Monday, 21 March 2011

As Iraq Was To Blair; Libya Is To Cameron

I imagine I am not the only person making this comment, but you know me, as I read in 'The Guardian' yesterday when it was talking about bloggers, 'I would rather be right than read'.  I guess most (political) commentators would feel that.  In a world where I feel, like most people, utterly powerless to alter anything about my own life let alone broader society, at least I can testify that 'I contested, I did not collaborate' and that is probably all we can do in the fixed-up society we live in.

For a brief moment it seemed, last week, that David Cameron had retained some standing, that, at last, he appeared to be a world statesman.  It appears, though perhaps less obviously than Tony Blair (though these are still comparatively early days) that our present prime minister yearns for that international recognition that his predecessor-but-one battled so long to achieve.  In addition, Cameron is from a political party which has always drawn strong support from the armed forces, and, in general, has supported them in return.  It is different at present because of the severe cutbacks in the armed services that are already upsetting traditional Conservative supporters and closes off a source of employment for many young men and women in hard economic times like these.

Soldiers like to have a clear purpose, this does not mean a war, but something that gives them action and credit.  The UK has been at war constantly since 2001 and having managed to extricate ourselves from Iraq after seven years, we are down once again to participating in only one war at the moment, Afghanistan.  The casualties seem tolerable, and keep the public in a military frame of mind.  Public support for injured soldiers and families of those killed has reached an all-time high.  Thus, military action is a good way to distract the population.  Margaret Thatcher did this spectacularly well with the Falklands Conflict of 1982 at a time when unemployment was spiralling out of control and many were suffering from her regime.  The battling won enough of the population to her side that she could increase her majority at the 1983 election.  It seems that prime ministers since then, whether John Major in 1991 or Tony Blair in 2001 and 2003 have sought, in vain, to replicate that experience.

Situations like that in Libya always put liberals like myself in a dilemma.  On one hand, clearly I want to see the end of Colonel Gaddafi's 42-year long authoritarian regime and the installation of democracy in a country which has basically gone from being a colony under the Ottomans and the Italians, through a brief period of constitutional monarchy 1951-69, it fell under an indigenous dictator who has held power ever since.  Of course, it was hoped that Gaddafi would fall the way the leaders of Tunisia and Egypt, lying to the West and East of Libya had done.  However, Gaddafi has managed to retain the loyalty of sufficient forces to bring about the civil war he had warned of earlier.  Of course, western states have complicated the situation.  With Algerian oil effectively under the control of the French, Libya is the key short-haul oil supplier for Europe.  The relationship with Gaddafi has been confused, ranging from bombing of the country by US aircraft in 1986 to Tony Blair trying to foster good relations.  In the meantime the West has often sold arms to Gaddafi, to some extent pleased that he was not an Islamic fundamentalist, much as they were with Saddam Hussain before 1991.  With China's quest to secure raw materials around the world and its willingness to support dictatorships, the situation has changed again and the West might be hoping for a more liberal regime in Libya which will look to the West, despite the turbulent history of the relationship, rather than to China as Sudan has done.

Intervention in civil wars is always complex.  It is always a gamble.  Of course, most people in the West do not want to see the rebels crushed as this week seemed very likely.  There will always be a humanitarian aspect too.  The view of China and Russia is simple, that no outside power should interfere with internal suppression of uprising, even if the peoples being suppressed claim they are not a true part of that state, as the Tibetans and Chechens do.  For the West it is not so simple.  This is why states hang on for a United Nations resolution, a permit for them to intervene.  This allows governments to appear strong, yet spreading the blame if it all goes wrong.  They also adopt a staged approach.  Remember that no-fly zones preceded intervention in Iraq.  To some degree this is fair as it balances the conflict between government and rebel forces.  There is a value judgement.  Imagine if the situation was reversed and, as in 1969 (and, of course, in Spain in 1936), the rebels were authoritarians seeking to overthrow the constitutional government?  Then, I suppose money and oil access would be the judgement.  There seem to be rules, but it is more a kind of shouting match between the various world powers and sometimes it falls one way and sometimes the other.

Stepping back from the international dimension, this posting is focused on the impact for the UK government.  Like Nicolas Sarkozy, president of France, it seemed David Cameron was eager for an international distraction from domestic economic difficulties.  Controversy over the US arms company brought in to run the census, revelations that the new approach to local authority funding will shift millions from the poorest councils to the richest, concerns over damage to the National Health Service and ill-conceived ideas in education, meaning Cameron and his government remains unpopular across the board.  A friend of mine argued that allowing local authorities to keep their business rates rather than send them to central government will encourage 'lax' councils to put more effort into generating business in their area.  This is fine in principle, but neglects the uneveness of the playing field.  Business will boom in areas of the South East, possibly the West Midlands and the Manchester-Liverpool and Tyneside regions, but more peripheral regions are going to suffer.  Many parts of South-West England lack even a decent dial-up service for internet connection, let alone broadband, so what company will want to locate in those regions.  Other areas have high unemployment, greater numbers of poorly qualified population, higher levels of asylum seekers, poor infrastructure and other issues that may make it hard to compete with the already rich areas of the South East, this approach will simply widen the divide.

Anyway, Cameron has got the war he was seeking.  It seems to be a 'light touch' affair, policing the skies over Libya to stop Gaddafi's airforce bombing the rebels.  However, as was seen with the US intervention in Somalia (and back in Vietnam) these days pilots are not immune to attack from ground forces let alone fighter aircraft.  What will the UK do when downed aircrew are paraded on Libyan television?  Presumably send in George Galloway to negotiate their release? The first British incursion, the SAS team, failed almost immediately, the soldiers being captured, ironically, by the rebels.  Will the UK, France, the USA be able to resist having ground troops sent to the country as well?  It seems likely even if the rebels win, that foreign troops will go in to establish some form of stability.  Islamist groups must already be looking to expand their influence in the country, the one thing the western powers fear.  Once there are ground forces there, then it will just be like Iraq all over again and sometime in 2018 we will be able to bring UK troops home from Libya.

A no-fly zone does not guaratee a rebel victory, and at the end of last week it appeared as if the rebellion was about to be crushed.  Gadaffi controls the bulk of Libya and has extensive armed forces at his command.  Foreign troops above or in the country will play to his propaganda, allowing him to portray the conflict as patriotic.  A victory for him will not only mean the end of the rebellion and presumably refugees fleeing into Egypt, but it will mean that the UK will be spurned by Libya.  In many ways that is no bad thing, I feel we have been too close to Gaddafi in the past decade achieving very little for the UK except more arms deals to equip him with the weaponry to suppress rebellions.  It seems like Gaddafi will turn to China who will have secured their first major supply of oil despite its distance from China.  It will reinforce China's 'footprint' in Africa another level.  As members of the Security Council of the United Nations, China and Russia need to be challenged more.  They need to be involved in peace-keeping, not constantly supporting dictators, pleading poverty (I found it incredible a couple of weeks ago when the Department for International Development said it was ending aid to China; why were we giving aid to the second largest economy in the world anyway?) when they go in afterwards and find a new source of raw materials and yet another market.

I accept that the situation in Libya has put many governments in a difficult position.  However, Camerons bullishness in approach, puts him at the forefront of the blame when things begin to go wrong as so many cases have shown they will.  Remember the liberation of Kuwait in 1991 and how that was supposed to bring Hussain's regime in Iraq to an end?  No, it simply led to even more brutal suppression of Iraqi people exacerbated by sanctions that cut necessary supplies to them.  I can certainly see Cameron before a committee of inquiry in 2019 shuffling awkwardly as Tony Blair did in front of Chilcot.  I guess Cameron saw that and thought 'well, he got off lightly'.  Blair spent a short time answering questions about the intervention in Iraq, got useful publicity for his autobiography, 'The Journey' (2010) adding to his already vast wealth (and he gave £4.6 million to a charity for rehabilitating injured soldiers); he charges US$250,000 (£157,000; €182,000) for a 90-minute speech.  In 2010 it was estimated that Tony Blair received at least £14 million in earnings of all kinds and he bought one house in London for £4.45 million and one in Buckinghamshire for £5.75 million, and, quite accurately is estimated to be the wealthiest former prime minister in British history.

That is the kind of penalty that Cameron can expect when everything goes wrong with the intervention in Libya that he has led.  No charges for war crimes; apparently no cause to regret the ongoing links with yet another regime which has been persecuting its citizens for decades.  The regret will come from those British aircrew and soldiers who are killed or maimed or detained in appalling conditions.  Yet again young British people are going to be sent to die for some ill-thought out cause, poorly planned and even more badly executed.  Yes, it is probably morally correct to intervene in states to help democracy thrive over dictatorship.  However, as yet, the world has not found a method of doing this which does not involve even greate loss of life and hardship lasting for years.  There is an assumption now that the dictatorships of North Africa and the Arabian Peninsula will tumble the way that the Communist regimes of Eastern Europe fell so quickly in 1989.  However, while we remember the 'velvet revolution' of Czechoslovakia and the fall of the Berlin Wall, so quickly have we forgotten the model of Romania, which suffered bloodshed in its effort to shake off the regime.

In some ways I am glad Cameron has blundered so badly in this way.  It will provide something to haunt him with throughout this decade.  He has been so active in wrecking so many people's lives in the 11 months he has been in office, it will be good to have something to point the finger at him for, that he cannot squirm out of.  I resent the fact that the intervention will probably do little of benefit for the Libyan rebels.  That will continue to be the case until the United Nations has the funds and the force to oversee countries having experienced regime change, and that is very unlikely ever to happen.  I mourn the ruined lives of British, Libyan and other citizens that can be the only outcome of this current policy.

Monday, 7 March 2011

Reading Michael Moorcock

Last month I read an interview of Michael Moorcock by Hari Kunzu:  I have probably read more novels by Moorcock than any other other, partly because in his long career he has been prolific but also because like Kunzu, in my teenage years I was drawn into Moorcock's multiple fantasy worlds, his 'multiverse' as he termed it very easily.  I think the reasons for this were many. 

