For one of Max's four Skills, see Cryptography (Skill)
Decoding EasyCompleted

The Cryptography Mini-Game screen. This message has been completely decoded.

Cryptography is one of the four Mini-Games playable during a game of Covert Action. It is played whenever Max is attempting to Decode Messages sent between Participants during the course of the plot.

Cryptography can be performed at the Crypto Branch of any CIA Office. It requires Max to have intercepted at least one message, either thanks to CIA surveillance or to Wiretaps and Bugs installed at a relevant Hideout.

The mini-game itself is pretty straight-forward, and involves switching letters of the English Alphabet to decipher the contents of the scrambled message.

The reward for successful Cryptography is considerably good, as it reveals both the content of the message, as well as practically all details about both the sender and the recipient - including their location, affiliation, and even their Role! However, the downside is that Cryptography only reveals information after-the-fact, and so requires waiting until the message is actually sent. Still, it is one of the easiest Mini-Games to play, and so can be a terrific tool for Max.

Detecting MessagesEdit

Main article: Message Traffic

To be able to decode a message, Max must first have become aware of its existence. Otherwise, what would you decode?

Message Traffic interception can be done in several ways:

  1. Automatically, thanks to CIA surveillance.
  2. Through Wiretaps and Bugs installed at either the Sender or Recipient's Hideout.
  3. By collecting a specific piece of Evidence about either the Sender or Recipient.

Automatic detection is performed by the CIA, and is less likely to happen at higher Difficulty settings. When it does occur, a Bulletin will notify you that a message has been detected, and may reveal the location of either the sender or recipient (you can't decide which).

Wiretaps and Bugs installed at the Sender's or Recipient's Hideout augment the CIA's ability to detect Message Traffic by a certain amount. You can see the increased chance by reviewing the Surveillance Quality of all Hideouts in the Active Wiretaps menu which is available at any CIA Office's Intelligence Section. Note that increased Surveillance Quality at a hideout also increases the chance for the message to be automatically Decoded upon interception!

Finally, it is possible to become aware of messages by collecting Evidence about the Sender or Recipient. The existence of the message is added to the agent's Suspect File, and you can collect four different pieces of information about each such message - the recipient's Name, their Location, their Affiliation, and the date on which the message was sent. Each is collected as a separate piece of Evidence, though occassionally a few such pieces will be collected at the same time.

The Decoding Mini-GameEdit

Decoding List

The Coded Messages list at the CIA Crypto Branch.

To play the Cryptography Mini-Game, visit any CIA Office and head for the Crypto Branch on the third floor. One of the two options available on this floor is "Coded Messages".

On selecting this option, you'll be shown a list of all coded messages currently known to Max. Select one of these to begin decoding it.

The Mini-Game screen is divided into two parts. In the main (larger) part, the coded message will appear. It'll show up as a mess of English letters which make no sense. Depending on the current Difficulty setting and Max's Skills, the letters may be interspersed with spaces and/or punctuation marks.

Decoding Easy

The Cryptography Mini-Game, with one letter ('E') solved.

On the left side is a list of all 26 letters in the English language, shown in bright green. As Max works to decodes the message, cyan-colored letters will appear next to each of these, to denote that Max has chosen to replace the original letter with a new one. In addition, a number is shown next to each letter to indicate how many times it appears in the message - this can be very useful as will be explained below.

A clock is also visible at the top-right corner of the screen. This keeps track of the amount of time it's taking you to complete the decoding process. There is no actual limit, but of course you'll want to spend as little time as possible to complete the message, as wasted time will come off your game clock once the mini-game is over.

The Code AlgorithmEdit

The enemy uses a very simple type of code in its transmissions, a Substitution Cipher. In this form of encryption, each letter of the alphabet has been substituted for another letter.

For example, let's take the word "NEEDED". We replace every "E" with a "D", every "D" with a "Y", and every "N" with an "X". The result is "XDDYDY".

The same replacement is used throughout the entire message. Therefore, the words "NED NEEDED ENDED" would read "XDY XDDYDY DXYDY".

