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Updated November 20, 2004

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Spy For Hire
(SBM Productions and El Cheapo Studios)

"Protecting the Country... for a Price"

The Queen is one of the most  important diplomatic and political people in the Australian continent. In fact, her well-being is so important to the government and safety of her country that she has hired a special group of spies to protect her from any potential threats.

You are one of the spies enlisted by her Majesty. Instructed to limit physical violence as much as possible, stealth will be the key as you carry out 14 delicate reconaissance missions. 

Game Review
Graphics (n.)
The use of animation and visual effects to stimulate the senses
Spy For Hire is a good example of a simple-looking game that does some pretty extraordinary things. Action takes place on a non-scrolling black background, and the tiles are drawn to fit the spirit of early 3D games like Out of this World. If the game's graphics consisted of these uncomplicated sprite designs alone, then the graphics would not be that impressive.

The thing that makes Spy for Hire stand out is special effects. The lighting techniques used in some of the levels of Spy for Hire works to set a higher level of atmosphere and gameplay. Another impressive feat is the fog effect, which overlays some levels (thus adding an element of foresight to the game.)

Sound/Music (n.)
The smooth blend of atmospheric sounds and original harmonies
The poor rating for Spy For Hire in the audio category isn't because of the quality of sound effects, but because of the sparseness of it. There simply aren't enough in-game sound effects (beyond the level end sound and the sound the cursor makes in the level select screen) that warrant giving Spy for Hire more than one star for sound.
Gameplay (n.)
The precision of control and involvement of character within its universe
Those who've played Metal Gear's Virtual Missions will be very familiar with the layout of Spy for Hire. Broken down into fourteen levels, the goal of Spy for Hire is to capture the flag without being seen by the group of guards looking around each of the level's narrow hallways. The enemy guards can only see straight ahead regardless of weather conditions, but thanks to a top-down view, you can see the entire level including some possible paths to each flag. The trick is to be able to travel through the maze when the guard's backs are turned.

The most impressive feature in Spy For Hire are night and fog missions, which influence the gameplay greatly. Even though there's no difference in the way enemy guards patrol from level to level, the limited visibility in the different weather modes demand a different level of attention that otherwise wouldn't be there.

In difference, the most upsetting part of Spy For Hire's gameplay is it's lack of control. With confusing tile by tile movement and unresponsive controls, it's very difficult to find safety when moving around quickly, and very frustrating to get caught in a level when you know you dodged enemy sight in time.

Story (n.)
The creativity and presentation of the game's critical plot
(Very Poor) Spy For Hire has a story, but it's feels very detached from the game. The only occurence of any storyline is at the game's beginning, whose text form comes out like an afterthought. It's a shame too-- because the "Australian spy" angle could have really benefitted from some demos or cinematics.
Replay Value (n.)
The timelessness of the gamer's delight, such that the experience can be repeated again and again
Depending on your tolerance for the game's different weather conditions, the replay value in Spy for Hire can vary. The night missions are really cool, but the fog levels make no sense. How enemy guards have the same field of vision regardless of fog not only comes out as a mystery, but it also hurts Spy for Hire's gameplay!
Challenge (v.)
To strike the mental nerve in such a way as to stimulate human thought and reflexes
In order to increase the challenge, SBM Productions and El Cheapo Studios added a 20.5 second time limit to beat each level. That means each room has to be navigated through pretty quickly, regardless of weather conditions or the number of guards on the screen. This causes a nice transition of challenges from level to level, with rooms emphasizing stealth, speed, and skill.
Fun Factor (n.)
The overall entertainment value as maintained throughout the adventure
One of the things taken for granted when it comes to games like Metal Gear Solid and Splinter Cell is how much time companies like Konami and Ubi Soft invest to give the game very responsive and accurate controls. This is one of the features that Spy for Hire lacks, which is critical because it requires split-second timing to creep past guards and accomplish true stealth. This becomes especially apparent in the blink-happy fog levels, where it's not only difficult to control the game, but it's also difficult to see what's happening. Thankfully, any particularly distressful levels can be skipped through the game menu. With level designs varying from fun to frustrating, such a feature can be any spy's best friend.

Spy For Hire Reviewed by Vance Velez

Players 1 player Genre: Puzzle/Stealth Game
Rating To solve: 2-3 hours Final Rating: 9/35

To download Spy For Hire (204KB), click here.
wIf you're unzipping this program in DOS, use the -d option.
wThis game requires a 100% Sound Blaster-compatible sound card.
wTo play Spy For Hire, unzip the file and run "GAME.BAT".

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Game Summary
Coding Groups
SBM Productions and El Cheapo Studios
Puzzle/Stealth Game
Homepage URL
1 player
Final Rating
9 out of 35 points

The Highs: Unique graphics style mixes old school graphics with impressive special effects.
The Lows: Painful menu and in-game controls are tied together by a poor keyboard handler.

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