Like many teenaged boys of the 1980s fantasy was what lifted our lives from the tedium of suburban life.  There was none of this all-encompassing game worlds on sophisticated consoles or PCs that can take away hours.  The most involving was something like 'Lords of Midnight' (1984) on the ZX Spectrum and if you showed that even a pre-pubescent child now, they would think it was painfully unsophisticated. So, instead, we escaped into sitting in our rooms reading fantasy novels and meeting up at weekends to play paper and dice role-playing games RPG, most famously 'Dungeons and Dragons' with our friends all afternoon.  I was interested to read that Kunzu also played 'Traveller', 'Call of Cthullu' and especially 'Bushido' which was my favourite RPG (I still have the original boxed game) set in a medieval Japan where Japanese gods and mythical creatures were real.  Much of this fantasy stuff, however, was very derived from 'The Lord of the Rings', with orcs, elves and dwarfs (or dwarves as Tolkien wrongly titled them), wizards and warriors, what is almost seen as the standard fantasy setting.  Though you could buy prepared scenarios the bulk of adventures you played were thought up and written by one of the players, who would be the 'Keeper' or 'Dungeon Master'.  Being keen on writing fiction, this was a role I often took.

Anyway, in this context of very traditional fantasy fare, in a kind of medieval setting with magic, Moorcock's books were refreshing.  He is critical of authors like Tolkien who he has family said wrote 'Epic Pooh' (after Winnie-the-Pooh) stories.  Moorcock met both Tolkien and C.S. Lewis in his youth and liked them as men if not their fiction. This is not to say that some of Moorcock's books are not set in a world of sword fights and sorcery and like Tolkien he draws on Norse myths, notably in elements of the Elric sagas. However, being very much a product of the late 1960s rather than the 1950s like Tolkien, Moorcock always sought to twist and subvert genres.  He is also very open in attributing his influences as diverse as they are. 

One series I got into very early on was the A Nomad of the Time Streams triology.  It features an Oswald Bastable a character from E. Nesbit stories who has grown to be an Edwardian army captain and travels to alternate versions of Earth in three novels which feature counter-factuals: 'The Warlord of the Air' (1971), 'The Land Leviathan' (1974) and 'The Steel Tsar' (1981).  Kunzu wrongly portrays 'The Warlord of the Air' as the first steampunk book; this honour belongs to 'Queen Victoria's Bomb' (1967) by Ronald Clark, but Moorcock certainly gave bulk to the genre and took it in different directions.  Today he is a friend of Alan Moore so there is a personal connection into contemporary steampunk.  However, as I have noted before Moorcock bewails the fact that he feels the 'punk' is missing, replaced more with 'opera'.

Moorcock certainly enjoys counter-factuals especially messing around with outcomes in Europe of the 20th century.  His Jerry Cornelius and Colonel Pyat characters often stumble briefly through some counter-factual setting not explored in depth, but mentioned in passing and outlined through some references.  The Nomad of the Time Streams stories are more explicitly counter-factual exploring worlds in which the First World War never occurred and the balance between black and white people in terms of power has been different.  Many of these stories are influenced by the airship novels of the late 19th century/early 20th century such as those by George Griffith including 'The Angel of the Revolution' (1893) and 'Outlaws of the Air' (1895) amongst others.  I have yet to read Moorcock's 'The Metatemporal Detective' (2007) but it seems to be even more steampunky and features Monsieur Zenith a character from Sexton Blake stories (in Moorcock's early career he was editor of a Sexton Blake story magazine) who fed into the character of Elric too.

Another source that Moorcock has long acknowledged has been the work of Mervyn Peake, notably the Gormenghast triology, 'Titus Groan' (1946; TV serialised in 2000 as 'Gormenghast'), 'Gormenghast' (1950) and 'Titus Alone' (1959).   Though Peake was a contemporary of Lewis and Tolkien his fantasy work is more of a humanist (perhaps Nonconformist given his background as son of Congregationalist missionaries) approach looking at the malaise of post-war society aware of the Holocaust and the exhaustion of the old established world. Saying this, his 'Mr. Pye' (1953; television production 1986) is a clearer tale of morality.  His Gormenghast novels are jammed with eccentric characters, some benign, some avaricious, many ineffectual. The uber-Gothic castle of Gormenghast has probably inspired visual artists and even computer game programmers more than authors; he was an artist and a poet too.  However, Moorcock has admitted the influence on him, most notably in 'Gloriana' (1978) in which a version of Elizabeth I inhabits a palace like Castle Gormenghast.  It is a story which naturally also references Elizabethan stories too.

This subverting of genres is notable in his Elric series with the eponymous hero being anaemic and dependent on drugs or a life-draining sword to survive.  He betrays his own kingdom and his amoral throughout.  Moorcock's universes do not see a simplistic fight between good and evil, it is more complex than that, a contest between Law and Chaos.  Of course, most people see Law as equating to Good.  However, when you have it indicated in the context of say, hippies being chaotic and Nazis adhering very strongly to a law, then you can see that it is a more challenging concept.  Moorcock wrote the Elric stories as an intentional contrast to the muscle-bound hero, Conan of the novels by Robert E. Howard.

The first Moorcock book I stumbled across was 'The Final Programme' (1969), the first in the Jerry Cornelius series.  Cornelius is probably the most 1960s of Moorcock's characters.  He is a bisexual (sometimes even trans-sexual and trans-racial) drug addict, alcoholic assassin who appears to be an epitome of London of the era.  You see him as what Austin Powers was before he was watered down for family entertainment.  It was one of only a handful of books that I have read in a single day.  Moorcock's text is very engaging in his best novels.  In his worse it is very fragmented and I felt that the latter Cornelius novels were too fragmentary to engage with and almost became a sequence of 'catchphrases' of very Cornelian scenes: 'A Cure for Cancer' (1971), 'The English Assassin' (1972), 'The Lives and Times of Jerry Cornelius (1976)' 'The Condition of Muzak' (1977) and 'The Entropy Tango' (1981). 'The Adventures of Una Persson and Catherine Cornelius in the 20th Century' (1976) features Jerry but is mainly about his sister and her lover and it is slightly less fractured. 

Moorcock also wrote a couple of slightly more mainstream spy novels, 'The Chinese Agent' (1970) and 'The Russian Intelligence' (1980) though with a dry British humour rather than dramatic action.  I remember the spy organisation being very short of money so much so that one agent had to take the bus to gather intelligence.   Unlike Kunzu, I did not have to scour second hand bookshops because for some reason by 6th Form college had a very extensive collection of Moorcock books that no-one in the mid-1980s was borrowing (aside from me it seemed).  I did hunt bookshops over a number of years for the various Elric novels, because Moorcock wrote and re-wrote them.  I identified three sequences overlapping at points and I think I read them all, there may be more now.

Some of Moorcock's novels have more the style of mainstream fantasy novels, for example, the Hawkmoon series.  These are set in an alternate, fantasy Europe (possibly a post-apocalyptic version of our Earth) ruled over by Granbretan, i.e. Great Britain which is connected to the continent of Europe by a vast bridge.  The hero is Dorian Hawkmoon, Duke of Köln (the real German name for Cologne where he is based) who becomes involved with the still independent region of the Kamarg (which is the Camargue region of southern France). 

Hawkmoon appears in four novels: 'The Jewel in the Skull' (1967), 'The Mad God's Amulet' (1968), 'The Sword of the Dawn' (1968) and 'The Runestaff' (1969).  He was also the lead character in the The Chronicles of Castle Brass series, 'Count Brass' (1973), 'The Champion of Garathorm' (1973) and 'The Quest for Tanelorn' (1975).  Another swords and sorcery series was that of Corum Jhaelen in 'The Knight of the Swords' (1971), 'The Queen of the Swords' (1971), 'The King of the Swords' (1971), 'The Bull and the Spear' (1973), 'The Oak and the Ram' (1973) and 'The Sword and the Stallion' (1974) which draw heavily on Celtic myths.  One thing about Moorcock's work is that whilst his stories are epic, they are often covered in short novels.  This contrasts with the 'doorstop' sized books that seem to characterise so many fantasy series seeking to ape 'The Lord of the Rings'.

Less typical of standard fantasy were Moorcock's, 'Dancers at the End of Time' series: 'An Alien Heat' (1971), 'The Hollow Lands' (1974), 'The End of All Songs' (1976), 'Legends from the End of Time' (1976), 'The Transformation of Miss. Mavis Ming' (1977) and 'Elric at the End of Time' (1981), more cross-series connections from Moorcock.  The novels and short stories present a very hedonistic society in which a few individuals are left on what is Earth close to the end of its life.  They are nearly ominpotent due to the powers imbued by rings they wear connected to self-running cities that they never enter nor have much understanding of.  However, the powers allow them to create or adjust anything even themselves.   They pass their time indulging in arts and parties and petty rivalries.  In some ways it is like 'The Tale of Genji', set in the imperial court of early medieval Japan, cut off from any real concerns, the protagonists make a great deal of minor things whilst always being luxuriously elegant and hedonistic. Strangely the cast of eccentric characters in this fantastical setting always reminds me also of the children's series 'The Magic Roundabout'.  Being at the end of time, time travellers from history (though not necessarily from our version of Earth, in a time travelling character's single reference to 'Waterloo Circus' you are shown that).  These arrivals stir up the situation and in one case even trigger a hunt for the Holy Grail, though something else is found instead.  The tone of these novels, though working with many of the themes featured across Moorcock's work, is lighter and these are easy to access stories, though no less thought provoking.

Moorcock's 'Behold the Man' (1966 in magazine/1969 as novel) deserves particular mention.  It won the Nebula Award in 1969. On wikipedia for the entry on Moorcock it says 'some of Moorcock's work has criticized Christianity, most notably, "Behold the Man".' I suppose for any reader who finds any variation from the gospels, criticism, the books is a criticism. However, that is a very superficial reading of the book. In the story a Jewish time traveller, Karl, from 1970 ends up in 28 CE. He finds that Jesus of Nazareth is a low intelligence son of a carpenter. Karl is mistaken for the messiah and ends up living out the life of Jesus, ultimately being betrayed and crucified. This is certainly a heretical view if you believe Jesus was in fact the son of God. However, it is less of a challenge for someone like me who sees Jesus as an ordinary man, reminding us all that we are sons and daughters of God, and showing us we do not need to be divine in order to live a good life.

As well as issues around paradoxes, the novel clearly asks questions about predestination and personal choice, issues that have divided denominations of Christianity through the centuries. I would bracket it with 'Life of Brian' (1979), though in tone the two are very different, but both ask us the extent to which as ordinary people, how do we engage with living morally and also the challenges of expectations thrust upon us. I guess this novel probably would not get published now, but I believe it deserves all the acclaim it received if not just for Moorcock being bold enough to take on the story.

