Covert Front 3: Night in Zurich
For many, the spy is a romantic ideal. The femme fatale in a trench coat, seducing with a smile and vanishing with the dawn, the only evidence of her passing some missing documents... or the surfacing of an incriminating photograph sometime later. M-24-7-69, alias Kara, leads a life less glamorous. For some time now, she's been on the trail of Karl van Toten, and she spends more time watching her back in seedy alleyways than sipping martinis in a smoky bar. And now she's drawing closer in Covert Front Episode 3: Night in Zurich, another gorgeous point-and-click adventure from Karol Konwerski, Mateusz Skutinik, and the fine folks at Pastel Games.
If you're unfamiliar with the first two installments in the Covert Front series, this third episode is likely going to confuse and mystify you. While early on Kara receives the documents and photos she acquired in episodes one and two, they're still not going to do a whole lot to enlighten you except in the most basic, "This guy bad. We chase him." sort of way. Which admittedly may be good enough for some people who only want to do the whole "spy thing" and look mysterious, but others may benefit from playing the others first.
Navigation remains simple. Use your mouse to interact with the scene, clicking on an area when the icon changes to a hand to indicate you can do something there. Some scenes are wide, and can be scrolled through by moving the cursor to either side of the play screen. Kara's inventory can be accessed by clicking the small letter "i" in the bottom right of the screen, and clicking on an item will either activate it, or ready it for use.
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So is it difficult? Fairly. There's no hand-holding in Covert Front, and many of the puzzles require a lot of thinking on your feet. Some of them can look downright mean spirited at first encounter, but the real beauty of the game is that as in any good mystery, the clues are always there for you if you know where to look. Instead of forcing you to tramp back and forth over areas, picking up a lot of useless junk and trying to combine it to create whatever mystical MacGuffin the situation demands, you'll spend a lot of time using your brain, which is a very welcome change for the genre.
A lot of the game revolves around figuring out how to get Kara's next set of orders, and here the thought and planning put into the tasks really shines. There are codes to be found, buildings to be snuck into, secret numbers to call, and more. The game automatically saves your progress, so you can pick it up whenever you like if you need to take a break and go back to your boring civilian life. Just don't blame us if you find yourself scrutinizing the ingredients in your Cheerios for hidden messages. And... you probably shouldn't tell anyone if you do that either because they'll probably think you're crazy. But not us. We understand you.
... that's comforting, right?
Analysis: It's been two years since we last saw our favourite spy, and fans of the series will be glad to know she's held up well, minus a lot of hair. Perhaps better even than the previous installments, Night in Zurich absolutely nails the atmosphere of danger and intrigue so essential to old spy tales. Mateusz's signature art style captures with aplomb the look and feel of a setting fraught with suspicion, and even the puzzles only serve to further set the mood. To succeed you'll literally have to think like a spy and search for hidden meaning in everything. Is that train schedule really as innocuous as it seems? What about the Bible on the bedspread? Just remember to watch your back while you're nosing around for clues.
But you should probably keep an eye out for hotspots, too, since the game seems to take delight into tucking them into odd places. It's never exactly pixel hunting per se, but there were times when I stumbled across entirely new screens after frustratingly searching the same areas over and over because the transition point was tucked in at an odd angle. There are also a lot of screens that have absolutely nothing to do with advancing the game, so you can waste time trying to find a secret that simply isn't there. These things make the game feel less tight than it should be.
Sound is an aspect that can make or break a game, and for the most part, Covert Front is easy on the ears. The voice acting is a nice touch, if a little uninspired, but really isn't needed for the amount of dialogue in the game. By contrast, the music by Brian Wohlgemuth is always perfectly chosen for every scene, and even areas that are only peppered with sound effects are incredibly atmospheric.
Covert Front isn't just a great point-and-click adventure. It's a great story, rife with missing agents, espionage, secret mechanisms, and all the things that make spy drama great. Fans of the series won't be disappointed, and while newcomers might find the occasionally brain-burning puzzles a bit daunting, anyone with a taste for mystery will find a lot to like here. While I hope we don't have to wait as long for the next offering from the developers, if two years is what it takes to make something this good, then it's time well spent.
Read all our Covert Front series reviews and walkthroughs...