USK: 6 years and up
A review by slydos 2nd July 2003
Philips created several games for their CDI Player - among them the adventure game "Secret Mission", which was ported by Microids to the PC. The French company Microids made a name for themselves as designers of graphically complex adventure games like "Syberia" and "Post Mortem" in the last years.
As the title already says, "Secret Mission" is about the shady world of the secret services. The short intro reminds a bit of Indiana Jones: a propeller-driven plane lands in the small tropical state of Opalia. We write the year 1952.
The man, who leaves the machine, directly gets bashed on the nut - as we are later told, he is the hero, whom we embody in this 3rd-person-game.
Somehow he manages to get to his hotel room, but the hit on the head apparently puts our man into amnesia - quite unfavorable for a double agent. But Natascha, his elegant Russian commander, clears the situation: Jef 4, how he is called from now on, has been sent by the Americans to prevent a coup attempt on the king, planned in 2 days by Minister Vishaka. But since Jef in reality is working for the Russians, he should only pretend to do so, but finally should do nothing against the coup. According to Natascha he is the only one, who can get the documents out of the palace. So we should lose no time - we have to fulfill a mission!
"Secret Mission" is a DOS-game, which was adapted by Microids for the use under Windows 95 too. Installation and game also run under Windows XP, but there was some cracking to hear from the sound card, so that I rather played it under WIN95. The installation from CDROM runs automatically.
During installation procedure you can select installation drive and directory and must select your sound card (if necessary it will run without sound, but then you must later switch the sub-titles on in the game options). 2,5 MB are smoothly installed, but one must leave the CD in the drive for further program access. At the start of each game session you'll see the intro, which however can be stopped by key or mouse-click.
Let's first have a look at the absolute negative part. Negative not, because there is keyboard control with additional mouse functions, but because I rarely ever experienced more complicated, lengthier and slower controls in all parts! We have absolute control of our hero (what means: arrow to the left is also left at the screen), which is no problem with normal side view or plan view, but gets complicated with some isometric views. In addition Jef moves so slowly, that one could get oneself a cup coffee in between, if one wouldn't have to release the key thereby. Also the use of the inventory or when executing actions, the developers didn't exactly cover themselves in glory: Nearly everything is controlled by icons in the upper right display area. That would be actually no problem at first sight.
If you pass a hotspot (person, object, etc.), then it appears in shape of an icon right above. With the escape-key or the right mouse button one can now open directly left beside it an icon menu, which makes different actions available: Take, Give, Speak, Look and Use. You browse through the icons with the arrow keys. Among them is also an icon for the main menu, where you can Save (4 automatic savegames), Load, Quit or adjust the options. If you have selected the desired icon by arrow key, you can execute an action with the return-key or space bar.
It becomes more complicated, if we already have stored things in our inventory. These items appear at the same spot as the hotspots do. You have to scroll by arrow keys through them. If you stand in front of a hotspot, e.g. another character, and would like to give this person an inventory object, you must first select the icon-menu by ESC-key, then you go with the right arrow key to the right icon (where you initially see the character) and select by up/down arrow the appropriate object from the inventory. After that you must go to the action icons on the left by left arrow (while on the right again the character is shown instead of the selected object) and select by up/down arrow the icon for "Give" and confirm this selection with the Return-key.
If I - by mistake - click the right mouse button, everything disappears again and I can start from the beginning. An increase in unwieldiness is represented by the combination of different inventory objects. But I would like to refrain on a description here. All I can do is to state, that the controls, both of the game character and the access to inventory and menu and implementing actions are very frustrating. Surely a reason for the fact that "Secret Mission" remained rather unknown!
On the other hand there is very good sound, music and German dubbing. The music, particularly during the cutscenes, is dramatic and exciting. All roles were professionally casted (I think I even have recognized Rainer Brandt in the role of a street vendor). The beautiful and relative frequent (every change of location is done by a riksha ride or something like that) 3D-cutscenes are, in connection with the likewise excellent music, a pure pleasure.
The remaining graphics however don't look that brilliant (always when it's about perspective in interiors). But the background graphics of the external locations seemed fine to me. They locations of the ficticious state on the Indian subcontinent sometimes reminded me of later games by Microids, like Road to India or Amerzone. Besides our hotel we find a restaurant, a club, a medical practice, a park, the king's palace, a village, tropical landscapes among others.
Jef moves relatively stiff and, as previously mentioned, very, very slow. The remaining characters, with which he has to do, stay at their places and are seldom animated.
Unfortunately it was not possible for me to make an ingame screenshot, therefore only some scans from the box and manual, which unfortunately do not show the quality of the graphics.
The puzzles are well thought out, very varied and rank from simple to difficult. Simple object puzzles are often made more difficult by the complicated handling. There are a number of imaginative decoding puzzles, safe cracking, a musical task, dialogue and text puzzles, a prescription must be find out and mixed, and there is also a gambling part.
There is a small maze and an extra inserted dead end too. A bomb must be defused and also action isn't abandoned: one must resist in a shooting against several attackers, but this demands only reaction speed and not aiming precision, since the selected opponents die immediately, if you hit them anyhow. In these and other situations our hero can also die of course - espionage is a dangerous business. But after each death one begins not very far from the current point. The time factor is interesting in certain puzzles: One has (with the exception of the bomb, the shooting and a diving sequence in which one has only limited air) always unlimited time for the solution, but opponents or guards move after their own rhythm, which one must take into account, in order to avoid this danger. The puzzles are not for beginners (if one takes the difficult handling in addition), who are for example not used to make notes or sketches.
If "Secret Mission" wouldn't have such frustrating controls, the game probably would have been considered by more players and wouldn't have lived in the shadows. Although one can throw into the scale an exciting story, interesting puzzles, beautiful film sequences and an excellent dubbing on the plus side, the bad handling clouds the good impression nevertheless very much. So "Secret Mission" is a rare piece, which you should only bid for in an auction, if you can cope with the frustration factor.
Rating: 56 %
80% - 100% excellent game, very recommendable 70% - 79% good game, recommendable 60% - 69% satisfactory, restricted recommendable 50% - 59% sufficient (not very recommendable) 40% - 49% rather deficient (not to be recommended - for Hardcore-Adventure-Freaks and collectors only) 0% - 39% worst (don't put your fingers on it)
- DOS/Windows 3.1/3.11/95
- 486DX, 33 Mhz or higher
- 4 MB RAM
- 2,5 MB on hard disk
- 2x CD-ROM-drive or faster
- SVGA/VESA-graphic card with 1 MB RAM
- Soundblaster or compatible sound card
- Windows 95
- PII 233 MHz
- 64 MB RAM
- 4 MB graphic card
- 16bit sound card
- 24x CDROM-drive
Strange things happen in this idyllic landscape
Pretty Natascha is Jef's Russian commander
Jef can use the phone in his hotel room
The Club has a back room
Jef gives report
Hotspots, action icons and inventory objects are shown in the upper right corner
The Riksha is the standard means of transport in Opalia