Some view Moorcock's fantasy novels as not really sitting properly in the fantasy genre.  Partly this is because of Moorcock's concept of the Eternal Champion, in that many of his characters are in fact incarnations of characters featured in other series of his.  In one story the characters travel to a kind of arena where all the different versions of this champion and his companions are shown.  I find this concept pretty tiresome and, in fact, unnecessary.  I feel that Moorcock gives more value to his characters if he treated them as distinct identities.  Certainly having characters from different series appearing in other series feels at time very laboured and has led Moorcock to re-write some stories, not to refresh them but simply to make such connections even more apparent, for example introducing his Bishop Beesley character into 'The Land Leviathan' through a re-write. 

Another reason why some commentators set Moorcock's works apart from other fantasy is that his heroes have 'issues'.  I have mentioned the amorality of Jerry Cornelius and Elric, but many leading characters of Moorcock's fantasies are haunted by a sense of doom or of being manipulated.  They make mistakes and can even put friends in jeopardy as a result.  They all tend to be flawed heroes if not anti-heroes.  To a great extent this reflects the period in which Moorcock was really establishing himself, in the late 1960s and 1970s when science fiction was reflecting more on the psychological than the physical and the opportunities and challenges from hallucinogenic drugs. 

As was seen in my review of that 1952 anthology of science fiction stories, the concern with the psychological had been developing in science fiction since the 1940s but across fiction both in print and in movies in the 1960s looking to the inside of people's thoughts and motivations was a widespread trend.  By the 1980s, however, with Reaganite demand for simple heroics and politicians using phrases like 'empire of evil' and 'star wars' as (supposedly) serious political statements, fantasy was pushed back more to the Robert E. Howard style of muscular heroes who can do no wrong. 

Moorcock has noted how misogynistic so much of such writing was and particularly has spoken out against the Gor series of novels by John Norman (29 novels 1966-2011) which feature a society in which not only are women predominantly enslaved to dominant men, but are also shown to enjoy or at least come to accept as 'right' male physical dominance of women, including physical punishment.  Moorcock's heroes are not simplistic, they are complex and at times unlikeable but that adds credibility to them when he is dealing with at times very fantastical worlds. 

Though it is not expressed in such terms, Moorcock seems to be a representative of the trends of the late 1960s into the 1970s, in seeking a degree of libertarianism especially in terms of sex, sexuality and use of narcotics, but also tempered with attitudes which counter racism, sexism and authoritarianism.  The converse side of this as shown by authors like Norman and Howard, aiming very much at the same kind of audience, young men, is a longer running attitude that might is right and that men should be dominant over women.  Such attitudes were the norm in previous centuries and have endured, given new life especially in the era of the hard-right Republican presidencies of Reagan and the two Bushes.  Each side sees the other as being 'wrong' and many of the attitudes of the 'promiscuous Sixties' are blamed for contemporary problems in the ways that liberal thinkers have attacked the attitudes of the partriachical, militarised society for today's problems too.  The politics is never overt, but it is a relief that at least one voice of some of the values many of us hold to but seem rare in the 2010s remains in Moorcock's work.

Moorcock kept writing through the 1980s a period less fertile for his work.   In this period you see the Von Bek triology set in a mythical town, Mirenburg in the state of Waldenstein, almost an archetype of Central Europe cities and states.  In 'The War Hound and the World's Pain' (1981), 'The Brothel in Rosenstrasse' (1982) and 'The City in the Autumn Stars' (1986), Moorcock draws on a mixture of characteristics of 18th century/early 19th century German science, literature and fantasy, especially Faustian pacts and references to medieval myths and the kind of Weimar Republic styling of 'Cabaret' (1972).  Moorcock, as always brings themes such as the Holy Grail into a new context.

The Von Beks become a sprawling trans-era/trans-dimensional family as much as the Corneliuses were and Oona Von Bek appears in three novels along with Elric: 'The Dreamthief's Daughter' (2001), 'The Skrayling Tree' (2003) and 'The White Wolf's Son' (2005) often delving into the dangerous fantasies of the Nazis.  This 'untidiness' of Moorcock's work with characters straddling so many times and places, running into other characters often frustrates readers of Moorcock's novels.  Personally I think he tries too hard to connect everything up and personally I try to take each novel as a distinct entity, judging characters featuring in it for their own sake in that story rather than what else they might be elsewhere.  This may be the opposite of what Moorcock may intend.

In the 1980s Moorcock also began producing the Between the Wars series: 'Byzantium Endures' (1981), 'The Laughter of Carthage' (1984), 'Jerusalem Commands' (1992) and 'The Vengeance of Rome' (2006) which, despite the titles, are really a crystallisation of all those bitty counter-factuals that peppered the Cornelius books.  These stories, perhaps reflecting the times, despite having a cocaine and sex addict as their protagonist do not have the glorious romping nature of the Cornelius stories and are instead downbeat, low key.  They follow Russian, half-Jewish, Colonel Pyat from 1900 onwards being wrapped up in various aspects of 20th century history. 

To some degree, this marked Moorcock's progression to more realistic or at least partial magic realism in his novels 'Mother London' (1988) and 'King of the City' (2000)  very much about London, though not precisely as we know it (escalators at Mile End underground station!?).  Showing that he never adheres to one genre, he was also producing the very fantastical Second Ether stories about pirates in some alternative version of space: 'Blood: A Southern Fantasy' (1994), 'Fabulous Harbours' (1995) and 'The War Amongst The Angels' (1996), for me too 'rich' in terms of their fantastical nature to be that enjoyable.

Michael Moorcock's work will not appeal to everyone even among young men.  However, if you are seeking something different in your reading that may be based in one genre but is liable to jump over the boundaries from time to time, then Moorcock's work is well worth looking at.  There is such an assortment that many people will find something of interest among it.  Expect to be challenged and expect for the ideas that are raised, even in a seemingly adventurous fantasy story, to nag at you long after you have finished the book.  I am glad Moorcock is still writing, his latest book, a Doctor Who one, 'The Coming of the Terraphiles' (2010) possibly indicates that whilst he may not be mainstream, mainstream science fiction audiences are once again ready to delve into his ideas.  This book is apparently jammed full of Moorcockian references including the Captain Cornelius and the multiverse.

Saturday, 5 March 2011

How Inflexible The System Is When You Get Temporary Work

As I have often noted on this blog, I have now been out of work for nine months. I have had a little work, adding up to a total of 7 weeks and 3 days, which I suppose means that I have only been unemployed for six months and twenty-seven days. However, that ephemeral work hardly felt like a proper job and certainly my career is no less derailed than when I was made redundant last June. I have been signing on at the Job Centre Plus and fulfilling all their requirements very carefully. After six months, the contribution-based Jobseeker's Allowance ran out, but I could not get the Income-based Jobseeker's Allowance, because I happened to live in a house with a woman who ran her own business that meant she worke more than 24 hours per week. It did not matter that in a good year she earnt £12,000 (€14,280; US$18,120) per year and due to the recession was making a loss, so she was not in much position to contribute to the household income. The fact that she worked more than 24 hours meant I got no unemployment benefit or mortgage interest benefit; I did get National Insurance credits, but of course never see them, they just go to another part of the civil service. Hence the rush to dispose of the house before it was repossessed. This is one reason why there is a difference between the number of people who are unemployed and the number of people receiving benefit for being unemployed. David Cameron notes very proudly when the latter figure goes down as if it was a benefit to the entire country rather than just the Treasury. In fact, all it marks is that another set of people have fallen foul of the tricksy regulations around such benefits. They do nothing to encourage people to try even harder to find work, they simply cut off even the meagre benefits they are receiving.

The requirements of signing on, even if you are not actually receiving benefits, mean that you have to be 'actively looking for work', this entails carrying out three activities (e.g. going to the Job Centre, reading a newspaper, calling an employment agency) each week. I was also compelled to apply for two jobs each week and after six months to apply for any job that I was deemed to be suitable for. This latter condition was quite laughable, because even in my own industry I got such negative (even hostile at times) feedback from some interviews that it seemed that even trying to get back into work I had done before, I was no longer seen as 'suitable'.

I was also encouraged to find temporary and part-time work. I am not averse to that, as proven by my two periods of temporary work. I am signed up with three employment agencies, but they seem unable to find anything for me. In a depression as we are currently experiencing, unemployment figures are kept lower by people who previously had full-time jobs taking part-time and temporary work. This is why female unemployment tends to rise slower and fall quicker, because a lot of such jobs, for example, in caring and retail, tend to appoint women rather than men. In the UK we consider someone going even on to say 18 hours per week, to no longer be unemployed, even though previously they had always worked 37.5 hours per week.
So, as in the 1980s, with a weak economy, temporary work is back in flavour. Do the government and local authorities then make it easy for someone to go in and out of temporary work so as to encourage people to take it up? Of course not. If the work is anything over a week you have to sign off from the Job Centre. Even if you just do 6 days' part-time work you have to start all over again with the application form and having the interviews and stating what you will do to find work. The cost of doing this for people who have found one or two weeks' work must be phenomenal. I turned up after my week's work and had to write and say everything that had precisely been on my file less than a fortnight earlier. Of course, having a new claim means there is a delay in getting benefits. If you have worked for a week or a fortnight, you are unlikely to be paid until the end of that month, in my case and many others, not until the end of the following month, so taking on work, in the short term, leaves you short of funds whilst the benefits are processed once again. This is hardly an incentive to take on temporary work, especially when your housing benefit is dependent on you receiving Jobseeker's Allowance.

There is a further complication which does nothing to reduce unemployment in the longer term.  After six months of signing on for Jobseeker's Allowance you begin to become eligible for training courses.  These can vary between a short course on a particular package to the Department of Work & Pensions allowing you to attend a college a certain number of days per week to entirely retrain without them stopping your benefits.  The trouble is, even if you take a week's temporary work, your 'clock' is reset to zero.  So after my one week's work in November I returned to sign on as if I had not been unemployed for the preceding five months.  Once I finish my current work I will again start as if I had not been unemployed for half of last year and part of this year.  I have been in work for only 7 weeks out of 30 but when I sign on again the 23 weeks of unemployment are disregarded and I have to start again being unemployed for six months before I can go on training.

It seems apparent after applying for seventy positions and attending 22 interviews that my sector is in trouble.  Many sectors are, but I might widen my chances by retraining.  However, nine fragmented months of unemployment does not count, it has to be six months unbroken.  I have been encouraged to take temporary work and certainly welcome the little bits of money it has brought in.  However, in terms of getting me into a permanent job or even one that lasts six months rather than just six weeks, I have done myself, and thus the state, a disfavour.  Again, very short-sighted policies make it harder not easier to get off benefits for the long term.

