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CLANDESTINE is an absolute dream game for anyone interested in the stealth world of hacking and spying. You can play it solo or with a friend, taking on the roles of Martin Symborski and Katya Kozlova, the Hacker and the Agent, in our world just five years after the end of the Soviet Union as we knew it. The period is 1996 and the Cold War has ended, but now operatives from both sides are mysteriously being assassinated all over the world. Who is doing it and why are the questions that are being asked in the corridors of power and beyond that in the offices of the powerful peace-keeping forces - the CIA and the FBI - where a new joint task group, (almost) illegally funded and known as the Kingbridge Executive has been formed.  Katya and Martin are are one of the teams determined to solve the puzzles and discover the answers to those important questions.

   

Katya is the agent on the ground. All of the action, sneaking, on-hand and dangerous parts of the missions are down to her. Martin has the easy job of keeping Katya alive by constantly feeding her information, hacking into systems to find passwords and pin numbers, enable and disable door locks, hack into computers and do all manner of computerised technical stuff (most of which goes straight over my head in game and in real life). If you play solo, which is how I have played so far, then you can switch between the two characters so you are actually, in fact, watching your own ass. You need to configure the security for Katya by tagging guards (allowing her to "see" them through walls etc) and calling her comms unit when she lobs it away to lure guards out of the way (they go to investigate the sound and you sneak past them) etc.

It doesn't take you long to hear about a group of hackers known as "The Preachers". These "Black Hat" hackers appear to be inveigled in Eastern Europe but they have stolen cash from over 3000 American Bank accounts which makes them a serious threat to National Security and now you are homing in on them; though whether they are also behind the assassinations has yet to be discovered.

The designers have set up a tutorial without actually telling you it's a tutorial which is kinda neat. I only discovered I was being taught (I thought that the tips were coming from Martin doh!) when I opened a door and the message appeared asking if I really wanted to leave the tutorial Yes or No. I wanted to check "Yes" but before I could discover what key to press I accidentally (that's my excuse) hit [Return] and it automatically selected "No". Mind you I was lucky it did because just afterwards was when I discovered how to dodge and/or hack the security cameras. Some cameras need disabling while you go past them and that's down to Martin while others you can sidestep underneath them and then make a run for the safe corner when the camera moves to face the other way.

Another cool, and new (at least to me) idea is that instead of having floating arrows showing you the direction to take Martin puts a line-art likeness of Katya onscreen showing the way and even where and when to hold up against a wall. Katya can sneak round corners by holding down two keys at the same time - [space] and[direction key] WASD for direction, E for activate, LMB for most actions, Q (jump and/or climb when available) and C for Crouch being the most used buttons.

CLANDESTINE is about taking your time, assessing the situation, and acting appropriately. There is no bull-in-china-shop approach. If you rush around you will not last 10 seconds. This is not James Bond, even though you do find a silencer fitted gun fairly soon into the tutorial. Gunfights are bad news. Stealth is the key. The only complaint I have is that when you sneak up behind a guard and take him down non-lethally you then leave the body lying where you knocked him cold - usually in the middle of a pathway. If there is a way to move them I haven't found it yet and I have tried every key and mouse button, several combinations, and even trying to drag them using a held down cursor.

   

Martin also has to assimilate the data and intel Katya finds, such as names on letters, numbers on scraps of paper etc. Katya has to help Martin by connecting or turning on computers and other equipment manually. Martin has multi-screens to control - The Camera Feed, the Console, the Network View and the Tactical Map. 

Katya wears a shoulder-cam that allows Martin to see all that she can. This, combined with his internet skills, gives him the chance to observe and scout ahead for Katya. The Camera Feed also allows Martin to hack the surveillance cameras as seen on the Tactical Map, using them to see what they can see or disable them to let Katya pass. The Camera Feed also displays the status of  Katya's health.

   

The Console shows Mission Objectives and delivers this information, keypad codes etc, to Katya via the Message Log. If you have a friend playing Martin they can communicate intel to Katya via the in-game text chat.

The Network View allows Martin to view all of the electronic infrastructure in the mission's current area. He can also hack door keypads, PCs, Servers, Firewalls, and Hazards (steam pipes and electrical boxes which can be triggered to cause “accidents”). However Martin has to be careful and not go gung-ho because there is an enemy AI which seeks out changes in the Network and tries to correct them. If Martin gets caught hacking the AI will reset all Firewalls and Passcodes so Martin has to know when and where to use the Viruses at his disposal to keep the AI busy elsewhere while also ensuring Katya has enough intel to complete the mission.

The Tactical Map is where Martin gains access to the aforementioned cameras. Martin can also tag guards and enemies from this window.

CLANDESTINE gives players a mean insight into how the security services might work, whether they actually do or not doesn't matter, the game feels realistic and that's what counts. I seriously suggest that you take notes, many notes. When you hack a keypad the code is found quickly and stays onscreen for barely a few seconds so unless you want to go through the process more than once (totally unprofessional for a Spy) you should note it down as it appears.Take your time, sneak and peak, don't take chances, and enjoy the atmosphere of a truly well designed espionage thrillingly dramatic game.

 

© Chris Baylis 2011-2015