Mi-Clos Studios recently provided me with a Steam code to get in on the private beta for their upcoming espionage title Sigma Theory. Since it’s a work-in-progress, I’m not going to bother posting my laptop specs, because I don’t know what will still be added to the game upon its release and that would make my own specs a moot point. But here are my first impressions of this dynamic spy/diplomacy/strategy game.
In Sigma Theory, you take on the role of the director of a spy agency after choosing your own name and country. The world is on the verge of a series of scientific breakthroughs based on “Sigma Data;” world leaders have promised publicly to work together for mutual prosperity and a globally beneficial implementation of what they find. Of course, if you’ve ever opened a newspaper, by now you’re saying “Yeah, right” – and your skepticism would be justified. Behind the scenes, a dozen or so of the world’s leading nations (the UK, USA, Japan, China, Korea, Russia, etc.) have recruited teams of spies, hackers and assassins to poach one another’s scientists, sabotage and steal one another’s research, find compromising information on foreign diplomats and win a worldwide arms and tech race. Sounds pretty badass, right? It is, though not in the way you’d think.
Sigma Theory is a very, very different creature than most spy or stealth games on the market. This isn’t Metal Gear Solid, CounterSpy or The Low Road. Instead, Mi-Clos opted to primarily focus on the global map perspective a la Defcon, Plague Inc. or Wargames. After recruiting a balanced team of spies with varying talents (which will take some careful analysis of their profiles and proper dialogue choices), you’ll be taken to the world map and given a brief tutorial to get you started in the world of international intrigue. From the outset, you have just one scientist in a specialized field researching Sigma Data for your country. There are five fields of study – astrophysics, robotics, etc. – and several projects to research per field. In order for you to outpace the other nations, you need to spend a little bit of time scheduling meetings with foreign diplomats and building relationships to get what you want out of them. However, most of your focus will be sending your spies to other countries to do what they do best – and the game is time-based, so different kinds of ops take different amounts of time. Depending on who you’ve recruited, ops can include doing recon in certain countries, digging up dirt on those diplomats, stealing data to expedite your Sigma research, scouting scientists to defect to your country and – my favorite – bringing those scientists back to your lab.
Recruiting scientists often involves sending your spies on exfiltration missions. When a spy engages an exfiltration mission, you’ll be taken to a zoomed-out view of several city blocks highlighted by a neon pathway your spy follows to get to the scientist. On the way, your spy will run into several situations that require you to make rapid-fire decisions. For example, if there’s a traffic jam, your spy can stick with their outdoor route and risk running into enemy forces or s/he can take a shortcut through an office complex and try to duck security cameras. If confronted by police, your spy can either attempt to flee, take them down non-lethally, neutralize them or surrender (in which case you can later attempt to plead for their release). It sounds simple, but it ends up being a heart-pounding endeavor.
Of course, you can’t just do whatever you want without risk of repercussions. Every action your spies take in other countries has a chance of being noticed, which will raise countries’ alert levels by certain percentages. The higher an alert level, the more fortified their security is, thus making operations more difficult. Before long, you’ll find your spies being imprisoned in Russian gulags, killed in action on missions in China or discovered while seducing potential defectors in France even as you’re hijacking attack drones to use for exfiltration missions and blackmailing ambassadors for Sigma Data. And did I mention other countries are simultaneously doing the exact same thing to you that you are to them? Your scientists can be talked into defecting, your research can be stolen, your networks can fall victim to DDOS attacks and more. The key is to find a working balance of offense and defense, of foreign ops and domestic, of good cop and bad cop, of diplomacy and espionage.
Sigma Theory is a dynamic, complex game currently promising a 2019 release date. Based on my experience with the beta, I’d definitely put it high on my wishlist. I’m hoping for more music and more tutorials at launch, but as it stands it’s definitely a cool, layered title that has me interested in more. Do yourself a favor and check it out.