Dealing with the Department of Work & Pensions, time after time, saying the same thing again and again just because you have got bits of work. Dealing with the local authorities is far harder. In the UK local councils pay out the benefits to help with your council tax payments (effectively giving you a discount on that) and housing benefit (which is currently being constrained far more by central government). Now every council has different rules and procedures for applying for such benefit. The town I am currently in, sends print outs covering four sheets of A4 paper every time there is even a minimal change to your circumstances.

When our student lodger left one week earlier than planned we had four pages of calculations to tell us we would receive £3.95 (€4.70; US$5.96) more in council tax benefit than previously advised. When I first signed on they sent me a council tax refund which I felt was short-sighted of them, and it has proven to be the case. Taking my first week's temporary work before Christmas led them to send me a form to complete again, this covered 16 pages, though fortunately most of it was irrelevant.

The woman in my house was again sent an even longer form which requested all details of her business. It contained patronising advice about how she should run her business and wanted all the details of her private and business accounts and three months' worth of income, though of course, they had had this data just a few weeks before. She was angry at this request, because as she pointed out, it was me, not her who was claiming the benefit.

Now, I have had six weeks' work and my Jobseeker's Allowance stopped when I started the work. Within days of me doing that, I receive a demand from the council for the outstanding council tax, which is £280 (€333; US$422), which is just £27 more than the refund they gave me last summer. Of course, again I was not paid until the end of February, but the demand was to be paid on 6th February. How is it that the council assumes that the moment you start work, you suddenly have money? I wish it was the case, but in fact, again I had to wait until 28th February to get any pay for the work I did in January and will have to wait to the very end of this month for the work I did in February.

When you have been out of work as long as me, you do not have a slush fund to suddenly pay off new demands. In addition after this later, six weeks of employment, we have to start all over again, as if the council never knew anything about me. There is a good chance that they will have to refund some of the money I paid out at the start of February (having had to borrow more to cover it until I got paid). Is this efficient? No. I have a file full of paper about this, with money going back and forth between me and the council on the basis of some very complex formula which must be using up council funds to administer, if this is how much work, just my single case generates.

Temporary work is by definition a temporary solution, it is not a permanent job. Even so-called permanent jobs these days are only 1 or 2-year contracts, not really enough time to become established. We are in a context in which in a desire to see the unemployment figures fall even a little, civil servants will encourage you to take short-term temporary work. However, given that mass unemployment is going to be a characteristic of the next few years, probably the rest of this decade, we need to move to a benefit system that actually encourages you not only to take temporary work, but to be honest about it when you do. Making you jump through tiresome administrative hoops due to a few weeks' or even just days' work is wasteful and encourages people simply to conceal their temporary work. The attitude of my local council, which I accept is probably not universal, but is likely to be occurring in quite a few towns, is ridiculous, with no appreciation of how people are paid in the 21st century or how just because you have a job does not mean suddenly you have lots of money. In fact, for the initial days and weeks, you are liable to be worse off, having to pay for transport costs, clean clothes, food for lunches, etc.

My suggestion is that claims should simply be suspended for 4 weeks (perhaps 8 weeks would be better) when you get temporary work. Your 'clock' for eligibility for free training should be frozen, not reset.  If you go back unemployed within that time you should not be compelled to make a new claim, simply pick up where you left off. Councils should levy no charges on people until they have been at work for at least a month if not six weeks. In this way you will encourage people to take temporary work knowing they are not suddenly going to get demands for money the day they start it.

A little realism will make life a great deal easier for people, and in fact, save the central and local governments money by reducing all this duplicated paperwork they insist you do.When I got the one week's work, even before I had done the job I had a demand from the council that I provide two consecutive pay slips (which was never going to happen for a job lasting a week). I pointed out that I had not actually received any pay for the job yet and would not do so until the end of the following month. They did not seem to understand that these days most people are paid a month in arrears. They seem to think all temporary work is cash in hand. However, then, why do they think you would get two pay slips? In most jobs you get one per month. Ultimately I was compelled to send a certificate of earnings to be completed by my employer. The council demanded that this was completed before the month I had worked in was up, even though I did not actually receive any pay for a further four weeks. When I pointed this out, I was told I had to apply for a delay on the demand, generating yet more paper. Why cannot the council simply come into the 21st century and see how people work and are paid these days?

Since the 1980s, many employers in the public, as well as the private, sector have liked having part-time and temporary workers because they have fewer rights. This gap has been narrowed a great deal, but a relative of mine was laid off after 12 months in her job with the employer explicitly saying that it was so that she did not qualify for the rights that come after a year in employment, such as being able to take an employer to a tribunal (this is being extended to 2 years at the moment). There is an assumption by employers and the current government, that if you give people rights at work, somehow they will instantly use them and burden the company 'unnecessarily'. This shows the enduring arrogance of too many employers and their supporters in government. There is apparently no recognition that the constant 'churn' of workers on this basis actually costs companies money, not least in regular training of new staff and the inefficiency of people who have no experience in the company. However, flexibility is king and these benefits are dismissed.

Friday, 4 March 2011

Dead In Seconds 5: Death To Spies

Whilst my favourite sort of computer gaming is strategy games, as regular readers will know I also enjoy first/third person shooting games such as 'BloodRayne', 'Deus Ex', XIII' and 'No-One Lives Forever' as an alternative.  However, as I have noted before, the gameplay balance is terrible in some of these games, leaving you with a frustrating experience as despite all your efforts, using all the skills you are supposed to develop you can be faced with massively overwhelming odds with little idea how to battle the opponents unless you read walkthroughs or you are eliminated in a very arbitrary manner which has nothing to do with any ability you might have in the game.

Browsing through a computer games shop recently I came across 'Death To Spies Gold' this provides 'Death To Spies' (2007) and 'Death To Spies: Moment Of Truth' (2009) in one package and it was selling for £4.99.  The game has you playing as a Captain in the 4th Directorate of the USSR's Smersh organisation in 1943.  Given the moral ambivalence of playing a Soviet agent, I guess they felt they had to have you primarily attacking Nazi soldiers and agents rather than dissidents against Stalin's government.  Controversially the game 'Stalin Subway' (2008) featured you as an agent in Moscow in the early 1950s rooting out opposition to Stalin and even being decorated by him.  The game was developed by Russian software house Buka Entertainment and in Russian is named 'Metro 2' after the supposed secret underground railways system alleged to have existed during Stalin's period.  In 2008, Buka Entertainment was bought up by 1C Company, which produces 'Death To Spies'.  Interestingly, the wikipedia page about 'Stalin Subway' has been deleted, on the grounds it was more advertising than information, but I believe it owes more to how much the game has upset people who suffered under the Soviet system.  There is an attraction for playing the 'other', characters which have a different moral code to our own or an amoral approach, hence the popularity of games in which the player is an assassin or a vampire.

Anyway, it was on this basis that I approached 'Death To Spies Gold'.  I was disappointed by the dreary downloading screen, but was soon on the training mission of the game, in the role of Captain Semion Strogor, in a well-equipped training base, presumably somewhere deep in European Russia or pehaps over the Urals in western Siberia.  Usually training scenarios in games are simply to familiarise you with the controls of the game.  However, in this game, it is something much harder.  Sure you learn how to run, jump, crawl, fire guns and drive lorries.  However, trying to pitch a grenade through an open window on the first floor (second floor for American readers) and ensuring it explodes just at the right time is a challenge.  Creeping around is part of many first/third person games.  However, I have never encountered one as hard as this and I have got through the early stages of dodging robots in 'Deus Ex' (2000) and nudging through crowds carrying pots in 'Assassin's Creed' (2007).  After three hours of play I was only two-thirds of the way through the training mission.  I realised if it was this hard at that early stage, there was in fact no point in continuing to play the game and I was glad I had spent no more than £4.99 on it.

What game designers seem to forget is that players can be incredibly skilful but always remain limited by what their interface with the game permits.  Anyone who has played a shooting game on a PlayStation 2 knows the frustration when you try to turn your character to precisely the right angle and find they click to the left and then to the right of the line you need.  There are only so many settings that the system allows.  Newer consoles may have more subtlety, but I would hate to have to try to aim a pistol using a Wii controller.  Most people who play games are not marksmen/women, we are ordinary people with an average eye for these things and reasonable co-ordination.  In 'Death To Spies' the game mimics the wavering of your hand and the arc of things thrown, which means you have to line up the tiny (you can make it larger but it does not help), very pale grey (you cannot make it darker) sight on a pillar or a target to make the precise hit.  It is realistic, yes, but unlike in real life, I can not shuffle so quietly and so precisely pressing on keys in the way the game demands.  I know game designers always try to make a game realistic and the arbitrariness of your death in 'Death To Spies' is probably a reflection of reality.  However, in games as in movies, there needs to be at least some suspension of reality, otherwise John McClane in 'Die Hard' (1988) would have collapsed of exhaustion or blood loss or fallen down a lift shaft long before the end of the movie.

Remember too, that a keyboard or a mouse or even a console controller, is an imprecise tool, it is not a laser-guided control in the way a factory machine would be run.  Consequently the gameplay needs to reflect this distance between what you want from the player and what the player is able to do using the tools to hand.  A classic example of this was in 'BloodRayne 2' (2004).  You could cope with the masses of opponents able to disable you with a blow, but having to catch them on a chain then release a whole number of their corpses in precisely the right direction to jam a machine and then do this in a time limit, was unfeasible.  If a game cannot be completed when you are playing with a 'God mode' cheat, then you have to know something is wrong with it.

I am disappointed not to have been able to get out of training on 'Death To Spies'.  I know many macho gamers like tough games, but there are also a lot of people like me, who like a challenge, but also want to progress a little further than the training mission.  It is interesting to see what 1C Company does next.  In the past there has been comment on the US military using computer games to communicate its values, but Buka and its successor seem to be doing some revisionism on the Stalinist era with their games, fascinating but also something perhaps to be wary of.  I do wonder what will be next, a game in which you play an agent of Mao Zedong, 'properly' eliminating landlord elements and foreign counter-revolutionaries across 1950s villages and cities of Red China?  Perhaps an agent of Pol Pot sent to wipe out villagers unwilling to comply with the Year Zero plans?

P.P. 08/03/2011
At my girlfriend's urging, I returned to 'Death To Spies'.  This time, I managed to make it out of training.  I clambered into the watchtower repeatedly until by random, one time the guard did not turn round before I was able to attack him.  I had no idea how I achieved it, it just seemed to be luck.  I managed to complete the final task by locating some cutlery I had previously missed and using it to distract the guard and reach the final target.

