Deceive Inc. is an online multiplayer game created by Sweet Bandits Studios and published by Tripwire Presents. Instead of another run-of-the-mill first-person shooter, this game is instead a competitive covert-ops simulator of sorts. There are guns, and shooting (unfortunately) makes up some of the gameplay, but what really works are all of the sneaky spy mechanics. Does Deceive Inc’s Spy vs. Spy gameplay make it stand out, or does it just fly under the radar?
To begin, let’s discuss what you’re hit with as soon as you boot the game: its presentation. Deceive Inc. utilizes a not-so-subtle 60s aesthetic that lines up pretty well with its spy theme. The characters and environments are vibrantly colored, and their designs exist somewhere in between a Pixar film and a Telltale game. All facial features and body types are cartoonishly exaggerated while avoiding a look that might be too silly.
The game’s start screen is the all-too-familiar live-service menu with your selected character front and center, several options along the top, and your game mode selection as well as the “Play” button in the bottom right. It’s certainly functional, I just wish fewer games immediately gave the impression that they’re trying to be Fortnite from the moment you start them.
"Deceive Inc. utilizes a not-so-subtle 60s aesthetic that lines up pretty well with its spy theme. The characters and environments are vibrantly colored, and their designs exist somewhere in between a Pixar film and a Telltale game."
Thankfully, the gameplay is a far cry from Epic’s genre-defining game. It’s possible to jump straight into either a Solo or Team match, but Deceive Inc. heavily recommends that you play through the tutorial before you get into the real deal, and for good reason. The tutorial is about fifteen minutes long, and walks you through the many systems that make up every Deceive Inc. match while also infusing some light humor that I think landed pretty well.
In terms of systems and gameplay mechanics, there are enough to almost seem overwhelming on paper, but everything works well and feels intuitive when you’re actually playing the game. At the beginning of each match, Players select a customizable spy. Each one is a unique character with its own weapons and abilities, and there are three available from the start. There are five more spies that can be unlocked through progression at the time of this review. Two of these are Vanguard spies (the all-rounder class) and one is a Tracker spy (the sniper/recon class), though there are more classes as you unlock more spies.
From there, you are dropped into one of several massive open maps with up to 11 other spies, and you’ll begin the first phase of the match: Insertion. In this phase, you are tasked with completing several objectives that are scattered throughout the area and collecting intel while staying incognito. How do you manage this? By using the game’s flagship feature, a camouflage system that allows you to copy the visage of any other human character. Once it is activated, your cover can be blown if you fire your weapon, but standing still for several seconds is enough to recharge it and gain that cover back.
This “cover” system is not just used to deceive your opponents though, as you will also need to tail and take on the appearance of several different special NPCs in order to gain access to crucial areas. Characters like guards, staff, and technicians all have their own high-security areas, and if you stray into one of those places without the proper disguise your cover will be blown, and leave you open to attack by enemy spies.
"I played the game on Xbox, and aiming with a controller felt not very responsive, and the guns I tried (from the available three characters) had just a touch too much delay between shots to be helpful."
Speaking of enemy spies, this is where the majority of your time is spent playing Deceive Inc. Any NPC could be an undercover spy, and an itchy trigger finger will cause you to shoot a civilian and blow your cover at the same time. The NPC AI seems to be tuned with this fear in mind since I accidentally murdered many innocents thinking they were a spy trying to take me out first due to a sudden pause or erratic turn, which would inevitably get me killed by a much more skilled spy than myself. Being spotted by those same super spies while attempting to be inconspicuous was also a common occurrence.
If you manage to avoid detection and complete objectives, you might last until the next phase of a match: Insertion. This phase is usually marked by unlocking a secure area that contains some kind of secret document or other item that needs to be stolen. The stress and anxiety are ratcheted up in this phase, and you’re much more likely to get into a shootout. Which, unfortunately, is not one of Deceive Inc.’s strong suits.
Deceive Inc. is a budget-priced indie game, so it’s unfortunate that I have to grill it for a mechanic that so many games have down-pat by this point, but aiming and shooting feels pretty bad. I’m assuming it’s by design as a means of discouraging rampant warfare, but sometimes it does become necessary and it usually ends up leaving a bad taste in the mouth. I played the game on Xbox, and aiming with a controller felt not very responsive, and the guns I tried (from the available three characters) had just a touch too much delay between shots to be helpful. Especially when you can be in a match with spies that dual-wield pistols for super-fast fire rates. The weapons just don’t feel very balanced across characters.
The issues with the gunplay are magnified when the third and final phase of a match begins: Extraction. At this point, one spy has the package and has to make it to the extraction point without dying, and their location will be pinged on every enemy spy’s radar periodically. The targeted spy can in turn see through other spies’ cover with their navigation vision by spending intel. This turns the end of a match from a spy vs spy game into a cat vs mouse one, but, again, the guns don’t feel great to use. This is kind of alleviated by the inclusion of spy gadgets, which are broken up into four categories: defense, traps, deception, and recon.
"Deceive Inc.’s gameplay is thrilling and packed with anxious excitement for the first half of every match, but is then soured by a second half that relies too heavily on unbalanced gunplay."
You unlock better gadgets as you gain levels, but from the beginning, you have an inflating bounce mat, a turret, and a remote-hacking spyglass. These are good enough to evade and distract other spies when you need to, but there are better gadgets like a shield umbrella, goo pods, and a holographic decoy at higher levels. I feel that the gadgets are more in line with the game’s theme and feel better to use than the guns, but there is a lack of focus on them overall which is unfortunate.
Deceive Inc.’s gameplay is thrilling and packed with anxious excitement for the first half of every match, but is then soured by a second half that relies too heavily on unbalanced gunplay. This is a shame because it does mostly deliver on its promise of a tense spy-thriller action game, but locking better weapons behind higher levels and not properly balancing what is available does a disservice to the rest of the experience.
This game was reviewed on the Xbox Series X.
Great 60s aesthetic; Anxiety-inducing gameplay; Fun and useful gadgets.
The weapons don’t seem to be balanced; Unresponsive aiming.
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