A miracle birthed from a slow, crawling development cycle, SpyParty reaches Steam Early Access with a flawed presentation but excellent gameplay.
Milling about a party with socialites, I find myself compelled to observe the nearest statue, examining its sterling quality. A small red glaring laser dances across my body, prompting me to put the statue down and not swap it out. Biding my time, I find a large group conversation and make contact with the double agent by proclaiming “banana bread” fairly loudly. As time runs out, I slink away to a window to check the time (and add some), but the sniper has been following me for minutes, putting his lone bullet into my body, killing the spy on the spot.
SpyParty is one of the most intensive multiplayer games I’ve experienced in a while. Entering Early Access on Steam just this past weekend, the game has been in development since 2009, representing the hardest-fought development cycle I’ve seen in some time. It’s still fairly rough in its presentation, as the online client looks like something out of early Runescape. However, the intense cat and mouse gameplay is worth fighting through its rough edges.
The core of SpyParty is fairly simple. You enter an online lobby match with another player and choose to be either the spy or the sniper (you switch off one by one). The spy then chooses one of up to ten different locations and a series of tasks they need to accomplish as the spy without detection.
Depending on the location, these include contacting a double agent (known to the sniper), taking the guest list from the waiter, inspecting/swapping statues, bugging an ambassador, transferring microfilm from a book to another, and seducing a target character. Everybody else at the party (minus the bodyguard) is programmed as AI to do similar tasks, making it easier to blend in.
As the spy of SpyParty, it is up to you to get a certain number of tasks done in time. Meanwhile, the sniper has the unenviable task of perusing the party from an outside perspective, given a (non-visualized) sniper rifle and a highlight/lowlight tool to keep tabs on everyone at the party. For example, if the player calls “banana bread” to contact the double agent, anybody not standing in a group conversation can be lowlighted as not the sniper, as it’s impossible to do that action. A sniper wins if they shoot the spy before they complete the tasks, while the spy wins if a civilian is shot or they pull everything off.
SpyParty is very deliberate in the tension it wants players to create between each other…
That what makes SpyParty such a thrilling game; it’s all about subtlety and blending in to counter strict observation. The better you become at performing actionable tasks increases your chances of winning, but only if the sniper isn’t trained on your location. You can’t swap a statue when your opponent is focused on you, but perhaps putting the statue down and staring at a painting on the wall will convince them you’re just an AI.
SpyParty is very deliberate in the tension it wants players to create between each other, and the tutorial does an excellent job of walking you through the steps of the game from both a spy and sniper perspective. Key tips like learning the statues at the start is crucial for the sniper, as is knowing where to stand in conversations and what characters can or cannot do is critical for the spy.
As you move on from beginner courses, the game steps up for the spy. Performing actions such as swapping or inspecting statues, transferring microfilms or bugging ambassadors require a QTE on higher than beginner difficulties, requiring a right-click in the middle of a bar. Hitting the sliver of green provides a smooth, subtle task maneuver, hitting the slightly wider white segment is a normal task while failing makes you stumble.
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That wrinkle means a spy calling for banana bread may cough instead, giving the sniper a quick chance to scout the party and spot the cougher, taking them out with a bullet. It heightens the tension in an extremely competitive, nail-biting game, as even the smallest misstep can cause your opponent to win.
SpyParty is an awesome concept that clearly needs a lot of polish and features to be added going forward. Right now, there is no music played during menuing at all, meaning most of the time you hear either party chatter or absolute silence. Matchmaking needs to evolve beyond a Windows 95 lobby with a list of names to invite, but that will come soon.
Additionally, many will balk at the $25 price point the game currently has. I’ve played the Early Access beta for several hours now, and have started to learn the tools of the trade in how to best optimize play. However, the combination of not enough gameplay mode variety mixed with the sloppy presentation makes it hard to bite the bullet and try the game out.
I implore people to at least check the game out on Twitch or YouTube first to see what the fuss is all about. With rounds lasting just a few minutes, there is an incredible level of intensity for both the spy and the sniper, with custom options to give the spy fewer places to hide and the scale of the locations between large and compact.
SpyParty is a game where frustration, hilarity, adrenaline and patience join together to create a wonderful gameplay idea. I can’t wait to see how this game evolves over the next few years of expected Early Access development.
Copies of this game were provided to App Trigger for the purpose of this preview.