By Jason Parker (Ragachak) & Colton Leighton (ColtronXL)
I was not entirely sure what I was getting into when I began working on Clandestine. It takes a great deal to frustrate me, much less make me foam at the mouth, but Clandestine succeeded in such a great fashion. Here is a game that has the amazing ability to make me furious. The title is unique on the market; it takes place in 1996 in a post Cold-War era. and you play as a hacker and spy team. There is the option to play solo (controlling both), or duo (requiring a friend to play with you), and the pair must work together perfectly in order to succeed. Fear not, there is a tutorial! But the tutorial glitched on me in Co-Op mode in such a way that we had to reset live on stream something like four or five times simply to get logged in to a modem. We had to skip the tutorial altogether, though it did appear to work in solo mode. Can you play as Katya Kozlova and/or Martin Symborski, and uncover the sources of leaks of security across Europe and North America? All told, the story is interesting, and the between mission dialogue is pretty good, as are the choices you get to make.
. . . Personally, I couldn’t do it. The combined efforts of me and ColtronXL were able to complete a stage or so, but it took far longer than it had any reason to. I don’t think I’ve had to start at that many checkpoints since Resident Evil 4. This is a trip back to the days of hardcore stealth; more hardcore than Metal Gear Solid, more challenging than Thief. One thing this game is missing? A UI that makes bloody sense. Some tooltips would be fantastic. The spy UI is pretty sparse, which in a way is good, but I had no idea what was really going on. Sure, you can adjust the various difficulties (Combat, Hacking, Spying) on their own, but where’s the fun in that? Do it at the default level and tear your hair out a little. Clandestine’s definitely a niche’ title, it won’t be fun for everyone. I personally don’t have as much fun playing the spy because I suck at stealth. I tried to do it “my way”: grab someone’s pistol and murder everyone in my way with bullets. Guns have very low amounts of ammo, ammo repositories are pretty sparse, and after shooting a man four times in the crotch or face, he did not appear to be all that impressed. That. . . and now four of his buddies are here, shooting me while I try to uncrouch.
As a spy, you don’t have a lot going on other than creeping around. If you are seen or heard by a guard, consider that your end, unless you’re close enough for a stealth takedown/kill. You have to consider how you deal with each enemy too: If you kill too many (as I did), and are spotted? The guards are going to try MUCH HARDER to kill you, whereas if they are unconscious, maybe they’ll just help their friends up and go back to guarding. You can occasionally find a gun somewhere, but other than that, your tools of the trade are very simple. Pagers, modems, things like that. It is definitely rooted in the era of the 90s. At least the hacker isn’t someone you have to worry about dying, because he doesn’t seem to move. Your movement/crouching movement are all as close to silent as you can get. You can run, sure, but it will almost positively attract the attention of everyone within the city limits. The Spy can’t do it alone though; it will take the Hacker sneaking its way across the network of the places you infiltrate, which means this game could definitely use in-game voice/text chat. It doesn’t appear to have these things, but they’d sure help. Sure, Steam has it, but I feel like at least an in-game text feature would help enormously. The action portions of the game though are infuriating. Combat is not the best part of this game, not by a long shot; but you have to fight. I find myself not wasting my time with a gun, because a gun means I’m going back to a checkpoint soon.
Colton adds his experience:
Playing as the hacker was quite the unique experience. When the game begins you’re greeted with four separate screens which can be viewed in a window-style grid or maximized individually for precision work. The mission, as the hacker, is to guide your spy to mission objectives (which they cannot see and do not have any in-world indication of) verbally and to interact with electronic devices in the environment to aid them. This includes, but isn’t limited to, hacking security keypads, hijacking cameras, interfacing with remote terminals to obtain access codes and email records, and screaming at your computer monitor like some kind of mental patient. It’s all fun and games (literally) until you’re knee deep in the tutorial level and suddenly the buttons no longer function as advertised. One moment you’re stealing someone’s AIM messenger log and the next you’re considering replacing your install of the game with an actual AIM installation because it might be more stable. Not to take anything away from the core concept on offer here because it actually is a fun game when it works, but having to place that quantifier on the end really illustrates the nature of the experience. When it works the game is a ruthlessly challenging co-op experience that requires intense planning, critical thinking skills, and pin-point-precise execution. I found myself calling out enemy locations and marking them on Jason’s screen and taking down firewalls left and right and it certainly did feel like we were in a James Bond-esque film which was mind-blowingly fun although the difficulty curve is a little steep. When it doesn’t, however, it’s a mess of unresponsive keys, character models clipping through impassable terrain, and game-crashing body snatching chairs. In a nutshell, especially from the hacker perspective, that’s the game’s biggest drawback. It’s massively ambitious but the “when it works” modifier makes it a lot like trying to convince your friend that if he wants to revolutionize the world with a massage-chair-toilet (as he should) he should probably figure out which end of a toilet his ass goes on first.
Connecting. . .: 3/5 (Good)
Clandestine is unique, even among stealth games. Do I think it’s bad? Absolutely not. But after hours of streaming it with a co-op partner who is my best friend? It still needs a bit of polish to me. The codes for doors don’t change, and so that’s good at least; but there are glaring issues that need to be addressed. I’d enter a room with someone sitting in it, the door making an incredibly loud noise. He doesn’t even care – unless I move within his line of sight, that is. Trying to take a man down, I wound up glitched into his chair, unable to move, progress or do anything other than fume [not so] silently. But when everything is going right and two people can work together? The game is insanely fun. Frustrating when being caught out, but immensely gratifying to get successful missions going. I don’t enjoy the solo mode though, not even a little. Having to juggle both things at once (Hacking and Spying) made me want to throw my computer out of a window. A bit more polish on some of the gameplay would go a long way but it’s still a lot of fun.
Pros: Having two different sets of controls isn’t all that bad. Having a unique series of motions to go through on each character keeps it fresh, even in solo mode.
Cons: Incredibly clunky/awkward movement. Would often get caught out because of the awkward control setup. Combat was frustrating and virtually pointless.
Pros: The nature of being sneaky and stealthy are very apparent. You have to plan and be incredibly careful no matter which role you’re taking.
Cons: I couldn’t count the number of times when we had to start over or wait because the Network Admin was “too aggressive” as soon as we began hacking.
Spy vs. Hacker: 3/5
Pros: Both are completely different in every way. You can really get immersed in the styles of each character.
Cons: Doing both at once is a nightmare. Not having a trusted friend to play this with can be stress-inducing instead of fun and exciting.