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Video Game / Spycraft: The Great Game

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CIA Credo: And ye shall know the truth, and the truth will set you free.
Opening Voiceover: Kipling called it 'The Great Game'. You want to win, remember one thing: everything you know could be a lie.

Note: This article is not about the Tabletop Game Spycraft.

As CIA agent Thorn, your work for the Secret Service will see you preventing assassinations and rooting out traitors, but this spy doesn't storm fortresses and sip martinis. Your work involves sifting evidence, joining the threads and getting the job done with surveillance intel, analysis and quick wits, not force of arms.

Spycraft: The Great Game is an adventure game produced by Activision in 1996, with the coordination of former CIA director William Colby and former KGB Major-General Oleg Kalugin. While the CIA itself does not endorse the game, the contribution of these men leads to a much more realistic portrayal of life in security services, where a piece of security footage rather than forceful intervention is the main task of the intelligence services.

While there are a few limited action scenes to break up the flow, the player spends most of his time analysing information using various software tools available to Thorn, such as matching faces and decrypting coded messages. Navigation of areas and tools is carried out in a format similar to the Ace Attorney games.

This game contains examples of:

  • Awesomeness by Analysis: This is basically the player job description: Apply information to track down killers and expose deceptions.
  • Caught on Tape: "Kneecaps" ends up being caught on a camcorder's backup digital recording chip kidnapping Birdsong.
  • Character as Himself: Former CIA Director William Colby and ex-KGB General Oleg Kalugin were consultants on the game and appear to give Thorn advice throughout the game.
  • Chekhov's Gun: A lot of information only becomes relevant later, but the big ones are the "Pyramid" and the "Soundhack" devices, both of which are introduced very early on and not used until the finale.
  • Deus ex Machina: The player is saved when Procat Leader Blake's gun jams at a crucial moment.
  • Falling into the Cockpit: Your instructor's death leads to rookie agent Thorn leading an investigation into the assassination of the president. Actually justified when it is revealed the mole was responsible for this arrangement.
  • Fate Worse than Death: More like banished into obscurity. Make too many mistakes and you'll be kicked off the case and operations, and sent to the CIA World Factbook department.
  • Featureless Protagonist: Since this is a 90s FMV game, shown from the point of view of Thorn, we know nothing about whether Thorn is male or female, what they look like, or even anything about their background. Even attempting to access Thorn's file in the CIA's 201 files won't have an entry for them.
  • Goggles Do Something Unusual: Thorn is issued a set of goggles that function as a heads up display, showing how much ammo is left and where enemies are located.
  • Guide Dang It!: Sometimes a key detail is buried in one of many files and booklets you can find.
  • Grey-and-Grey Morality: The game offers a number of dubious methods of extracting information through force or threats (though the game does verbally discourage the former and remind you of the breach of ethics involved).
    • Worse still in the ending you are required to decide whether to compromise the nation's interests and allow a corrupt pro-American politician to be arrested, or to follow orders and kill the man trying to bring him to justice to conceal the truth. If you choose the former, you are revealed to have basically allowed another Cold War.
  • Heel–Face Turn: Churbanov, unhappy with his publicity officer's assassination plan, leaks some useful information to the player.
  • Honey Trap: Ying Chungwang ends up seducing a scientist working on a prototype assassination weapon so her partner can impersonate the guy to gain access to it.
  • Impossibly Cool Weapon: The assassins seem to prefer bordering-on-sci-fi weapon prototypes, such vibration guns that cause coronary arrest, to anything normal for their hits, making them much easier to track down as a result.
    • Justified in that part of the point is to use these silent guns to kill in crowded places so they can't be found afterwards.
  • Instant Death Bullet: Despite what your instructors may say, multiple shots are not required in action scenes, and during cutscenes a single body shot will drop anyone.
  • Master of Disguise: "Grendel" is able to impersonate one of the scientists working on the Pulsed Electric Gun almost perfectly. However, he doesn't do enough research, as he is caught using the elevator, something the scientist in question has an aversion to doing.
  • The Mole: There's one in the CIA working for Procat using the codename of "Mirage". It turns out to be DDO Warhurst.
  • Multiple Endings: Save the president, fail to save the president, retrieve the nuclear pit, don't retrieve the nuclear pit, get killed by Procat operatives, fail to join Procat, join Procat and assassinate the President of the United States.
  • Nonstandard Game Over: Several. For example, if you try guessing your way through a puzzle one too many times, Thorn ends up being pulled off the case and transferred into the CIA's Factbook department.
  • Oh, Crap!: "Whoever you are you are making a big mistake. The self-destruct sequence has been activated. Goodbye."
  • Our Presidents Are Different: Both the US and the Russian presidents are fictional in this game that bear no resemblances to their real world counterparts from the time, likely to avoid the game from becoming dated.
  • Red Herring: Not every piece of evidence is relevant to the case and it's up to the player to determine which clues are useful and which are not.
  • Rogue Agent: Procat is a whole organisation of these.
  • Sequel Hook: As The Stinger, the game proclaims that "Thorn will return in Spycraft II". However, a sequel never materialised, likely due to poor sales.
  • Spy Fiction: Heavily on the Stale Beer end of the scale. Most of the gameplay involves analysing intelligence, such as photgraphs, financial records, emails, etc, as well as meeting with contacts. There are a couple of action sequences, but at least one of them can be avoided by interrogating a suspect for a password and cuffing him to his hotel bed so that the player can retrieve a component for a nuclear weapon without bloodshed.
  • Unexpected Gameplay Change: Typically after solving a puzzle, you expect to receive a video e-mail from your boss telling you what puzzle you need to do next. When you calculate the location of your mole after he goes on the run, you instead control a special ops team to rescue him clearing a building room-by-room with a completely new interface.
  • To Be Lawful or Good: Only a few, but the realism makes them pretty weighty. Do you order the terrified, pacifistic informant commit murder to prove his loyalty to the bad guys for the sake of more info? Do you kill a law-enforcer and ally for threatening to expose a state ally's misdemeanours?
  • Torture Is Ineffective: Late in the game the player is given the option of using an old Soviet torture device to get information out of a suspect. The suspect's file warns that her history of painful abuse could make torture ineffective and sure enough, it is. The best option with her is psychological manipulation.
  • Why Don't Ya Just Shoot Him?: Averted in that you can sometimes attempt to interrupt a speech with your gun, but if it is important enough that they will probably have a gun on you, making it inadvisable to try.
  • You Fool!: The bad guys will call the player an idiot if you accept an offer to join their terrorist organisation and fail their test.