Sometimes a mediocre game can seem worse than an outright dud. When you're playing an obviously terrible game, you can usually put it safely aside and move on to something better. But mediocre games like Innerloop Studios' IGI 2: Covert Strike trick you into thinking that there might be something great just around the corner, only to repeatedly disappoint you. The previous game, Project IGI, was an above-average shooter when it was released in 2000, despite some serious shortcomings. But things have changed since then--more-sophisticated and more-stylish action games such as Medal of Honor: Allied Assault, No One Lives Forever 2, and Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell have raised the bar for action games. Yet Innerloop has slid under it with IGI 2, which is a shooter that might have seemed exciting if it had been released in 2000, but is mostly forgettable now.
In IGI 2, you play as ex-SAS soldier David Jones, a covert operative now working for the fictional Institute for Geotactical Intelligence. You'd never know that at first if you didn't read the box and manual before playing, though. The game itself just throws you into the action without any decent setup or explanations. What exactly is IGI? Who is David Jones? Who knows? Who cares? The attempts at storytelling fall flat throughout the game. This might not have been the problem if IGI 2 were a straightforward action game, but, as your first mission briefing tells you when you start the game, "stealth will be vital." To be fair, IGI 2 at least gives you a visibility meter that gives you a good idea of how easily you can be seen without resorting to guesswork. You can toggle Jones' movement between running and walking, and you can also select from standing, crouching, and prone positions, all of which have an effect on how noticeable you are.
IGI 2 does have seem to have some basic mechanics to encourage interesting stealth-based gameplay, but in practice, the stealth elements are often tedious, frustrating, or implemented too obviously. All too often, you'll get the feeling that IGI 2's designers were following some sort some kind of action-game design handbook. You'll find levels where you'll obviously be required to sneak up behind a guard and incapacitate him, or levels in which you're clearly supposed to crouch behind a pile of crates to avoid being spotted by a security camera. In fact, IGI 2 may make you feel like you're jumping through hoops instead of pulling off dramatically daring feats, so you may be tempted to forget stealth and just start shooting things up.
It's then that you'll learn that that IGI 2's disposable henchmen aren't exactly tactical geniuses. Sure, if you blow your cover and go in with guns blazing, they'll sound alarms and come pouring out of their barracks to hunt you down, and sometimes they'll even surprise you by using a flash-bang grenade to blind you before they attack. Many of them have incredibly good aim, but they're not especially vigilant otherwise, and when they first suspect your presence, they'll usually just run back and forth in predetermined areas for a while, as if a good jog might ward off any possible intruders. Apparently, the guards all skipped class while attending henchman school, since they'll gladly run one after another into your line of fire until the bodies are stacked to the ceiling. They'll also use such clever tactics such as yelling "Grenade!" to warn you before they throw one. In fact, they'll even start tossing grenades around wildly indoors--while you're still outside.
If you stand too long in view of a security camera, an alarm will likewise sound. Of course, you'll discover quickly that you can simply shoot out most cameras, and no one will be the wiser. Leaving bodies lying around (you can't drag them out of the way as in most games of this type) usually won't alert anyone either. About the only time you absolutely have to be stealthy in IGI 2 is in certain levels where massive hordes of guards can gang up on you from all directions.
If you do find yourself under attack, the firefights can be action-packed and exciting but are just as likely to be frustrating. The enemies usually act foolishly, but, as mentioned above, they have superb aim to compensate. Imagine the infamously difficult Sniper Town level from 2015's excellent shooter Medal of Honor: Allied Assault, but everywhere, all the time. As such, you'll need to sneak from cover to cover as you pick off enemies and use grenades to take out large groups before they can fire on you en masse. Unfortunately, the AI troops' unerring ability to hit you with a submachine gun from hundreds of yards away may make you feel like the game is cheating.
As in the original Project IGI, you'll fight these eagle-eyed thugs on huge maps that feature enormous factories or sprawling military bases set among towering mountains. Unlike in the previous game, you can actually save your progress a few times per mission as you navigate these maps. But other than their sheer size, the poorly balanced and unevenly paced levels offer fairly little of interest. While you can sometimes infiltrate an area from multiple directions, the levels are usually very linear. Sometimes you'll get a little variety in the form of a timed mission or the obligatory "escort the AI companion who keeps getting shot" mission, but that's scant consolation. On top of that, there's a major bug on one level that causes the game to crash to the desktop at random moments, along with a host of other bugs throughout the game. Interface elements disappear, bodies float high in the sky, vehicles bounce 10 feet in the air for no reason, and more.
While the levels are visually impressive in terms of their sheer size, they're not very impressive otherwise. IGI 2's graphics engine is certainly capable of rendering some attractive scenes from time to time, but there's just too little artistry behind the game to take advantage of it. Few of the levels make you feel like you're in a real-world location, despite IGI 2's real-world setting. Most buildings, for instance, are largely empty or look almost exactly alike inside and out. The game looks rather dated overall, thanks to its simple lighting and shadow effects, blocky 3D models, and generally unconvincing animations. It just lacks any sort of memorable visual style, and you'll forget what each level looked like as soon as you finish it.
Like the visuals, IGI 2's audio is merely adequate. On the one hand, you'll hear wind whistling through the pines high on a snowy mountain and hear Jones' feet realistically crunching gravel as he runs. The guns sound powerful for the most part, too. On the other hand, the music is forgettable, and most of the voice-overs are quite bad. The voices for Jones and his cohorts back at IGI headquarters are competent, but the voices for the "Russian" henchmen in the early missions, for example, are horrible. All the guards keep shouting the same phrases over and over for no reason--you'll want to kill them just to shut them up.
When you get tired of the single-player game--which will likely happen in a hurry--you can head online. IGI 2's multiplayer offers a decent variant on the popular team-based shooter Counter-Strike, albeit with unusually large maps. In fact, the maps feel too large for a game that supports only 16 players. The menu system is also rather clumsy.
IGI 2: Covert Strike has its entertaining moments, but not enough of them to help the game rise above mediocrity. Sometimes the game provides some exciting combat, but more often it tends to be boring, clichéd, or clumsy. It fails miserably at providing any sort of interesting story or characters that you care about. The levels are huge, but they're often bland or repetitive, and the game is riddled with design problems and bugs. Perhaps IGI 2's biggest problem is that instead of drawing you into a thrilling adventure, it makes you feel like you're just going through the motions in a generic shooter.