Undercover: Operation Wintersun
Anyone who has seen or read British spy drama will feel some familiarity with the goings on in Undercover: Operation Wintersun. The plucky "fish out of water" central character gets thrust into a perilous situation, finds himself way in over his head, but with lashings of British resolve and determination he overcomes his own misgivings and lots of adversity to rise to the occasion and save the day. So it is here.
Actually, it's not just spy dramas and things British that utilise that premise. Whoever thought of it first must be doing awfully well.
Undercover: Operation Wintersun casts you in the role of Dr John Russell, hired by MI6 to serve "the country, the Crown and the world" by slipping into Nazi Germany in 1943 to prevent the construction of a nuclear weapon. Self described on the website as a "powerful spy-thriller with suspenseful situations", Undercover: Operation Wintersun isn't really either of those things. Whilst there is a very British understated feel to proceedings, it lacks both thrilling and suspenseful elements which would have lifted it to much greater heights. It remains a solid game, but could perhaps have been much more.
It looks good, it's a good length, and its other parts are by and large sound or better. It has some nice little touches to help gameplay, is not too difficult, and I enjoyed my time thwarting the Nazis. Hard to quarrel with any of that.
Except that overall it was somewhat bland. Nothing too wrong with the game, but nothing set it apart from a host of other products. Plus it lacked the thrill that would have made it exciting, the suspense that would have made it ... well, suspenseful! Which for a spy thriller is a bit of a minus.
The game starts with an enticing restaurant cutscene, where there is more on the menu than one would expect. From there it's a quick recruitment trip to MI6, then off to the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute. Not of course for R&R but for B&E.
There will be a fair bit of breaking and entering, and its concomitant locked door opening. A fair few of the puzzles involve locks and combinations, but the methodology varies. Decipher a diary entry here, fiddle with a few things there. Most though depend upon having found the correct item, be it the aforesaid diary or some other mechanical implement.
In most places, spotting items and hotspots was a question of observation. However in one location in particular, there were some annoyingly small hotspots and not at all apparent items that caused more than one or two frustrations. It's not just my aging eyesight either — I am aware of other players that have had the same experience at the same location.
The game does, though, contain a Novice Mode option that will reveal all hotspots and exits by pressing the "backspace" key when the option is turned on. You don't have to use it, but I did find the capacity to reveal missed items very helpful, particularly in the location mentioned. Judicious use can not only prevent being stuck, but prevents unwanted information being revealed if you look at a walkthrough. It's a good feature that should be available more often in games such as this.
Undercover: Operation Wintersun is played in the third person, and is point and click. Double click to run, and to instantly exit locations. Left or right click to use and examine items; an option lets you reverse the default set up to suit your own preference.
There is some sneaking, and a few occasions in which time is important. Lingering too long can get you captured, even by the limited number of soldiers that are present. Capture however simply results in being returned to the game just prior to the unfortunate event, so you don't need to worry about obsessive saving.
There are no sliders or mazes but there is a rat. It's my own foible, but I loathe puzzles that have rats, ever since I played Niburu.
I got the occasional graphic glitch, and at times the game wouldn't load, giving me a load error message about video mode. This was despite just having exited, so I am at a loss as to why that occurred. The game also does not seem to allow alt-tab to the desktop; I had to completely exit and then start the game up again to do anything else.
It tends to be puzzle at a time, and dialogue is important in order to trigger progression, The dialogue is at times rather good, chatty and providing a little depth, although it might drag on a bit for some. You can speed things up by enabling subtitles and reading ahead if you wish.
Load times when you switch locations are short, and cutscenes are used well. Except for the characters and in cutscenes, nothing much moves, which might have made it a little sterile. However the ambient sounds, the detail in the scenes, and the occasional soundtrack provide the feel that the static screens lack.
Many things in the game world can be examined and will elicit a comment without being further used. So not everything you find will be useful. The inventory empties occasionally but I still had quite a sizeable one at the end. Combining and examining items in the inventory is important.
After numerous plane rides and tribulations, you will arrive at Stalingrad for the endgame. The ruined city was the best of all locations, visually and audibly. The game ends with a bang, although if you do things properly it won't! It took me a couple of times to get to the little twist at the finish. It was a rather satisfying end.
My final impressions of Undercover: Operation Wintersun were of a strong start and finish, and a somewhat pedestrian in between. As I said before, solid gaming, but nothing special.
Copyright © Steve Ramsey 2007.
All rights reserved.
Win 98SE/ME/2000/XP, Pentium 1 GHz processor or equivalent, 256 MB RAM (512 recommended), 64 MB DirectX 9 video card, 4x CD ROM, 2 GB hard drive space, DirectX 9.0c.