Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Things Get Worse Wednesdays - Spycraft

It should have been amazing.

A game based on espionage should not make it as difficult as it is in Spycraft for Things to Get Worse. You're spies. If they already knew how bad Things were, why would they send people whose job it is to find stuff out?

Spycraft is a well-made game, if you're into that sort of thing - namely lots of planning, preparation, and a system for everything. It even resolves the classic modern action game problem of gear. How do you have a wealth system that reflects lifestyle? Put another way, how do you stop the first level rich doctor spending all his starting cash on a Blackhawk helicopter with attached minigun while still making it possible to get one of those when it's appropriate?

Spycraft solves this problem quite handily - you have a small amount of gear as personal possessions and fancier stuff you can requisition if the mission's severity warrants it. The problem is when you don't know how severe the mission is until you get there. And what spy mission, I ask you, what spy mission worth a damn goes exactly as planned? Need to get a thing? It's missing, it's not what you thought it was, the person you're supposed to get it from is dead. Need to talk to someone? That someone is not who they appear to be, kidnapped, or dead. This is basic stuff. Regrettably, you have to get that briefcase full of anthrax from that rogue KGB splinter faction with the same Walther PPK and set of lockpicks you were issued when you thought you just had to pick up Mission Control's drycleaning.

Spycraft does allow for requisitioning gear in the middle of a mission, but it still can't exceed the threat level of the mission and, if I remember correctly, is prohibitively difficult and time-consuming. Changing threat level in the middle of a mission only works if players have the time to reequip somewhere and if they don't abuse their privileges by burning up all their ammunition and limited-use items knowing that a reequip was on the way.

Another possible workaround is story-based. If the hook is "Some anthrax is missing. We need you to find the anthrax", then you can get away with one threat level. But you can't phrase all your missions like that. At least, and not have the game stay fun. It's a damn shame that a solidly built game like Spycraft has in-built, systematic opposition to Things Getting Worse. Especially as an espionage game.

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