Review of Incognito: Episode 1

Review of Incognito: Episode 1

Platforms: PC

Game Name: Incognito: Episode 1

Developer: Magrathean

Genre: Multiple

Release Date: January 2009

ESRB Rating: Not yet rated

Developer Summary

Incognito is meant to deliver simplified versions of game play from different genres and bring them together into a game that’s epic in scale and requires different genre skills but is easy for the average hardcore gamer to jump into and play from beginning to end. In order to progress through each Episode, you’ll have to conquer challenges at each level, gathering information on foot, exploring in your ship, landing on uninhabited planets and establishing bases, and on hostile planets, invading a planet’s surface defenses in the hover tank.

What We Think:

In Space… No one can hear you give RSP Advice.

The story-line that weaves together the cross-genre web of game-play that is Incognito is kind of like what would happen if an episode of Doctor Who did it with an episode of the Twilight Zone. The resulting offspring is a vague but seemingly colourful tale that is going to be told across multiple downloadable episodes.

In the first Episode, or prologue to the saga, you play as (insert name here), a brilliant investment banker, who graduated at the top of his class, but has sadly found himself at his wits end in the high-stress, high-risk world of investment banking. As the game so eloquently puts it “sometimes life has a way of kicking you in the junk” (I believe Shakespeare would have said it no differently) and in order to cope with the pressure (insert name here) turns to cocaine and while high, decides to end it all. Before he can however, he is suddenly transported via worm-hole into a space station, where he then spends and unknown amount of time in cryo-stasis.

When he awakes, he is greeted by an artificial Intelligence named H.E.I.D.I , who tells (insert name here) that she has transported him on board because she greatly needs his help as she is “dying”. From here H.E.I.D.I acts as your central hub to this “brave new world”, giving you tasks and assignments which will require you to undertake a variety of game-play types such as Real-Time Strategy, Vehicle missions and even First Person Shooter Missions.

Fly Meeee… to the Moon… Let Me Plaaaay Among the Stars…

The visual world of incognito is hard to boil down into one visual style or another. There are moments when the game looks quite good, with vibrant colors, sharp textures and a decent model or two. However there are also numerous occasions when the graphics tip the scale at the other end, and some areas come across looking bland, uninspired, or downright ugly.

First let’s rattle off the positives:

The game most certainly looks its best when you are involved in the Real-Time Strategy and space-travel missions. These chapters shine brightest, with their atmospherics and overall attention to the environmental feel of each planet. Whilst in these segments, you’ll find a vast array of planetary surfaces to explore and despite the alarming number of worlds scattered about the universe (yes there’s even a variety of galaxies accessible once you manage to reach hyper-space) each and every planet that I visited managed to feel not only unique in its environmental identity, but many were downright aesthetically pleasing in their visual design as well. That’s quite the feat for an indie game featuring as many planets as this one does. There’s plenty of visual polish to be found while traveling the expanse of space here too. Though fairly devoid of objects, each Galaxy is feels different, and atmospheric nuances like solar-flares and space dust are used effectively to provide a sense of life to the otherwise barren environment.

Incognito indie game screen shot

The RTS sequences also do a good job on the models that are used for the architecture and artillery that you’ll be building. Though low-poly in nature, there’s a simplistic believability given to each type of building and vehicle that gets generated on the playing field, tanks look menacingly powerful, and all of the edifices you’ll create look elegantly designed for their specific purpose.

Where the game manages to come down a notch or two though is in the FPS sections of the game. When you finally reach the surface of the planet and are able to walk around on foot, you’ll sadly find the exact same models used in the RTS portions inhabiting the area, and while they came across quite impressively from the birds-eye view, they don’t quite make the transition to first person view as gracefully. Their low-poly nature is all-to apparent and you’ll most likely feel like you’ve been transported back to the earliest days of 3d graphics (remember the game “Ballz” for Sega Genesis… somewhere around this level) rather than a futuristic cyber world where robots have run amuck. Surprisingly though the game has some advanced technical features such as accurate reflection mapping on water surfaces, but still it falls flat on some of the key fundamentals which makes it feels like too much time was spent on the makeup… and not enough on the face.

Aside from this though, the music and sound-effects are handled quite well. And though not many of the tracks heard within the game are originals, the range of styles mixed in with the variety of game play does an excellent job to keep things fairly fresh. There’s nothing I love more than slaughtering another alien (or possibly robot) stronghold while Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata hums softly in the background, or even hopping in my hover-tank and going on a vaudevillian rampage. Concurrently the voice acting is also handled fairly well. Most of the lines delivered are handled with a certain level of care and while the dialogue is nothing Oscar worthy, it’s by no means cringe inducing like the multitude of indie games that try to tackle the nuanced world of acting.

