The original Project IGI was cursed with probably the worst name ever seen in gaming (except perhaps that old PC Engine game, Bonk). It was also cursed with some pretty poor AI and basic gameplay flaws, not to mention a difficulty level straight from Satan's bowels, but it definitely had something. It may have been that it hinted at something better, it may have been that there were some real moments of quality or it may have been that it received a fair amount of hype but it sold quite well and some people didn't think it was crap. It was good to see that in March 2003 when Codemasters and Innerloop released a sequel, they had taken note of the criticisms and produced a far better gaming experience. It had the backing of former SAS officer turned mediocre author Chris Ryan, it sold pretty well and it got reasonable reviews - people thought it was alright. Not great, not Halo but certainly not crap. Eighteen months on, it receives a release on the Â£9.99 M.A.D. label from industry old boys Mastertronic and do you know what? It's still quite good.
Essentially what you've got here is a hammy spy yarn told through a fairly decent stealth-centred FPS. Taking the role of David Jones, the campest former SAS man this side of a Blue Oyster Bar military theme night, you must save the world (again) from global terror. This time, the technical plans of a new EMP device have been stolen by some cheeky Russians and it's up to you and your team to get them back. Think of any Tom Clancy book and not only do you have the right ball park; you're probably on the right base too. There's a familiar team of characters to help you out and a familiar team of characters to get in your way. You have to sneak past or shoot the latter.
The game is split into 19 reasonably sized levels ranging from airfields and mines to ancient temples, and you have somewhere between two and five objectives to complete for each one. IGI's most immediate peer is Splinter Cell, a game cursed with claustrophobic and linear level design and stupidly unavoidable objects, and it's nice to see that that Innerloop have opted to offer the gamer multiple routes through many of the - often spacious - levels. Most of the main sections of each level are navigable in a variety of ways and there are cameras to avoid, locks to pick, open spaces to dash across or shadows to lurk in, whichever way you choose. Much like M.A.D. label mate Hitman 2, the patient and experimental gamer will usually find that there's a 'designer intended route' through each level and will reap the greater rewards in the new ranking system that is displayed between missions. The levels for the most part and well thought out and can be quite spacious. In a similar way to Goldeneye, they seem to have been designed as realistic areas first and game maps second, meaning that there are usually areas of redundancy that add little to the gameplay mechanics but help instil a feeling of immersion in the game world. At times, the scope is very impressive.
Your main weapon against all that's put in front of you is your GPS map. Not only does it give you the layout of each level but it plots the movements of guards and cameras, so it's always worth taking the time and using it to plan before doing anything else at the start of each mission. The weaponry available is reasonably well balanced; Jones is able to carry three weapons at any one time, one large, one small and one hand to hand as well as grenades, and part of the game is knowing when to drop the weapons you started with and move on to ones you find during the mission. The guns range from silenced pistols to sub machine guns and sniper rifles via the usual route of every ex-commie's favourite, the AK-47. And if the loud option doesn't take your fancy, there's always the ubiquitous stealth kill for players who like their kills a little more cold blooded. Alongside your map guns you have access to the usual array of spy related crap, such as thermal goggles, devices for hacking into security systems, C4 and laser wire cutters - all of which serve some purpose throughout the game to aid you against your terrorist chums.
But it's at these terrorist hurdles that the game begins to stumble. The AI, whilst being a vast improvement over the original is still shaky. Enemies are able to call on their buddies for help to some extent but mostly rely on impossibly good marksmanship to put you down rather than any clever military manoeuvres. They are also more likely to sit in front of you and shoot than look for cover to work from, and they will obligingly file through a doorway one at a time giving you ample opportunity to shoot your way out of many a tight spot. There is the occasional moment where the stealth process falls on its face too, as guards ignore the rather dramatic explosions of the cameras you shoot out and sometimes even the death of a nearby comrade. It's not really any worse than many other games that make it to market, but a missed opportunity for greatness - realistic AI would have gone a long way to making this an essential purchase eighteen months ago.
It's not really any worse than many other games that make it to market; that about sums up IGI 2 in one sentence. It's a decent game but it never really stands out from the crowd. It could have been something special if it hadn't been let down by flaky AI, a pretty bland storyline and a general lack of original gaming ideas, but as it is, it's just good. The graphics do their job, the sound is alright and there's plenty of game in there to keep you going, it's just that it doesn't seem to cover any ground that hasn't been trod before - and that's before you take into account what's happened in the industry since its release. Half-Life 2 is about the redefine gaming, Metal Gear Solid 3 is due to shake up the stealth genre in the next few months, and almost any PC game released from now on will boast a physics and graphics engine that will knock IGI 2's into a cocked hat. However, at Â£9.99, you have to shift your expectations a little. Not many budget releases can boast such scope and production values and with their new label, Mastertronic seem to have done a good job of bringing out a few decent games you may have missed the first time round, at a price you can't really argue with. It even manages to throw in a competent multiplayer experience although you won't find a massive number of people playing it these days.
If you've haven't got a new super-powered, gold plated, NASA PC, and you've got a spare tenner, and an itch for a spy game that needs scratching, I would recommend it without hesitation. At least this time round they included mid-level saves.