I was glad that I was able to get the training mission out of the way and get into the game proper.  It revealed more about 1C Company's take on Soviet history.  The first cut-away movie shows the character you are playing, Captain Semion Strogor, not in 1943 but in 1951, by which time he has been decorated twice and promoted to major.  However, we see him being interrogated in the Lubyanka Prison, the headquarters of the MGB (ended up in 1954 as the KGB) about his superior and his activities during the Second World War.  Towards the end of his life in 1953, Stalin was planning more purges.  One notable thing about the Soviet Union under Stalin was how 'heroes' were often in line for elimination by the paranoid dictator.  It seems rare that a game has the character you play shown, not being showered in glory for his/her achievements, but, despite all that they have done successfully, being questioned on suspicion of being a traitor.

1C Company's view of history is interesting.  In the game swastikas do not appear though Nazi posters and portraits are featured.  Instead you simply get a black cross.  In German the swastika (itself an Indian word) was known as the 'hooked cross'.  Similarly there is no mention of the SS, posters for the Waffen SS say 'Waffen II' instead and the insignia on the SS collars is similarly just 'II' rather than the lightning.  This is different in 'Death To Spies: Moment of Truth' which, from what I have seen, like most wartime set games, swastikas appear.

In the fourth mission you are sent to a hotel somewhere in the USSR perhaps Moscow, though in 1944 I doubt its hotels were back to the condition it is shown in the game.  You have to assassinate a traitor who is passing secrets to a British diplomat staying at the hotel.  You also have to substitute the information the diplomat has with false information.  There is also mention of numerous British 'sleepers' inside the Soviet system.  I guess that reflects the paranoia of Stalin's era.  What is interesting is the fact that in 1944, Britain had been the USSR's ally for over two years.  I suppose the game is reflecting Realpolitik and in this differs from many other Second World War set games. 

Later you are sent to assassinate SS-Obersturmbannfuhrer Andreas Meyer-Mader who was a genuine commander of 1. Ostmuslemanische SS-Regiment, literally '1st East Muslim SS-Regiment'.  Meyer-Mader was an Austrian who had served with Chiang Kai-Shek's forces and risen to the rank of major in the German army commanding a battalion of Turkestani volunteers in the 444th Sicherungs [Security] Division before becoming a lieutenant-colonel in the SS, commanding this regiment of Azeris.

Of course, the Germans used paramilitaries and soldiers drawn from regions collaborating with them and specialist SS units were set up.  This was one reason why Stalin felt the need to relocate millions of people, for example, away from the Crimea, farther East so they could not link up with advancing German forces.  Hitler hoped to conquer the oil-rich areas of the Caucasus and to bring neutral Turkey into the war on his side.  In part these were the reasons for creating the Turkestanisch Legion of the standard German army consisting of Muslim volunteers from Central Asia, including Karakalpaks  Kazakhs, Kirghizs, Tadjiks, Turkomans and Uzbeks which I guess is what is meant in this game or perhaps the Wolgatatarische Legion of Muslim Tatars.  There was also the Kaukasisch-Mohammedan Legion made up of Muslim volunteers from the Caucasian region such as Azeris, Chechens, Daghestans, Ingushes and Lezghins.  This is a neglected area of Second World War history, but being assigned to assassinate someone collaborating with the Nazis in this way adds an aspect to the game beyond securing more secret files.

In the ninth mission you are sent to locate Raoul Wallenberg (1912-47), who unlike the other characters featured, was a real man.  He was a Swede who worked in Budapest in 1944-5 to save hundreds of Hungarian Jews from extermination by making them Swedish citizens and thus members of a neutral company.  Hungary, despite being an ally of Germany and having passed anti-Semitic legislation itself as early as 1938, was one of the last countries in Nazi-controlled Europe to give up its Jews for extermination.  With the Soviet Army two days from Budapest, Wallenberg managed to persuade the Germans not to force the remaining Jews on a 'death march' to Germany the way that other Jews were compelled to do as the Soviets advanced through land the Germans had held.  Wallenberg was arrested by the Soviets in January 1945 and taken back to the USSR despite being a neutral citizen. The Soviets accused him of being a US spy.  Wallenberg disappeared into the Soviet detention system and it was not until February 1957 that the Soviets released information about his death, saying he had died of a heart attack on 17th July 1947.  A Soviet investigation in 1989 revealed that in fact Wallenberg had been executed in the Lubyanka prison. 

In 'Death To Spies' it is stated that Wallenberg is an agent of the Americans and British and had, in fact been in contact with Brigadefuhrer Walter Schellenberg of the foreign intelligence service of the SS; there is no evidence he was ever in contact with Nazi agents though he negotiated with army officers, for example over not carrying out the death march.  In the game you have to locate Wallenberg in the German 'death camp' of Moosburg.  In reality this was a 'Stalag', a prisoner-of-war camp for ranking soldiers, not officers.  Wallenberg was never detained by the Germans in any camp.  The game does say correctly that Wallenberg was executed in July 1947 and Strogor sees that as ridding the Soviets of a troublesome man.  I guess this reflects the genuine sentiments of a Soviet agent of the time, but again shows how the perspective of the war from the Russian side differs.  Wallenberg has been commemorated around the world, including in the UK, Germany, Israel and Argentina; he was made a honorary citizen of Canada, the USA and Hungary and now even in Russia there is a statue to him and an educational institute named after him.  It seems odd that the game designers selected such a character for this game, portraying him in a negative light when easily they could have stuck to fictional ones.  Perhaps this is part of a revisionist, pro-Stalinist perspective that seems to be an undercurrent in these games.

The images in the game, such as documents are in Russian, but the voices of the Soviet characters have been re-dubbed into very American voices which means that the words do not synchronise with the movement of their mouths, making scenes resemble martial arts movies of the 1970s.  However, the attention to detail in terms of settings, furniture, clothing, weapons, etc. is very good.  The German characters you encounter speak German, though someone will have to advise me whether an interrogator would use the familiar form of address 'Du' when questioning a prisoner. 

I was able to get on with the missions, taking Strogor back to 1943/4 on the Belarussian front, infiltrating mainly German bases.  In many ways this is typical of many other Second World War games.  The graphics are impressive.  The first mission takes place in Summer 1943 and you walk through sun-dappled woodlands, with grass swaying in the wind and light coming through the trees, bird song plays soon to be disrupted by fighting.  Things like the 'rise' of your gun as you fire it, are well done too; the lock-picking system is the best I have seen in any shooting game.

There are many challenges in playing 'Death To Spies'.  Interestingly, I have not been able to find a single walkthrough for the game, and I think that shows how tough it is.  I think games designers of shooting games envisage players planning how to go through them and proceeding only occasionally being halted when they are killed or doing something wrong.  Typical play in all such games is, in fact, incremental, sometimes playing for some seconds in game time to test a move, even down to whether you can open a door without being shot and then saving.  At least 'Death To Spies' allows constant saves. A key problem for 'XIII' (2003) was the fact you could only save at the end of the section so the increments of play were far longer and much more tedious. 

Interestingly, you find as the missions progress, that rather than being able to choose your way of completing a mission as the game packaging suggests, you end up learning the routines of your opponents down to a scale of a matter of seconds, primarily because opening a door a second too early or passing in front of an open doorway for a few seconds, or taking a second too long to knock someone out, means you are dead.  There is absolutely no leeway and this means you have to be able to press precisely the right button at the correct moment or you are dead.  I think this is why the game is seen as hard.  It is this element that also makes it seem highly unrealistic as you stand there watching the precise angle at which the triangles representing guards are pointing then try to move without making even a small amount of noise or being seen for a second by the wrong person.

Some of the problems with 'Death To Spies' are problems in such games going back as far as 'Hidden and Dangerous' (1999), a pretty similar game featuring Commonwealth troops (and some other nations, I remember a Czech and a Spanish Republican).  There is an imbalance between the damage you can inflict and what your opponents can inflict is an old problem.  I shot one German soldier three times in the chest with a Luger pistol (at least 7.65mm calibre rounds, perhaps even 9mm) at less than 3 metres and he proceeded not only to run around and fire at me, but also to raise the alarm.  Of course, your opponents, if they have a clear line of fire, will always hit you, no matter how far away you are from them.  They will also always spot you if you cross their line of sight (a big part of this game as many missions involve dodging numerous guards).  Having only human faculties and not computer generated ones, I can never be that good. 

Another problem is that drawing certain weapons, notably a silenced pistol, a garotte or a dagger rather than German Army issue weapons, is 'suspicious' and can lead guards to raise the alarm.  This is feasible if you are in plain sight of an opponent.  However, their alarm also extends to you drawing a silenced pistol when in a different building or behind a closed door.  It is clear that German soldiers are literally able to smell suspicious weapons and, on the basis of this, alert the whole contingent in the neighbourhood.  The people seeking you, find you instantly no matter how well hidden you are.  I suppose this shows you that the weapon you have pulled out has to be the wrong one for the current element of the mission or that you are using it in the wrong location.  However, it hardly makes the game feel realistic and so detracts from the positive points.

Commentators on the game have noted how often your opponents throw grenades.  In the open this would be quite likely.  However, of course, they get the grenade to land right on you, just at the correct moment for them to detonate.  In return, you toss a grenade, and because it has a delay typical for grenades of the 1940s, something like 7 seconds, you find the opponents have simply run away from it before it explodes.  As with 'Hidden and Dangerous' often the grenade does far more damage to you than it does to your opponent.  In fact they can throw them into a small room and stand and watch the explosion unharmed while it kills or severely wounds you.  These are problems that I have not seen worked out in more than a decade of gaming, though I imagine that on something like 'Rainbow Six' (1998-2011) series or 'Medal of Honor' (1998-2010) they have worked out the logistics of this better, I hope so, I have not played any of these series to find out.

The artificial intelligence of the opponents is sensible.  This does cause problems as you are liable to have a whole company of soldiers respond to gunshots, coming in from all over the map.  The opponents respond to noises and suspicious activities they see.  This makes for exciting game play.  As the game emphasises, sneaking around is much more of an element of this game that charging in with guns blazing, though on some occasions this does happen.  It is a pity that for the two silenced weapons you can select, you get so little ammunition and with no chance of replenishing it whilst on mission.

