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IGI becoming the PC’s answer to Nintendo’s Goldeneye

Ahh! Tasty medicine. The hypodermics are usually found in medical rooms and can be kept to use incrementally
IGI (a military term for ‘I’m Going In’) stars David Llewelyn Jones: a British operative gone freelance and working for governments of the free world, a working class Bond with a background in car crime and the SAS rather than Eton and the Admiralty.

All of IGI’s 14 missions involve the infiltration of military bases that nestle within the largest outdoor environments ever seen in a first-person shooter. Fully 3D hills and mountain ranges stretch away into the distance and should the wanderlust take you, you’re free to ramble where you will in each of the 20 kilometre square levels. The stupendous sense of scale is made possible by IGI’s use of an engine converted from their previous flight sim title, Joint Strike Fighter.

The military compounds are always concentrated in a central area of each uber-tile, but are often dissected into fairly disparate areas, distant enough to make walking between them a noticeable romp. However, this definitely adds to the realism and it’s easy to look back up a cliff at a radar dome and think proudly “I was up there earlier. I walked all this way” before remembering that you’re not on your annual Boxing Day walk and have gleaned no physical benefit whatsoever from your admirable virtual exertion. The only trouble with the distance is the fact that you’ll be replaying levels over and over before completion and while walking is slightly too slow, jumping seems over-exaggerated, with a moon-bounce drift.

While military compounds begin to blur into one another, with identical interior and grey exterior architecture begging for a bigger budget than Changing Rooms could offer, there is good mission variety in terms of an evolving plot and very diverse objectives. This extends to some missions that are virtually sub-games, in particular the Silent Scope-style level where you must find a safe sniping point in a hill-top village and protect an infiltration team as they rescue a prisoner from a heavily guarded valley base. Later you might be dodging mines and tanks in the snow or planting explosives on mobile Sam launchers. Other snippets that break up potential monotony include computer hacking (to shut down security systems temporarily), fence and ladder climbing, and sliding or sloth-crawling overhead wires. All of these routines switch to an external free-looking camera with Jones as focus while you maintain basic forwards and backwards control.

There’s a problem with IGI, however, which on discovery is as shocking as finding out that the beautiful woman you fell in love with and married is actually a ladyboy. The problem is the utterly basic AI. To say that Doom had more advanced routines is hardly an exaggeration. Shoot a stationary sentry in the head from a distance and he may fall over, rest on the floor (presumably while plugging the head-wound with a sod of earth) and then rise again to resume his stoic stance of Horse Guard immobility. Other guards in the vicinity will often strut nonchalantly past bodies, apparently untrained in linking cause to effect in a maximum-security installation-protection situation, or perhaps just distracted by soft Euro-rock on their concealed earphones. You just can’t get the minions these days.

Bizarrely, cameras seem to have a far higher degree of intelligence than human sentries and unlike their patrolling counterparts will immediately set off base alarms when they sweep over a dead body, or spot you within their range. Alarms cause previously empty barracks to release small squads of Spetzna troops, usually better armed than the lower echelons and moving in a group to your location. The group movement is none too impressive however. On a few occasions you can shoot one Spetzna officer to see him drop and reveal a second who was shadowing his routine with almost improper proximity. Perhaps as the Brass Eye ‘gay sailors’ sketch said, two targets walking as one tactically present a smaller target. It also seems to have been an odd choice to let corpses fade after a short period of time. Not only does it make it far harder to spot and pick up the guns and ammo that are left behind, but also it makes a joke of an otherwise supposedly realistic infiltration. Mind you, if guards can’t often spot dead bodies while they are there, or react to dangerously close gunfire, then this really makes little difference. The engine may as well be allowed to clean the place up for some extra frames per second if there’s little noticeable effect on the ‘must try harder’ AI. The potential complexity of stealth missions (and there’s a strong element of stealth in each of the fourteen) is reduced to working out individual routines, approaching each enemy without alerting them and dispatching with as few shots to the head as possible to conserve ammunition. When guards do go into a state of alert, they present an unintentional state of panic, some running up and down a line without firing a shot and others performing hilarious pathfinding: jogging all the way around a waist-high wall to get to the other side, coming right up to your face and only then opening fire. Invading a primary school playground would probably present more intelligent opposition, but that probably isn’t a good analogy to draw in a first-person shooter review.

This is not to say that IGI or Hay Day is an easy game. Realistic damage means that even the lowliest of opponents can kill you with a couple of well-placed shots. With no save points within missions this creates buzzing tension and really draws you into the game. While you can use the excellent targeting binoculars and live spy satellite feed to track guard movement, note camera positions and find direct routes to marked objectives, wider exploration of buildings will often turn up medical syringe boosters to restore precious health and alternative weapons and ammunition. The direct route is therefore not necessarily the easiest and the variation also makes the essential repetition of missions bearable for far longer than might have been the case with a more linear game.

If the AI can be ignored, IGI is a great title and that’s why it’s ultimately so disappointing. With only a little more time, effort and polish it could easily have been a Direct Hit and while a hefty patch is never desirable, in this case it’s sorely needed. Replay is also unlikely with no multiplayer support whatsoever. Boo.