Release date: September 2007
When I first caught the early screenshots and news about this game, I was hooked and quickly put this on my wishlist. As an avid World War II history buff and fan of the Alister Maclean novels (Guns of Navarone, Force 10 From Navarone) and Jack Higgins WWII novels, I really couldn’t help myself. Here was a game that seemed to promise that same level of adventure, intrigue, and strong story. The most difficult part was probably trying to keep a level head before playing it. I didn’t want to build up my expectations to the point where NO game could meet them.
Well, maybe political correctness is the wrong description here. It’s more like having to obey the law when it comes to swastikas, Nazis and Hitler to be exact. The developer of Operation Wintersun, Sproing, is out of Austria, which means it is illegal for them to put swastikas in their game, nor can any game that includes them be sold in Germany or Austria. Political Correctness
“The German (and Austrian) postwar criminal code makes the public showing of the Hakenkreuz (the swastika) and other Nazi symbols illegal and punishable, except for scholarly reasons.” – (source Wikipedia)
So how does one create a game set in that era and get around it? By replacing all of the swastikas with a cross-like symbol. I was actually surprised that there was a portrait of Hitler in one of the rooms and on closer inspection, was told it was a picture of some “military bigwig”. Well, I can’t fault the developers for this, they have no choice, but if you are ever wondering what the deal is, now you know.
Now that I’ve got that out of the way, the big question is how was the game itself. I thought the opening cutscenes were very well done and really built up the interest. In Undercover: Operation Wintersun, you play a British physicist recruited by British intelligence to try and uncover some top-secret German plans for a new weapon they are working on.
There were some glitches, as the scenes seemed to suffer from some playback issues like boxes showing up and the voices being out of sync in places. At first I thought this might have something to do with over compression, but after finding the movie files on the CD and playing them back, they ran just fine with no glitches. So the problem had to be in code they used to playback those movies within the game.
Once the game began though and I got to explore the first location, I was hooked. The graphics were incredibly well done and the challenges were perfect. Sneaking into the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute looking for documents really gave me that feeling of being in a Jack Higgin’s novel and I found myself loving every minute of it.
As a 3rd person adventure game, I sometimes get frustrated with navigating the screens because your character seems to take their time walking across the screen. I was glad to see that double clicking on an exit would quickly take you to the next area – a major plus in my book.
So things are going very well, and this game is ranking high on my list, then about midway through the game, things started to take a turn. While everything prior to this seemed to be very well put together and thought out, that same feeling of a game that was fun and challenging started to be replaced with some frustrations and disappointments.
The first sign of this was pixel hunting at one location. During an outdoor portion of the game, you find that some of the things you need to either acquire or use are so small on the screen that they are very easy to miss. Now I always thought I did a pretty good job of exploring screens when I played, but in this area you REALLY have to slow down your pace and moved your mouse very slowly else you might miss the quick mouse icon change when over the tiniest area.
I also found that one area that the player needs to go to was never clearly defined on the screen. After finding myself stuck for an extended period and having explored the same screens several times, I ended up going to the walkthrough trying to figure out what I missed. Turns out there was a whole other area in there that I not only couldn’t see, but was accessible by clicking the mouse on a specific area of the screen which gave no indication of being able to move in that direction anyway.
The other thing was that you could mess things up by going out of order. Not mess up the game and get yourself stuck, but more or less throw off the preset order of things. In one area you run into a character that had lost something. The problem is that what they lost, I had already found and it was sitting in my inventory. I had no way of communicating or trying to give it back to them without running through a series of other characters and tasks first before I was able to trigger being able to give them back the object. It’s things like that which take me out of the immersion I might have felt and the game becomes less of an experience with me in charge and more of a ‘let’s figure out what the programmer wants us to do.’
Most of this does take place in one particular location and isn’t prevalent through out the game. My only wish is that they would have spent more time tightening down the gameplay in that location. Prior to this, the game was great fun, after this though you start to get a bad taste in your mouth.
Lack of Consistency
After the disappointments that started to present themselves in the previous location, I started to notice something else that started to occur. The graphics. The first few locations seemed to be highly polished pre-rendered scenes. I can best describe them as very realistic and in some places jaw-dropping. Then they started to get less polished and seemingly more rushed into creation. I wondered if it was just me and that maybe the current location was supposed to be like that. Don’t get me wrong, they still looked good – just not VERY good like the earlier scenes which had you stopping just to admire the scenes.
There were a few warnings early on, like when you looked at a clock on the table in close up. From the far view it was rendered, but it close up, they had used a photograph of a clock and Photo-shopped it into the rendered scene. It really cheapened what was looking like a very polished game.
The final hint that I wasn’t going crazy was in the final locations of the game. We had gone from highly detailed pre-rendered images at the beginning to what now looked like detailed concept drawings at the end that were used as the scenes.
I was pretty excited to find that I could crank the screen resolution and set the anti-aliasing up on this game. Since my native resolution is 1280 x 1024 I figured I could play it at that resolution especially since it gave me the option to do so. With 4 Gigs of Ram, 256Meg video card and two CPUs at 3.2Ghz each I didn’t think there would be any problem with me cranking things up – resolution, Anti-aliasing, shadows, etc. Well, don’t it. Because this game will crash like crazy on you – not fun. So do yourself a favor and leave the default settings on.
The Bottom Line
The bottom line is that this game started out incredibly strong with a lot of potential, then (technical issues aside) started to fizzle out about midway through. I had spent several hours on the first few locations and things were progressing at a decent pace. Then it just seemed to come apart as I felt like they had to quickly finish things off and bring it to a conclusion. You go from many areas to explore and lots to examine at the first few locations, to a few areas to explore with very little to examine at the last locations. I would almost go as far as to say that it felt like I was playing two different games because the first half is so much different in every way from the last half. If they had kept things going throughout the game the way they began, this would have been a ‘must have’ adventure game to add to your collection.