Another factor that makes gameplay so hard is another technical issue and this is where 'Death To Spies' falls down, even when compared to the highly bugged 'Hidden and Dangerous'.  If a guard turns or someone walks into a room and catches you, in many games you hit them in the face with a pistol butt or stab them or punch them with your fist.  In 'Death To Spies' you are generally powerless.  You find your gun does not fire and 'stun' attacks, generally a karate blow to the neck, are not even available at that time.  Consequently, discovery means instant death as the opponent fires round after round into you with precise accuracy and then chucks in a grenade even though he is standing in the blast radius.

Like many shooting games, 'Death To Spies' suffers from the 'unique weapon' problem.  Despite what it says on the box about selecting your own way to complete a mission, you often find there is only one weapon that will do the job.  The worst game for this is 'Gun' (2005) in which after battling through various stages and completing side missions, I faced the final boss to find that the only thing that could kill him was a bow-and-arrow firing dynamite, something I had discarded way back in favour of proper guns.  It was only when I reached the end that I found this was the one piece of equipment needed to allow me to finish, naturally I gave up rather than play through all the levels again.

In 'Death To Spies' you have a pretty wide selection of weapons from the era and you think that allows you to select your equipment to match your tastes.  I tend to select German weapons like Walther pistols and MP40 sub-machine guns as I know going into German bases I can acquire additional ammunition far more easily than if I take a Soviet weapon.  In addition, in this game, you often have to disguise yourself as the opposition and guards spot if you are carrying a foreign weapon.  This is fine until you find that the only way to assassinate a particular target, without bringing a company of guards down on you, is to use the silenced Nagant revolver. I have seen movies with silenced Lugers, is it too much to ask that one be available in the game?  Perhaps you could put the silencer on and then remove it so as not to appear suspicious.

You have weapons like a garotte and a dagger but often find that, with particular opponents, the function to use these is disabled.  You can strangle one opponent but are not allowed to strangle the next one.  In addition, some modes of attack make it impossible to continue.  A classic example is in the first mission in which you have to kill an officer to get his uniform.  If you stab him, you cannot put the uniform, you have to strangle him to allow that to happen.  I wish they had actually given you a freer hand in how to carry out the assassinations.

As I played on, I found that booby-trapping corpses and doors with grenades was an effective way of proceeding.  It means you get a lower score, because of the penalty you receive for making noise.  However, when faced with so many opponents as you are in many of the missions, it is a way to eliminate some and be far away from the other opponents this attracts and so not be riddled with bullets the moment the alarm goes off.  I find putting a booby-trapped corpse in the path of a patrol is one good technique.  Sometimes you will want to disarm a trap, and it is important to remember that you must have the weight allowance remaining to allow you to take the grenade back off the body or the door.  If not, then you cannot disable the trap and it remains live.  Because you do not see the option to disable the trap you might think it has been detonated or is not in the location you had thought, a costly mistake when you trigger it.

The way to approach such games is not as if they are about combat, rather that they are puzzles.  You have to work out by how the landscape is laid out and how the opponents move around in it, what the puzzle is and what kind of solution the game designer would have thought fitted. Now this may not be a necessarily 'logical' or even 'rational' approach.  One classic example happens on the fourth mission of 'Death To Spies' in which to get a bodyguard to move away from the door of the diplomat's room you have to get into in a hotel, you have to walk halfway down the stairs and throw cups and plates to the bottom of the stairs.  Throwing the cups and plates when too high up or too low down the stairs or in the corridor, does not work.  Lots of practice on similar games really helps as I see things happening that I had seen on 'Hidden and Dangerous' just with better graphics.  The game needs lateral thinking and perhaps that is not really how it should be for a game which is really simply about shooting and stabbing people.

There are some minor, but irritating flaws.  Before a mission you can pick very carefully what guns, grenades and other equipment you select to take with you.  As I say, I tend to pick German guns.  However, the only backpacks on offer are of Soviet design, something immediately apparent to German guards.  This means that you have to abandon the backpack almost immediately, at best leaving it on the edge of the area with equipment in it you can return to.  Fortunately, in 'Death To Spies: Moment of Truth' (2009), they supply German backpacks too, meaning you do not have to abandon your explosives and spare ammunition early on. 

Many of these difficulties would have appeared if some proper play testing had gone on.  I think too many companies rush out games and while, these days at least, they check that all the coding works, they spend too little time actually testing the games on people who are coming to them afresh.  The weakness of your pistot shots, the grenade issue, the paralysation when faced with an opponent and the backpack issue would all have been spotted within minutes of that kind of testing.

So far I have managed to complete the first four missions of the game and am well advanced on the fifth.  This is not the place for a walkthrough, but for the benefit of anyone, who, like me, has recently picked up the Gold edition of the game and is struggling to progress, I lay out some little bits of useful information I have found out.

Mission 1: Rural Transport Camp
This is mainly outside and in the early stages you have a free hand to take out opponents as you choose.  Leave your backpack somewhere in the countryside and proceed to get the uniform of the driver in the small underground bunker.  When driving the lorry realise that most soldiers will not get out of your way and if you bump into them or run any over then the whole camp will start shooting at you.  When you reach the base, drive briskly (not speeding) to somewhere secluded where you can park the lorry.  If you linger in it too long in the more public areas this raises suspicion and the shooting starts.

I knocked out my target in a garage that he occasionally goes into. I was able to leave him there until I had completed the activity in the main building then back up a lorry to the doors and dump his stunned body (he can only be stunned not killed) into the back and then drive out with it.  It helps to have the lorry backed up to the door as guards patrol and the lorry blocks their lines of sight.

Whilst the game does not tell you this fact, you need to get the uniform of an officer if you are to gain access to the first floor (maps in the game have the floors in the German designation, i.e. Erdgeschoss, literally 'ground floor', is, however, translated in the American way as 1st floor; the British 1st floor is shown as 2nd floor as it is in American and German usage).  The easiest uniform to get is that of an officer in an office mid-way down the corridor on the ground floor.  You chloroform his secretary in the outer office then creep in and kill the officer, but not with the dagger as that will prevent you from taking the uniform. With this uniform, dodging the relevant guards you can go upstairs to the office and complete the mission, then go out to a lorry and drive briskly but not recklessly round to the garage

Mission 2: Wintry Belarussian Town 
This is set in the winter of 1943.  You travel to a bombed out town in Belarus.  There are four stages to the mission.  The first element ends up being pretty violent as the only way to get into the building is to adopt a Thermopylae approach in the alley behind the building.  Stand in the alley with your MP40 ready.  Once the first soldiers have come out to investigate and you shoot them, others will investigate their corpses and so on, ultimately exposing the whole unit.  They are trapped as, the moment they step through the door, they can only come towards you and you gun them down.  Eventually the officer comes out and you shoot him and take his uniform.  You end up killing most of a platoon.  You need to react fast so that they do not toss grenades at you.  Do not try throwing grenades at them, as unlike your opponents, you are not immune to the blast in the confined space of the alley.

Meeting up with the old woman who tells you the courier has been taken prisoner is just a question of timing your navigation through the buildings to avoid being spotted.  Killing the courier's guards is harder.  The garotte and the dagger will not work.  You have to used the silenced Nagant; any other firearm or trying to stun the guards will bring the might of the German Army down on you.  The final element of the mission is to take papers from an officer.  I tried everything to get into his office to no avail.  Then I realised I was adopting the entirely wrong approach and began to think of it as a puzzle rather than as combat.  The officer comes out of the office and walks in the street close to the railway at regular intervals.  I then thought, as in 'Hidden and Dangerous', using a sniper's rifle can often be the safest way.  Then I found a sniper up in a derelict building at the end of the street, close to where I had killed the platoon.  One shot with my silenced pistol and he dropped his rifle to me.  I clambered up the building, took the shot and killed the officer.  There was alarm and guards running around, but I was far away from them, watching at a distance, and after a while they calmed down.  Then, still dressed as a German officer, I walked to the body of the man I had just shot, paying my last respects I looted the body of the documents I needed.

Mission 3: Prison
In this mission you emerge in a cellar of a prison and have to move immediately or you will be detected instantly.  The best bet is to run forwards and hide against the wall, so you are beside the guard when he looks into the cellar and out of his line of sight.  You can make a lot of noise killing people in the cellar, but do not be tempted to use grenades.  Your opponents can use them on you with impunity, but if you try to do the same against them, they will run clear and the blast will kill you anyway.

This mission needs lots of very carefully timed walking around corridors.  Secure a room as your base for hiding.  The one I used was the one with an officer in black with documents you need to gain access to the cells.  He has two guards, but weirdly, you can go into the bedroom attached to the office and lure them in there, one by one, or they may simply walk in and out.  Bump them off then the officer.  His uniform will be useful later.  Then you need to make your way to the small museum where there is a guard and the only prison warden around (the one in the brown shirt).  You can creep around and bump them off one after the other, getting the brown shirt uniform you need to access most of the building.  Using the garotte is the best option for most of the hits you have to do against opponents when in their offices.  Later, to escape, you need to get into an officer's uniform and the man with the documents that you killed earlier is a handy source.

Now, there is an officer with documents which would allow you to take the prisoner out.  He is in a room by the fireplace with a colleague and a guard.  The guard looks towards the door the bulk of the time and will shoot you the moment you step through the door.  I have tried everything to get into that room, including creeping, setting off smoke in the corridor, eliminating as many guards around the room as possible first and putting myself in a strong position and shooting anyone who comes through the door.  This worked despite the carnage, until, of course, guards started lobbing grenades in.  I would love to know how you get into that room and live.  I think it may involve a fire alarm or a disguise that I was unable to find, but have no proof of that.  If anyone can tell me, I would be very pleased.  In the end, not securing the release papers I had to take the lesser option and kill the prisoner in his cell.  Doing this even quietly led to five guards rushing in, but I just stepped passed them and shot them down in the cell like the proverbial fish in a barrel.  Unsurprisingly down in the cells, no-one can hear you scream or open up with an MP40.  Make sure you actually shoot the prisoner, not simply knock him out otherwise you will find when you reach the exit, you cannot leave and have to go back to finish him off.

Mission 4: Metropol Hotel
This is set in the Metropol Hotel, which I imagine is meant to be in the USSR but has a feel of an American hotel.  The diplomat looks far more American than British and the guards carry M1911 automatic pistols, the standard issue to US forces 1911-45.  This is the least violent of the missions as shooting anyone will bring numerous guards down on you. If you have to kill someone there is a guard and his girlfriend (they can be determined by seeing the two triangles tip-to-tip on the map) and eliminating them opens up a room where you can dump the traitor's body.

