A Sniper, a Spy, and a Tray of Cocktails

After your first play session of SpyParty, you will walk away with two things: shaking hands, and awesome stories. The game is unbelievably tense as either of the game’s two roles– as a sniper, you find yourself staring at a screen looking for the smallest inconsistencies and odd behavior from the assembled guests at this virtual dinner party, and as a spy, you attempt to achieve your goals while blending in to the crowd of AIs. The result is a fantastic meld of mind games and observation, half acting half birdwatching, with a high caliber rifle ready to disagree with a bad actor.

The sniper has one shot, but it is of absolute lethality and accuracy, so the spy has no room for error… or so you’d think. The first time you play Spy, you are expecting to hear that bang any second. Crap, I bumped into an NPC, that was so obvious! I’m dead. Dammit, that animation was unmissable. I’m dead. And then you blink, and realize that by some miracle, the sniper didn’t notice, or didn’t know what to make of it. Win or lose, you feel like you should have lost a half dozen times during the match. Then you play your first match as a sniper, and it all becomes clear.

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The spy has four objectives to complete (at first– it varies based on the map), and you can watch a single objective like a hawk and still not see the spy hit it because you’re so overwhelmed with information. In one match, I pointed my rifle at the ambassador, who the spy had to plant a bug on as one of his four objectives, and just stared at the ambassador for the whole game. I barely looked at anything else, just watched for that telltale animation of someone trying to bug the ambassador. I watched the entire match, and then it was over. I had lost. And not only did I never see the bug animation, I didn’t even notice the guy who turned out to be the spy approach the ambassador. He wasn’t on my short list of suspects at all– I was completely baffled.

And as incredible as the failures were the joyous moments of success. One particular party, I had narrowed my suspect list down to two individuals- a lady in a plaid dress, and a man in a cyan suit. I was watching the cyan man closely, my suspicions high but not quite high enough that I was willing to commit a bullet, when it happened. Banana Bread.

Let me explain. One of the spy’s four objectives is to contact a double agent at the party. Like all objectives, it has a specific tell- the audible words “Banana Bread” are heard by both the Spy and the Sniper. With any Spy action, the game offers you a little minigame, rather like a Gears of War active reload, when you do the action. You can ignore the minigame, or do an okay job at it, and you’ll get a regular animation. You can ace it, which will give you a slightly more subtle animation. And you can botch it, which plays an animation that stands out.

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As I was staring at this cyan man, my laser dancing across his forehead, the words “Banana Bread” rang out… and then the cyan man coughed. I had a bullet between his eyes before he’d cleared his throat. It was beautiful.

The whole game plays like this, an elaborate game of cat on one of a dozen potential mice. There are a handful of levels, with more on the way, and an endless number of possible mindgames. Some of the players in the beta have played thousands of matches– I don’t know if I’ll ever get that into it, but I am definitely gonna stick with it.

The game is in a closed beta right now (but no NDA, luckily for me), so if you want in, you’re going to have to sign up here [link there], and wait for an invite. My invite took nearly a year, so it’s a bit of a wait at this point, but I’ve heard the words “open beta” being tossed around the forums, so who knows what the future holds? And it’s definitely worth the wait.

Please note: The graphics shown in screenshots are what the game currently looks like, but it will look much better when the game comes to digital storefronts. SpyParty is a real beta- not just a big demo, the game’s not done yet! The header image for this article is what the final game is supposed to look like.