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Cipher Complex: In-Depth Thoughts And Opinions

Stealth action was pretty much a non-existent genre ten years ago; it wasn't until Tenchu and Metal Gear Solid hit the Playstation that stealth action became popular. These days, though, it's been done nearly to death, as it seems like every developer around is trying to create the next Solid Snake, and with the exception of Ubi Soft's critically acclaimed Splinter Cell series they've all more or less fallen completely flat. But that's not stopping developer Edge of Reality. The Texas based developer is mostly known for creating licensed games, but now they're shooting for the big leagues with Cipher Complex, a game intended to compete with Metal Gear Solid and Splinter Cell for stealth action dominance.

Cipher Complex, set on a Russian island near Siberia, stars wannabe-legend John Sullivan, code-named Cipher. Months before the 2003 US invasion of Iraq, Sullivan was sent into that country to investigate the disappearance of a Russian nuclear warhead, only to be shot in the back of the head, betrayed by an arms dealer named Anakov. After years in a coma, Sullivan is awakened by the U.S. government after the warhead he was initially searching for finally turned up at an old, abandoned military facility off the coast of Siberia. However, Cipher's got an even tougher challenge ahead of him – competing with superspy Sam Fisher and the legendary Solid Snake for a spot in your game library.

To do that, Edge of Reality is going to have to differentiate themselves from the genre mainstays, and they plan to do that in two distinct ways, most notably the action. While Cipher Complex is a stealth action game, it looks as though it's going to offer a lot more action than what we've traditionally come to expect. "We found a hole in the stealth genre," Creative Director Thomas Coles explained to recently. "Stealth games are pretty much games of hide and seek, but we're big action fans so we thought 'how do we get more action into a stealth game?' We spent a lot of last year cracking that nut."

So how are they going to do it? Splinter Cell has traditionally placed highest priority on avoiding conflict, such that the few nasty firefights you come across are memorable and tense, whereas MGS games have stuck with the now fairly stale 'boss battle' route. There really aren't ways to enhance action in a stealth action games without ruining the balance and thus the core gameplay, but one new twist that Edge of Reality wants to add is an adrenaline meter. This meter gives players access to a wealth of 'supercharged' moves, such as being able to almost instantly teleport during battle. When your adrenaline meter is full enough, you can slow time down, aim at any part of the room/location you're currently in and dash there in an instant. This not only allows you to quickly get behind cover and out of harm's way, but also to dash right behind someone for an instant kill.

According to Coles, this is to encourage greater risks in the stealth action genre, which in itself is odd as stealth action a genre that is almost unparalelled in terms of risk taking. Since each stealth kill refills your meter, it will be possible to string together 'combo' kills to take out an entire room of enemies unnoticed. One of the great things that Splinter Cell and Metal Gear Solid have always done is force you to adapt your tactics and weaponry on the fly to constantly changing situations, and hopefully the inclusion of this adrenaline meter does something similar by forcing you to change which 'supercharged' moves you use and when.

If this is starting to sound more like a straight action game, fear not, as Edge of Reality promises just as much tension as in other stealth games, but with more emphasis on more punctuated action, and there's still a lot of danger facing Cipher throughout the game, as he goes up against heavily armed enemies that can kill with just a few well placed shots.

Another area in which Edge of Reality hopes to make Cipher Complex unique is the story they want to tell. Most war games have throw-away plots if they even bother to include them at all, and almost none ever actually discuss war. Edge of Reality wants to do just that, specifically focusing on the business of war and the military-industrial complex. The only problem with that is it sounds EXACTLY like the basic plot of Kojima' Productions' upcoming Guns of the Patriots, which focuses on Private Military Companies and their need for war to thrive. Where we can be sure the two will be vastly different is in style.

Hideo Kojima tells a good tale; he also tells very unique and often downright bizarre tales reminiscent of spaghetti westerns. Creative designer for Edge of Reality Mark Bristol has a bit of a different background as a storyboard artist for movies such as Memento and The Thin Red Line, and barring a massive departure from his earlier work the dialogue and overall theme should be quite different from anything else in the genre, and either way it has to be better than the laughably bad stories we've seen from the Splinter Cell series.

One way in which Cipher Complex looks to specifically set itself apart from the crowd is the location and atmosphere, by essentially combining the best of both the MGS and Splinter Cell approaches to environment. Whereas Splinter Cell has always had you jetting all over the world to exotic locales, MGS traditionally plants you in one expansive, cohesive environment for the whole of the game. Both styles have merit, as well as drawbacks, and Edge of Reality wants to include the best of both by offering a cohesive, organic environment that still has variety and vivid detail. As this particular Russian military base where the game takes place was long ago abandoned, it's understandably in a state of serious disrepair. As such, it's filled with traps and perils, not to mention big guys with guns. Oh, and nuclear warheads. Expect to have a lot more interaction with your environment than in other stealth action titles.

All in all, Cipher Complex looks promising, but it's going to be difficult to retire two of the biggest names in gaming right now. Edge of Reality is confident, though. "Games like Metal Gear and Splinter Cell are almost fun to play. Almost. But they're just too slow-paced," says Edge of Reality's Ben Jackson to "They're missing the action element that makes them really engaging. There's just so much room for improvement." Sounds like fighting words, and one very big claim to make good on. As more info on Cipher Complex is revealed, we'll let you know if they're getting any closer to doing so.

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