“I’m Afraid I Can’t Let you do That (insert name here)…”

The game-play found in Incognito is once again a mixed bag of nuts and bolts, where some parts come together to create a surprisingly simple yet creatively crafted machine, while others feel like you’ve been given the IKEA chair 3000 and asked to assemble it, but there’s no instructions or Allen Key. The former, not surprisingly, applies to the incredibly simple yet wonderfully streamlined method in which the RTS sections are handled, the latter, sadly, is found in the agonizingly difficult and sometimes broken FPS sequences, while space travel and trading manage to ride the “happy middle” train.

Within the RTS segments, you’ll find a straightforward approach to both building up your forces, and to destroying anything that opposes you. Much like in other RTS offerings, You’ll be required to create a sustainable power-source which then allows you build mining equipment to harvest various essential elements from the planets terrain, create a hover-tank facility which of course allows you to create a variety of hover-tanks (3 in total so far, each with their own unique method of assault), and even build your own command posts in case you feel like you need another construction droid to assist you.

Each Planet I visited required me to assess the situation at hand before I just started blindly drilling into the newly encountered world. I always knew that I should survey the surface to make sure that this was a planet worth building on, and if so, I would be well to make sure I knew exactly what hurdles I would have to jump to make it a successful mission.

I found myself counting the opposing tanks I would have to destroy, and doing the necessary reconnaissance to find which elements I would have to mine, and what would be the best way to get there. It was kind of like a simplified game of chess, where any wrong move would most-likely just (incoming pun in 3-2-1…) dig a deeper hole for myself. And while doing battle with an opposing army isn’t exactly down to a science (battles often came down to a game of just who has more tanks) I found that if I plotted my route properly I could get the drop on an unsuspecting force in order to get the upper hand.

Incognito game screenshot

Where the ground-work was laid quite well for the RTS missions, the FPS sequences more often than not feel like they’ve had the ground pulled out from underneath them. Frustratingly difficult scenarios (not due to a lack of skill) and poorly planned mission structures, keep the otherwise sound mechanics of combat from ever feeling like any kind of reward.

FPS sequences boil down to two different kinds of combat, vehicular (in your very own hover-tank!) and foot combat. Both can feel exceedingly difficult, and though I put most of my stats towards making myself a fighter, I still had my ass handed to me time and time again by the simplest of creatures. By the end of the game I found myself praying before I entered any door, and I’m not a religious man.

The problem mostly lays in the games poorly balanced mission structures. All the FPS sequences seem to boil down to this: You land on the exterior of a planet’s surface and are forced to fight your way (with the aid of a hover-tank) to some internal stronghold, in order to obtain some kind item that H.E.I.D.I requires. On the surface, it’s a decent enough strategy, but the cracks become all too apparent when you realize that you must do the entire sequence without any hope of ever saving.

Though the missions aren’t long, each individual enemy you face is so strong that near anything you encounter can best you, and without the ability to pause the game to say switch your weapons or try a new weapon if your current one is useless, you’ll more often than not find yourself helpless in a corner being beaten mercilessly by a gang of angry robots (health is also only available through the non-pause menu). It kind of feels like the difficulty was ramped up (on one hell of an incline) in lieu of the shorter mission length.

It’s not exactly fun, and had I not wanted to finish the game so badly in order to write this review, there were a couple of moments for sure in which I could have put the game down for good. Upon besting my foes I only felt relief, not accomplishment. I understand that on some level the creators wanted to appeal to hard-core gamers, but I don’t think this is exactly the way (at least add in a save point or two if you can’t do it from your own menu) as the controls are nowhere near fine-tuned enough to handle such an oppressive difficulty level.

But again the FPS portions aren’t fundamentally broken in terms of mechanics (though i did encounter a mission I had to restart because a vital item was accidentally exploded), it’s just hair-pullingly difficult, and might more likely appeal to hard-core masochists than to hard-core gamers.

Incognito chapter one game screen shot 3

My IKEA Chair 3000

So after completing my little project of building this IKEA chair, what have I come up with? Well it feels like a bad-ass futuristic chair that is at first comfy and cool to sit in, but occasionally a loose piece juts out and shivs me in the side (without the Allen Key I had no other way of assembling, I just hammered it in there).

If there’s one thing that I appreciate more than anything about this game, it’s the ambition behind it. From the voice acting, to the well designed RTS moments, to the far reaching if not somewhat vague story-arc and mythos involved, there’s a lot more game here than you’ll find in most indie titles, hell I even sat down and had an hour long conversation with an artificial-intelligence bot named Bob the Devil, (ask it almost any question you want, more often than not it will give you a surprisingly thorough response, and even ask you a deep question or two in return).

However, ambition is sometimes a precursor to oversight, and there are a few loose pieces that need to be put in place properly. I’m hoping that the upcoming episodes will fix these issues.
So my final verdict? Give me an Allen Key, and I could probably fall asleep in this chair, until then I may have to just sit on the floor.

Download Incognito: Episode 1 from the Magrathean website

Note: This is the Full Version of the game. A serial number is required to continue past the first half of the game.