Codename: Nina - Global Terrorism Task Force Review

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Publisher: ValuSoft (THQ)
Developer: City Interactive


Platform: PC
Reviewed on PC
Windows System Requirements: Pentium III 600 MHz, 64 MB RAM, 12x CD ROM, 32 MB 3D Graphics Card

Nina is the product of intense training and mysterious genetics. Not only is she an expert operative, capable of working alone deep in hostile territory, she is also a psychic, able to pry sensitive information from the unwilling minds of her enemies. Because of her unique skills, she has been chosen to engage in a series of missions to infiltrate and eliminate a terrorist threat that spans the globe. Beginning by thwarting turbaned terrorists creating biological weapons in a desert setting, Nina works her way to Kiev in the Ukraine and beyond to unravel the terrorists' heinous schemes.

Rating:
Kyle Ackerman


Codename: Nina forces us to contemplate the role of bargain software. Hardcore gamers have access not only to shelves of premier titles, but also discounted titles – good games from months past that have been repackaged as gold editions or are being sold at reduced prices. Some PC titles premier at bargain prices. To garner the interest of the core gaming audience, these need to be games that do something new and interesting. Graphics and glitz aren't everything, and gamers will rally to a title that does something innovative, like MoonBase Commander, or just provides something fun and simple like the giant-monster city-bashing of another ValuSoft title, I Was An Atomic Mutant! The other category of value software is aimed at the casual gamer. These games are often sitting in their jewel case at the drug or grocery store, and are priced low enough to be impulse purchases for folks who might not otherwise buy games.

The problem with Codename: Nina is that it is neither an innovative title, nor an accessible, inexpensive title for the casual gamer. City Interactive (the developer) wanted it to be a fast-paced, hard-hitting first person shooter. They sensibly licensed a graphics engine, but faltered after that step, producing something that feels more like a free modification for an existing game than a complete game. The game looks like one of a previous game generation. Textures are bizarrely lit and poorly rendered. Enemies are blocky, and it's very easy to run into and get caught in the edges of crates or walls. There's even a mysterious block of dust that floats about in the first level – it's less dust devil than big brown translucent block. The visuals are supplemented with truly awful voice acting that occasionally gives you clues to your objective.

To make matters worse, City Interactive hasn't learned any of the lessons taught by generations of first-person shooters. There are no difficulty settings, so the game doesn't adapt to different skill levels, which should be a must for a game that appeals to casual gamers. The manual is no more than a list of keys, and objectives are often difficult to determine and can probably only be intuited by experienced gamers. Ther's no save option, so you have to make it to predetermined save points or just replay the same portion over and over. There aren't even any big, cool weapons. You get a hand gun and a larger gun (such as a machine gun or shotgun) in each level, and the weapons aren't very different from mission to mission. Fixed machine gun emplacements and sniper rifles occasionally materialize, but you can't take them with you, so they tend to exist only to solve specific puzzles.

Codename: Nina uses too many conventions that might be familiar to core gamers, but for which casual gamers require some explanation. Most people will figure out that a white box with a red cross will improve health, and they might even figure out that scattered black flecks are additional ammunition. They probably won't figure out that platforms attached to sliver poles are elevators of a sort that will lift you to high places. It's also hard to figure out which objects are interactive. The targeting reticle is supposed to change to a square (sometimes red) when there is something you can use or when there is an occasion to try your psychic powers. Even so, sometimes the square doesn't appear. Passing an area sometimes involves cryptic tasks like shooting buttons from afar. Also, there is very little in the way of a briefing or explanation of objectives, so while familiarity with the genre will send you searching for things to do and kill, it is very confusing for the casual gamer. Most of all, the game is just too hard for the casual player. Most enemies are a snap to kill, but in an effort to make levels more puzzle-like, there are plenty of death traps.

In the very first level, you have to pass a machine gun nest in a bunker, but machine guns are certain death once you enter killing range. So, to progress, you have to find a generator, which involves moving a cart and shooting a barely visible explosive red barrel. Should you get that far, you discover the generator is out of fuel and told that you should search south for fuel. There is no compass or map, but jumping off an elevator in motion over a wall into a dark space will reveal a guarded fuel tank through a hidden window. If you manage to get the fuel, power up another elevator and take it to the top you are rewarded with access to a sniper rifle. At this point you should have a clear shot at the machine gunner that was making life so difficult, but it is pitch black. Only by shooting randomly in the area where you think the bunker is located do you even have a hope of seeing the blood spurt that indicates the path is now clear. Phew. Anyone but the most stubborn gamer or a reviewer has given up long before getting this far.

The core gaming demographic will find that Codename: Nina compares poorly with first-person shooters from the last generation of games, available in bargain bins everywhere. Casual gamers will find this game inaccessible and frustrating. City Interactive is a developer in Warsaw, Poland, and it may be of passing interest that the 1993 film Point of No Return (the American version of La Femme Nikita) was released in parts of Europe as Codename: Nina. If the genesis of this game has anything to do with La Femme Nikita, let's hope that another game does the movie more justice.

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This page contains a single entry by Editor published on May 3, 2003 6:47 PM.

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