We've been optimistic about SpyParty, the long-in-the-making competitive multiplayer game that pits one player as suave spy in a party and the other as a sniper who has one bullet and perfect aim.
We think the game's shaping up well, but we won't review it until it's done some time later this century.
Jacob Tierney, a reporter for the Watertown Daily Times and a participant in SpyParty's ongoing beta, however, will review this game... because he is that excited about it.
What follows is his review, (tipped to us by SpyParty one-man-development-team Chris Hecker), from the game's beta forums. Thanks to Tierney for giving us permission to reprint it. It's a fun, down-to-earth reminder of what it's like when you find a new video game to love.
I know offering a SpyParty review in this forum is kind of like preaching to the choir. This isn't a typical ‘review' per say. I just thought I would share my early experiences with the beta (at more length than I originally intended!) to see if others felt the same.
I had seen plenty of press for SpyParty, and eagerly signed up when the beta was announced. June came and went, as did 2011, and still no invite. Finally, near the end of May, my email arrived.
I shelled out my $US15, installed the game, read the manual (of course), fiddled around in practice mode for a while then finally entered the lobby to see if it was worth the hype.
My first few games as spy were heartracing, and my mistakes were inevitable. When the shot finally came, it was never a surprise. It was almost a mercy killing. Being a spy for the first time is tense and exciting, but it tends to play out the same way. A few half-hearted attempts at a mission, a missed step, a botched test, and a swift bullet to the brain. End scene.
The true terror comes when you earn that first flickering wisp of competence. When the thought of actually winning a game dares to cross your mind. When you finally understand how to avoid suspicion long enough that the task at hand actually has the audacity to seem possible.
The game begins.
The laser passes over you, hovering for a few fractions of a second right on your head. Then it moves away. You take a few cautious steps. You might even begin to contemplate breathing again. Then, inevitably, the laser comes back. That damned laser.
The spy's life is lived with his heart constantly in his mouth. Surely he saw that mistake! I'm doomed! The sniper holds the power, sitting on his lofty perch out of sight, immortal, represented only by an unstoppable red line of death. You, the lowly spy, made only of flesh and blood (or code and pixels, if you want to get technical,) trying desperately to fit in with your fellow computer-controlled mortals who literally do not know the meaning of fear.
I remember the first time I played as the sniper. The power was mine. The gun was in my hands! Finally, I could rain death from above, while the poor spy wallows among the crowd. Finally, I was in control.
The game begins.
Why are there so many people at this party? How am I supposed to see anything in that mess? The spy could be doing the Macarena down there, I would have no idea! I don't know, that guy picked up a book. Books are bad right? Let's shoot him.
Eventually, of course, I improved. I learned to ignore the noise and search for the odd bit of movement, the turn of the head, the gentle fondling of the Ambassador's nethers. I began to kill spies.
But those early rounds playing sniper taught my one of SpyParty's most important lessons. The spy does have control, despite illusions to the contrary. The spy determines the pace of the game, and pacing is everything.
My spy is typically cautious, enjoying the party and waiting for opportunity to come his way. Some snipers will lowlight suspects for the smallest "non-spy" behaviours, like taking a drink or staring at a painting. When playing against a spy like me, this is their downfall. I thrive in the minutia, the little "meaningless" tasks that can be accomplished between missions to convince that damned laser to swoop off elsewhere.
Other spies blitz through the level, competing their missions before I've had a chance to form even a shadow of suspicion. It's a great strategy, especially against a sniper like me who normally won't act until he's formed a solid case against his target.
As I've played, I've learned a bit about other player's styles, which has made the game that much richer. I should take this opportunity to say that the community has been truly welcoming, which is especially impressive considering the entire game is built on suspicion and distrust.
My early losses came at the hands of bl00dw0lf. Each time the bullet struck me down or he slipped past my detection he gave me a piece of advice that made me a better player. Eventually I was able to approach others as something of an equal. The handicaps gradually disappeared.
Soon I got to the point where I was able to provide some basic coaching to new players myself. I remember one early encounter:
Me: spy or sniper?
Him: I'll be spy.
Him: This is my first game.
Me: have you read the manual?
Him: No, I figured I'd do a few dry runs.
His death was swift and painless; the only thing damaged was his ego.
Him: maybe I'll go read the manual.
I've got a long way to go. I've played less than 150 games, for less than 6 hours of game time. I'm still a novice, cowering in awe of the sawchuks and zerotkas of the tiny SpyParty world. I still jump every time I hear the sniper's shot, and I still cringe with doubt every time I pull the trigger myself.
It doesn't help that I can only handle about 10 games in a sitting before the mental gymnastics and emotional tension make me log out before I seize up.
But I love where this game is going. It's grabbed me in a way that few games have, and the fact that it's so early in development is astounding.
I play a lot of board games. I prefer them to their electronic counterparts for many reasons: they are socially and intellectually much more interesting than the vast majority of games played on a screen.
SpyParty is probably the only video game that reaches me on the same level as a great tabletop game. The true excitement is not what happens in front of you, it's all the synapses firing up in your brain at once, trying to figure out what might possibly be going on in the other guy's head.
I'll be playing this one for a long time to come, and I'll be eagerly watching to see how it develops. It's an awesome experience to be given a front-row seat to the laundry list of upcoming changes and expansions.
And as the game grows I will continue to improve. Maybe someday I will be able to outsmart that damned laser once and for all. But I hope not.
TL;DR: This game is freaking incredible.