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.

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