The main thing is to get a staff uniform.  I did this in two stages, first taking out a chef when he went into a larder in the kitchen, then, wearing his outfit got to the steward who is your prime target, he is down the corridor from the kitchen, beyond the other chef who you have to avoid as he knows you are not genuine.  The steward can be knocked out when in store room.  Vitally he has the keys that allow you into the room across the corridor to intercept the traitor's weapons and to get upstairs to the corridor which has the suite where the British diplomat is staying in order to substitute the papers in his safe.

The challenging part is to get the guards away from the diplomat's room and the method is as noted above.  Get crockery from locations in the kitchen and nearby corridors and by throwing this down the stairs from the mid-way point you distract all three guards and can sneak into the room while the very stubborn guard who stands by the door has his back turned.

Mission 5: Lakeside Village
This mission is like a one-man guerilla war.  You are tasked with assassinating three targets billeted in a small Belarussian town in the spring of 1944.  The town has tens of guards and to get close to your targets you need to dodge between the various buildings, wonderfully rendered in detail, in order to pick off the various guards.  This takes a long time and a lot of patience as the patrols, and, importantly, their lines of sight overlap.  You have to work at it like an onion, taking out the guards patrolling the perimeter and then working inwards, though being cautious of guards in other sectors that are able to run to where you are.  You run out of bullets for silenced weapons pretty quickly, especially given that it can take 3-4 rounds fired from your Nagant at close range to kill an opponent.  So, you literally end up doing 'hit and run', blasting at a lone guard with your MP40 (there will soon be numerous magazines for it that you can use) and then running as fast as you can to the edge of the town.  An alternative is to duck into a building.  There are numerous houses, storerooms and even cowsheds you can go into, made easier if you have already opened the door before you made your hit.  If you slip into one while not in the red zone of any pursuer's line of sight and lie on the floor you are generally safe and can wait there until it all calms down.

Guards pursue you quickly and fire when they can.  They will often come in large numbers.  It is best to have an escape route worked out for every hit, one that you can get you away without having to mount fences and waste time, and yet, which takes you past numerous buildings and haystacks to break up your pursuers' lines of sight.  When they lose sight of you they begin to be less certain.  Stumbling across a corpse you have left from earlier slows them down, though it raises the alarm level.  Of course, you can booby-trap some of them with grenades and this may take out one or two curious pursuers.  It is a good idea not to run too far, because, as you get away from the town, the perimeter your pursuers have to check is far wider and they begin to spread pretty thinly.  This allows you to pick off one or two pursuers while they are out of the town.  This tactic is especially useful if you have been pursued by two or more guards whose regular patrols overlap as it is difficult to get close to one of them without the others spotting you; away from their regular routes (which they return to once the alarm has calmed down) they are far more vulnerable.

Being outside you can use grenades with relative safety and your opponents will chuck them around a great deal.  The most effective usage is with two or more guards who are patrolling a confined area, such as round a house, where their escape route is hemmed in by fences or other obstacles.  Once the guards are eliminated, killing your targets is very easy.  I assassinated them in reverse order.  Number 3 I killed by putting a timed dynamite bomb in the doorway to the room he was in.  Interestingly even the interior walls of cheap houses are sufficient to protect your opponents from the blast of a bundle of dynamite, though, of course, not you.  You must at least leave the dynamite in an open doorway for it to have any affect on a person in the small room beyond.  Number 2 and his personal guard, I simply opened the door to their building and waited them to step in turn into the corridor where I gunned them down.

The prime target, Number 1, Meyer-Mader, is, in fact, the easiest.  Once you have taken the uniform of the sleeping officer from the house in the middle of the village you can walk into the final headquarters.  There are some guards you have to dodge.  There is no point attacking your target in his bedroom, rather get to the radio room at the other end of the building, fuse the radio and then, when your target walks into the radio room and bends over the broken radio you can garotte him.  Then carefully walk out, get a lorry from the car park and drive out. 

Completing this mission I got a low score because of the time I took and all the noisy firing I did.  I think that to score higher, you need to do the targets in order, and getting the uniform, though difficult to reach, will make it easier with subsequent guards.  In addition, if you select the sniper rifle at the start then you can pick off more guards around the edge of the town without arousing too much alarm.  However, given how little silenced pistol and sniper rifle ammunition you can take, it is likely that, given the number of patrolling guards especially around where your three targets are located, you will end up adopting the same sort of approach as me, though perhaps taking less time and with some less noise than me.

P.P. 11/03/2011
Mission 6: Los Alamos
This is another interesting reversal of history as we tend to see it in the UK and USA.  You are assigned to steal secrets from Los Alamos one of the locations of the development of the atomic bomb.  Interestingly the infamous Cambridge spy ring is referred to in a positive light, which is I imagine the Soviets saw it for all the information it supplied.  Kim Philby, the so-called 'third man' of the ring was decorated as Hero of the Soviet Union and commemorated on a stamp issued in 1990, two years after his death.  Of course, at the time the USA, like the the UK, was an ally of the USSR, so the spying in the USA is on an ally.

Again you have to move fast at the start, dodging into the room immediately to your left and taking the scientist's clothes.  This allows access to the rooms where you have to photograph the plans.  Stand as far back from the diagrams as you can yet still being able to selection the photograph option.  If you are closer you only get part of the diagram and that does not count.  You soon discover that to progress further you need an army uniform.  You get a corporal's uniform from the man shaving in the bathroom.

By this stage, if you adopt the puzzle solving approach, the moment you reach the areas reserved for officers you know you need an officer's uniform to get into the next sections of the base.  This leads to some of the most tortuous game play I have engaged with.  You have to collect the single cup which you can pick up in the entire base from one of the scientist's offices.  He lets you take it without complaint.  Then you have to head to the entrance to the Cyclotron area.  By throwing the cup a short way into the shower room, you get the guard to walk away from the door in the opposite direction.  This is important as if you kill him where he stands you are witnessed by the other guard through the window from beyond the red steam room.  Once the guard has moved you can stun him and carry him into the shower room.  Do not put on his clothes.

Linger in the shower room until the officer with the long patrol between the Cyclotron room and the guard room (the red triangle man) comes by.  Timing this right is incredibly hard as opening the door too early alerts the officer and he turns and shoots, he also turns just as he opens the door to the stairs.  You need to stun him between him leaving the corridor to the Cyclotron and getting to the stairs.  You cannot use any other weapon on him except a stunning blow otherwise you will not be able to put on his uniform.  Once you have, you can walk into the Cyclotron room, dodge around the other officers, which involves quite a lot of tedious waiting as the officer at the foot of the gantry stairs only moves away occasionally allowing you to sneak up the steps and get to the scientist.  The other officer often comes by at an inconvenient time and you are trapped with no escape.  Once you have stolen the key from the scientist you cannot go back the way you have come.  Go back to the outer ring gantry of the Cyclotron and vault over the railings.  Surprisingly this causes no alarm, in sharp contrast to trying to retrace your steps.  Now you can go to the scientist's office and get the documents from his safe.

For the final stage it is a good idea to go to the colonel's office first, kill the guard outside and stash his body in the office behind the door and leave the door open.  Then go to where the colonel is.  He goes through four stages: talking with a scientist, watching a soldier kicking some machinery, walking in the corridor beyond the glass and then finally, alone with his back to the door.  Go in and chloroform him and take his keys.  Do not change into his clothes.  Now, how long it takes for his body to be found varies considerably.  Sometimes it is only a matter of seconds, sometimes you can saunter out of the base without it being detected.  Even if it is detected, this time you often get away with just a 3-minute lockdown being sounded rather than being shot to pieces as usual.  This is more than enough time to run back to the colonel's office and get the documents from the safe, especially if you have prepared the ground earlier.

The next mission is in Krakow but you have very little room for manoeuvre, no ability to go down parallel streets and you faced squads of soldiers patrolling.  This seems like another guerilla war mission, but I am trying something more subtle, though without much luck.  There are no empty buildings to duck into and you have no chance to use a sniper's rifle, the way I would have started this kind of mission on other games, just to thin out the sheer number of patrols there are.

P.P. 13/03/2011
Mission 7: Krakow
This one is set in Krakow, but you are strictly limited to how far you can move around the city, which seems in remarkable condition for 1944.  There are numerous overlapping patrols and I found that, as with Mission 5, I got a low score for shooting up these to allow myself to move around without bringing a whole Wehrmacht battalion on my head.  I do not know how you get in through the front or rear door entrances as they are so heavily guarded, I went for the secret passage from the post office.  I took out guards using the silenced Sten III, which is an excellent weapon that it is a pity you cannot use in other missions as it really allows you to take out opponents surrepticiously in the way the game designers are keen to encourage.  It takes about four rounds from the Sten to kill an opponent.  I crawled through the streets on my belly until I was out of Sten rounds and had to revert to mowing them down with an MP40.

You can change into the uniform of the guard on the North-West street corner of the crossroads.  Across the road from him on the North-East side (assuming the orientation of the map when you start the mission is North-South) is a building you can go into (once you have eliminated its guard) and literally lie low as soldiers run around outside.  Them finding some corpses can break up the 4-5 man patrols making them easier to pick off later in pairs.  I guess you are supposed to sneak past these but it is very hard.  Once in the post office, I found killing a guard drew in a platoon.  However, you can Thermopylae these if you base yourself on the 2nd floor landing (3rd floor if you are American), shoot the 1st floor (2nd floor US) guard from there then kill all the others who charge in afterwards, firing over the bannisters.  There might be a more subtle way but do not waste the rounds from your silenced Nagant here as you need them later.

You can clear through the tunnel pretty easily.  However, you need a silent way to kill the guard in the final room as otherwise the whole school will pile down the stairs blasting at you.  To progress inside you need first an officer's uniform, so as usual you need to locate an officer alone in his office.  The easiest one is left when you come up from the basement.  His guard goes into the storeroom next to the office for a smoke.  Kill him in there then you can take out the officer without difficulty.

There is loads of waiting in rooms until guards have passed.  Getting the first batch of documents on the ground floor is very hard even by the standards of this game.  You must kill the officer while his back is turned (which it is only briefly) and while his secretary is out of the room (as she is very briefly).  You must kill him fast, chloroform is too slow as the secretary returns as you are still using it, so it has to be a thrown dagger for him and then her shot with silenced pistol.  The 1st floor documents are a bit easier as one of the two officers regularly goes to the toilet where you kill him as if you were in 'Firefox' and then creep up on his colleague.  Be prepared though as the guard then decides to join in too.

