Spies! They’re kind of dicks®. If they’re not seducing us or gambling away our taxes, they’re shoving microphones into cats or jabbing us with umbrellas. It’s hardly surprising that so many games about them veer into cartoonish James Bond territory, or cartoonish parody of cartoonish James Bond territory, or some kind of recursive humour vacuum that threatens to make Miranda Harts of us all.
But there’s a lot to be said for the more grounded approach. Sid Meier’s Covert Action, for example, steers clear of supervillains and outlandish capers, instead presenting a sort of action puzzle, with various criminal mysteries to be solved via a collection of minigames. Say “collection of minigames” in the early 90s and the responses you’d get would likely be “take this film licence dreck out the back and shoot it”, but Covert Action is a far better game than that technically accurate description lets on – and one still worth playing today. Let me explain.