I love it when a plan comes together. On the surface, Covert Action is a game about minigames, each acting as an optional node in a procedurally generated tale of espionage and infiltration, but it’s really about the metagame. Covert Action is one of those games that bloody well deserves a remake – even Meier said it had tried to do too much on its initial release. It was about as ahead of its time as James Joyce shaking hands with an Eloi and I’d love to see a version made with modern tech. Maybe some of the charm would be lost though – I’ve been mucking about with the game this morning following a Steam release (it’s already on GoG) and it continues to be brilliant, despite overstretching itself and my brain cells.
Every game of Covert Action begins with the generation of a plot. Depending on the difficulty level, that plot might involve several political organisations, terrorist cells, and safehouses and agents scattered around the globe. Or it might be a case of planting a couple of wiretaps in Washington, next door to your own headquarters, tailing a car across town and then taking a quick flight to Rome to arrest a so-called mastermind.
Whatever else you’re doing, whether it’s tailing cars using a clever top-down ‘maze’ system, or planting wiretaps on a puzzle grid, your ultimate objective is to gather evidence. You begin the game with a dossier of clues, which lead to locations and characters in the game world, and then you choose how you’ll go about finding more data until you either have enough information to stop the plot, or fail and see it come to fruition.
While I was playing this morning, I went to a known safehouse and planted a wiretap, then waited for someone to leave and trailed the car. It led me to a dingy little building that I had no intelligence about, so I decided to plant a wiretap there as well. I screwed up the puzzle, triggering an alarm, and had to run away.
My first wiretap linked the two suspects who were active in the US that I knew about with a third man, but his location was unknown. The last I knew of him placed him in Europe and that’s where I was heading when I decided to tab out of the game and enthuse about how enjoyable it is, even two and a half decades after release. It isn’t timeless – hence my desire for a remake – but it’s not quite like anything else out there. The Steam release is currently priced at £3.74, with the usual launch discount of 25%. It’s 5p cheaper on GoG but on Steam you can also buy it bundled with the classic versions of Pirates! Gold Plus and Colonization. That’s known as the Classic Explorers Pack because if there’s one thing Covert Action star Maximillian ‘Ian’ Remington likes to do, it’s explore his feelings while listening to Tori Amos and glugging down a bottle of Blossom Hill Zinfandel..