I found the first assasination target, number 3 in the mission list, dead easy.  He spends a lot of time surrounded by people, but the guard outside his door is very neglectful.  I simply attached a trap to the locked door of his office and walked away.  This killed him whilst I was beyond suspicion.  The final target, number 4, is an utter nightmare.  He has no regular pattern of movement.  Watching him and the guards around him is like watching Brownian motion of particles through a microscope.  If you reload a save and start again from the same point you will find they all do something different to last time.  If you are lucky you can booby trap his briefing room door or that of the empty classroom next door though there is no guarantee when or if he will enter.  The only things you can really affect is to tell the class close to the wide landing that there is a fire alarm and all the students leave (though they come back later, be careful of this).  You can kill the teacher and lure the guard outside in to also bump him off.  Then you just have to hope that the deputy head comes into that room without too much of an entourage.  There is a loaded sniper's rifle in that room which is incredibly frustrating as that is precisely what you needed when outside.  Once this is done get out briskly and go back through the tunnel.  I have parked a nice 1930s car outside the post office so I can drive off to complete the mission in style.

P.P. 13/03/2011
Mission 8: Bridge over the Vistula
This is rather like Mission 5 in that it is outside and with loads of overlapping patrols which make it incredibly difficult to move without 6-10 guards machine gunning you.  It is an interesting mission.  You have to eliminate the eight snipers on towers overlooking a substantial railway bridge, then plant dynamite on the bridge and blow it up.  I adopted the onion approach, eliminating patrols around the periphery and working into the target area without fear of being caught from behind when a patrol turned a corner.  This meant I made a lot of noise as the best way to eliminate the 2- and 3-man patrols is using grenades.  It you throw them at a high angle then the patrols tend not to see them until the last moment so one grenade can eliminate a set of troops in one go.

You can get a German uniform from one of the men who is in or walks into the waiting room.  Later you can change into a sniper's uniform which opens up more access especially to the West side of the bridge without you being shot at immediately.  However, there is a black uniformed patrol on the eastern walkway of the bridge who are not fooled by this outfit.

There is also a lot of sniping to be done in this game.  I took the Soviet SVT rifle, unsilenced.  Though it is noisy you can carry more ammunition and I was concerned that I was going to need more than 1-2 shots to pick off snipers on rooftops.  I had not taken into consideration that I could loot German sniper rifles from their bodies, and to some degree you should not rely on that because it can be quite difficult reaching the rooftops.  There are eight towers.  The bridge runs North to South, the river West to East so I will be designating the towers as 1 West and 1 East, 2 West and 2 East, and so on.  Having cleared patrols I worked my way through the waiting room and small barracks eliminating the guards with the silenced pistol and boobytraps.  The first sniper is the one in the 1 East tower as you can target him from the ground.  There are fortunately only two other soldiers in that tower, so you can get to the top and take out the sniper in 1 West, if you are patient, because he moves around.  1 East and 1 West are connected by an underground tunnel.  1 West has more troops in.  You cannot get the snipers in 2 West and 2 East as these towers are higher.  Having killed a dozen guards who tried to take me out in 1 East, using the technique learnt from Clint Eastwood's character in 'Where Eagles Dare' standing at the top of the stairs and wiping them out with an MP40, I was able to get into 2 East and kill the sniper and then shoot the one in 2 West from there.  Getting up these towers is difficult as they have spiral staircases which are difficult to navigate and these stairways are very dark.  Guards tend not to come up these higher towers, so if, once you have fired you lie down you can usually be safe until the furore had quietened down.  Be careful as guards will fire up at you and snipers from the 3 West and 3 East will fire at you.

Bare in mind that there are different levels to the bridge.  1 East and 1 West have doors out at ground level (1st floor American) to the river bank and the 1st floor (2nd floor American) on to the bridge itself.  There is also a gantry level beneath the railway track level of the bridge which can be accessed from the river bank or down ladders on the side of the bridge.  This explains why you see guards on your map that you cannot see from where you are standing because they are in fact on a level below you.

You can kill the snipers in 3 West and 3 East from 2 West and 2 East respectively.  Then you can kill the final two snipers in 4 West and 4 East from 3 West and 3 East easily as these towers are higher than 4 West and 4 East which are on the North bank.  I also took out loads of other soldiers by sitting on 3 East and shooting anyone who came in range.  Typically once you down a soldier, another goes to investigate and stoops over the body.  I ended up with a gruesome pile of six corpses this way.  Once you have eliminated the eight snipers (and in my case, every soldier on the bridge, after I triggered another stampede of soldiers trying to get me on top of 3 West), you can plant the dynamite.  You can get spare from 3 East and 2 West towers.  You find you have to plant on top of the bridge.  There is a ladder from the middle of the bridge up to it.

Planting the dynamite can be difficult due to controlling Strogor getting off and on the various beams of the bridge.  If you get stuck making your way out to the beams on to which you have to set the explosives, try crouching before trying to clamber on to the beam.  Simiarly if there are difficulties when you reach the location where the dynamite is supposed to go, then crouch down.  Once the dynamite is in place you have 2 minutes 30 seconds to vacate.  If you did it the way I did then that should be no problem.  I got back to the car on the South river bank and drove off, then you get a cut scene showing the explosion.  You cannot driver the armoured reconnaissance vehicle, so the VW jeep is probably the best bet for a quick escape.

As with Mission 5, I do not see how you are supposed to do this mission subtly.  You soon run out of ammunition for your silenced weapons and even the guards coming across one corpse can lead to a mass of them storming your location.  The only way to hold them off is by using a sub-machine gun.  I killed 14 soldiers defending myself in 2 East and another 6 in 3 West.  I had eliminated 5 guards on the eastern walkway, 3 on the gantry level, 8 on the western walkway and then 6 down on the North bank.  Others were killed with the boobytraps.  I had already eliminated three 3-man patrols and two 2-man patrols and 3 soldiers by the car and the lone man by the reconnaissance vehicle, let alone the group of 5 you stumble across when the mission starts which I despatched with a single grenade.  I killed 4 soldiers near or in the waiting room and another 3 at the small barracks.  Of course there were the 8 snipers as well.  I have probably forgotten some, but I think this shows the number of troops you are expected to sneak passed or kill silently and dispose of their bodies before you are noticed by another patrol.  You can dump bodies off the bridge into the river and rather eerily see them through the water on the river bed.  It is one way to hide the bodies if you get time which generally you do not. 

This is a problem with this game, they emphasise the need to sneak and yet every centimetre is scoured by patrols.  I had to dodge and sneak and hide even to survive to plant the explosives even with the carnage I inflicted.  Sniping I got a kill with a single shot in every case.  My accuracy for the mission was 76% and that includes the use of the grenades and MP40 when the stampedes came.  Trying to do it with fewer casualties or silently is impossible.

P.P. 31/03/2011
Perhaps I had become complacent.  Having managed to battle my way through eight missions I imagined that I had the measure of this game.  I guessed that breaking into the Moosburg camp would be difficult.  The added hazard was that if you triggered the alarm at any stage, as had happened on previous missions, then prisoners would be shot.  The sheer number of guards with overlapping lines of sight was going to make it very hard.  I guessed correctly that I need to get a uniform to get inside.  After having shot three patrolling soldiers with my silenced Sten III and blown up a further five using land mines, without triggering off the alarm, I realised I was wasting my time.  Killing them in this way yielded no uniform.

I finally managed to persuade one patrolling guard to stray a little further into the woods using a smoke cannister.  The problem was that his ability to spot me was far greater than his ability to notice a pillar of smoke.  It was hard to be far enough away to throw it safely and then to reach him before he became disinterested in it.  On many occasions he simply ignored the smoke and went about his patrol.  On many others he spotted me rather than the smoke, though I was some distance away, and lying down in shadow and thick grass.  Finally I was able to stun him and take his uniform.  I still found it easier even dressed in the uniform to cut the fence to get into the camp because almost all the gates had red triangle guards who shoot you on sight.

The trouble was, in contrast to other missions, getting a uniform did not advance more than a tiny amount.  I could get into numerous buildings but not the one which the mission said I had to enter, reserved for offices.  So, as before I sought out a lone officer to bump off, or at least one whose guard left him alone for some time.  I could not find one.  I was regularly informed that the doctor who was one of the second targets anyway, was permitted to walk wherever he chose and have prisoners released to him.  So I went to the hospital and found it full of people willing to shoot me whenever I did anything suspicious.  I could not get the doctor alone or even in a room with fewer than four people, who at a pinch, I may have shot down.  Attacking the doctor led to his patients springing from their beds and shooting me with handy pistols.

I presume somewhere there is some officer I can bump off to get his uniform, but having now circumnavigated the camp, I cannot find one, who even if I approach cautiously, does not lead to the alarm being raised.  Perhaps it is like Mission 3 and there is in fact no way to complete it without 'collateral' deaths.  Similarly with eight people surrounding the doctor, I cannot see how I can ever disable him without being shot in seconds.

As the comedian and presented, Dara O'Briain notes, computer games are the only cultural ouput which permits you from seeing the end of the story.  No book, movie, piece of music, says 'no, you aren't skilled enough to see the end of the story'.  Whilst 'Death To Spies' seems to be increasingly morally dubious, I am frustrated to see how it pans out.  I am also annoyed that the games designers fell into so many of the flaws that previous makers of such games did and also seem to have done no game testing.  Perhaps the game is realistic, but it is also supposed to be entertaining.  There is no fun if I spend a whole evening repeatedly trying to throw a smoke cannister to the correct milimetre to get a man to move to it so I can reach him in time to knock him out and ninteen times out of twenty to be spotted before then or be unable to run fast enough to knock him out.  Even if I had the controls necessary to make such fine movements, something that hard (and I am on Easy level) is a chore not fun.  I have tried cheats simply to see the story unfold, but perhaps because I have the Gold edition, these do not work.

If the designers wanted a game with sneaking and silent attacks as from their scoring system it is clear they did, then they needed to make that feasible.  You need more silenced weaponry and appropriate ammunition, you need to be able to stab an opponent face on, you need to able to move around without the risk of dying instantly because one guard turned this way rather than the other like last time, you need to be able to equip yourself properly in advance.  Why, given that on previous missions I have killed Germans in every kind of uniform that the Wehrmacht and the SS provided can I not start a mission actually wearing one of them?  Whilst 'Hidden and Dangerous' was filled with technical bugs, these game play issues were far better tackled than this game, which eight years on, may have improved graphically but marks a step backwards in providing entertainment.