of those elements in spades, and put them together in a fairly interesting way, even being more than a bit tongue in cheek when things started to get too over the top.

Are you? Because I’m having trouble keeping track.

This game is a popcorn-entertainment scenario played out in a popcorn-entertainment setting. It was not realistic in the least, but there was something fun about having the CIA, the Russians, a homegrown resistance cell, and Spyder all playing in the same sandbox and crossing each others’ paths. The twists and turn of the story were fun, and I even forgave John getting captured so many times once I was informed (by a commenter) that this was a standard trope in James Bond films that I was unaware of.

I did at times lose track of the plot, and I had difficulty telling identifying characters on sight. We also dropped the subplot with the Russians and the resistance cell midway through the game. This is not Shakespeare, but it was never intended to be and it does very well at being what it intended.

I’ll go with a 6 for this one.

Rating: 6


Sound and Graphics

The tropical setting of Operation Stealth as well as the “colorful” world that John Glames/James Bond inhabits lends itself to a bright palette, and this game does not disappoint. I have already deducted points for pixel-hunting, so for this let me just consider the graphics themselves. Overall, I found the screens to be nice, the use of colors good, and the game appealing. There were no fancy scaling tricks or view angles, so from that perspective the game was quite vanilla, but it was still a pretty game to look at. One exception here is the design of the minigames and the underwater sequences, both of which looked very muddy and difficult to make out what was going on.

This is the most creative the game ever got with camera angles.

Sound in this was nice with a few interesting songs and the background music when it was present was not glaring. Sometimes you would get rooms where you had to turn the sound off because it was grating (and I did have to play sometimes without sound because I have a small baby), but mostly it was an addition rather than a drawback.

I’m going to go with a 5 here.

Rating: 5


Environments and Atmosphere

As I said earlier, I thought the story was great and the setting fitting for it. But when it comes down to the environments that were depicted for the game, they do tend to run rather vanilla. An airport, a town, a cave, an underwater spy base? It is not that all of these places were the same, but that there were few real stand out sets or scenes in the game. That said, the atmosphere did manage that cheesy 1980s spy-film feeling which is more or less what they intended.

I go with a 4 here. Not bad, but could have been less monotone.

Rating: 4


Dialog and Acting

This is another tough category. The actual story and dialog that supports it is pretty great. There are occasional jokes that work (the recurring one about spies using their real names when they are not supposed to comes straight out of “Get Smart”), as well as some ham-fisted fourth-wall breaking that does not work. The explanations and dialogs are clear and overall I never was distracted by the quality of the prose to get taken away from the game that I was playing.

But the interface text and error messages were terrible. From the very first post, I complained about badly written error messages and they never got better or more understandable. There were objects that would randomly be renamed or referred to in multiple ways, the duplicated “ink pad” issue, and a few other gaffes. For example, I’m still not entirely clear what the water safety device I bought in the second or third post was supposed to be.

It’s funny, right?

So once again, a mixed bag. I’ll go with a 5.

Rating: 5


Totals

Actually, not that bad. Except the ending.

4+3+6+5+4+5=29 *100/60 = 45!

But I am going to use my discretion and give the game the “You Made Me Play That Rat Maze Twice, You Bastard” award for -1 points, giving the total as 44.

This is marginally better than “Future Wars” and that seems about right. It also is a bit lower than the first “Manhunter” which I recall also hating the controls for, so that also does not seem too far off the mark. This game would have scored significantly higher if the last section had not been so terrible, but honestly the early parts were not perfect either.


And the closest guess to 44 is... Ilmari... with 44!

Also, congratulations to Laukku who bet in the introduction post that Joe "won't find the rubber band in the sea without help." So a whopping 50 points for one of the few winning bets on this blog.

Caption contest winner: Kenny
Caption contest: The sermon by the leader of the Cuban Cult Of Smuggled AK47s was just too enrapturing for James and his Bond Girl.

James Bond Trivia Results
Post 1: Laertes = 1, Canageek = 1
Post 2: No trivia
Post 3: Charles = 1
Post 4: Ilmari = 1
Post 5: Andry_Panthro = 3, Ilmari = 1, TBD = 1
Post 6: No trivia

The winner is Andry_Panthro! On the basis of poor participation! ;) And a bonus 5 CAPs for all participants!

CAP Distribution

190 CAPs for Joe Pranevich
  • Blogger Award – 100 CAPs – For blogging his way through the game for our enjoyment
  • Classic Blogger Award - 50 CAPs - For blogging his way through Mystery House for our enjoyment
  • WYS Award - 20 CAPs - For sending his What's Your Story? -answers
  • Sponsor Award - 20 CAPs - For sponsoring the blog with a free DVD!

25 CAPs for Andy Panthro
  • Clue Award - 20 CAPs - For answering Request for Assistance
  • Shaken but not stirred Award - 5 CAPS - For contributing James Bond trivia

20 CAPs for Corey Cole
  • "Would You Like to Work with Adventure Games?" Award - 20 CAPs - For sharing with us how people were employed in Sierra

65 CAPs for Laukku
  • Delphine Historian Award - 5 CAPs - For pointing out the reference to Future Wars
  • Frustration in the Seaweed Award - 50 CAPs - For successfully betting that Joe would not find the elastic band
  • "Go for the eyes" Award - 5 CAPs - For continuing to look at the screen shots after the initial shock
  • It's Good to be the King Award - 5 CAPs - For announcing a trailer for a new King's Quest game

15 CAPs for Ilmari
  • Psychic Prediction Award - 10 CAPs - For having the closest guess of the final score
  • Shaken but not stirred Award - 5 CAPs - For contributing James Bond trivia

10 CAPs for TBD
  • Genre Support Award – 5 CAPs – For announcing a new sale on GOG
  • Shaken but not stirred Award - 5 CAPs - For contributing James Bond trivia

10 CAPs for Kenny McCormick
  • Cuban Cult Leader Award - 10 CAPs - For winning the caption contest

5 CAPs for Novacek
  • Genre Support Award – 5 CAPs – For announcing a new adventure game on GOG

10 CAPs for Fry
  • Psychic (Mystery House) Prediction Award - 10 CAPs - For having the closest guess to Mystery House's final rating

5 CAPs for Rowan Lipkovits
  • Mystery House Award - 5 CAPs - For sharing a link to Mystery House Taken Over

5 CAPs for Charles
  • Shaken but not stirred Award - 5 CAPs - For contributing James Bond trivia

5 CAPs for Canageek
  • Shaken but not stirred Award - 5 CAPs - For contributing James Bond trivia

5 CAPs for Laertes
  • Shaken but not stirred Award - 5 CAPs - For contributing James Bond trivia

5 CAPs for Tymoguin
  • "Go for the eyes" Award - 5 CAPs - For continuing to look at the screen shots after the initial shock

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