This is a fairly simple code in modern cryptography standards, but it's also easy enough to be solvable without frustrating players needlessly. It can be pretty tricky anyway - especially on higher difficulty settings, where you have no spaces separating the words!

Playing the Mini-GameEdit

When the mini-game begins, the game displays the entire coded message on-screen.

The contents of the original message are in plain English, and make up intelligible sentences like "We of the Red Brotherhood salute you" and so forth. However, since the letters are scrambled, the message is not going to be readable until it's decoded.

The idea is to replace each letter of the coded alphabet with the correct letter, to make sense of the message. To replace a letter, simply press the key corresponding to the original letter in the coded message, then press the key for the letter you want to replace it with.

Once a replacement has been made, the game will place the "New" letter - in cyan - Below the original letter. It will automatically do so for the entire message.


1. We see the word "XDDYDY" in the code. We press "D" to select the letter D, and then press "E" to replace it with the letter E. The game will now place the letter "E" in cyan below each instance of the letter D in the code. Decoding Word0
2. Next we press "Y" and then "D". The game now shows the letter D in cyan below each instance of the letter "Y". Decoding Word1
3. Finally, we press "X" and then "N". The game will place the cyan letter N below each instance of the letter "X" throughout the entire code. Decoding Word2
4. We've solved a word! And hopefully, we've also made some other words more intelligible and easier to decode. Decoding Word3

We repeat the process, switching each letter in the alphabet with the correct one in order to reconstruct the original message.

Once the majority of letters have been correctly solved, the game will fill in the rest of the letters itself, and the decoding process is completed.

You may pause the game clock at any time by pressing the F12 key; this is preferred over Alt+P as this doesn't remove the message from the screen. You may also press F10 to clean all your guesses.

The Wrong LetterEdit

It is quite possible to put a replacement letter in the wrong place. Naturally, to avoid making the mini-game too easy, it will not tell you which (if any) letters have been placed wrongly.

If the decoded message isn't making any sense, you can redo any letter freely. Just replace the same coded letter with a new letter.

You can also undo a letter placement - select the original letter and press "SPACE". This will erase your guess for that letter, and thus avoid cluttering the message.

The ResultEdit

Decoding Result

The Cryptography Result screen.

Once the Mini-Game has been successfully completed, you'll be treated to a screen showing the entire deciphered message, as well as very important details about both the Sender and the Recipient.

The personal details are, by far, the most valuable reward. They include each person's Name, Location, Affiliation and most importantly - their Role. The screen also shows the person's Rank, but only if you already know it (it's not revealed by the message).

This information is recorded directly into the Suspect Files for both these Participants! If either one of the two did not previously have a Suspect File, one is created for him and filled with the above data immediately.

This is very useful, as with one Mini-Game you've managed to discover the identity and location of two Participants in the plot, and have enough evidence to Arrest both of them (thanks to knowing their Roles).

This is why Cryptography is such a useful method of acquiring information. Of course, part of the reason you can't simply rely on decoding messages to complete your investigation is that you have to detect a message in order to decode it - and that is unlikely to happen until you perform a Wiretap or Break-In at the hideout of either the Sender or Recipient. Also, waiting for a message to be sent can cost you a great deal of time - assuming you're not waiting in vain!


As with all other Mini-Games, the actual difficulty of Decoding a message is based on the Difficulty setting of the game, as well as Max's Cryptography skill. One counteracts the other.

Local Disturbance National Threat Regional Conflict Global Crisis
Average 1 3 4 4
Good 1 3 3 4
Excellent 1 1 3 3
Awesome 1 1 2 3


  1. Spaces and punctuation marks appear. One or two of the most frequent letters appearing in the message (usually 'E' or 'T') are already solved for you.
  2. Spaces and punctuation marks appear. No letters are solved for you.
  3. Spaces appear, punctuation marks do not. No letters are solved for you.
  4. The message is devoid of spaces, but has punctuation marks. No letters are solved for you.
Decoding Hard

The Cryptography Mini-Game at its Hardest difficulty. Yes, there are NO SPACES.

Level 4 is specifically designed to be virtually impossible. In other words, unless you invest enough skill levels to bring the difficulty down to level 3, you're likely to have to avoid Decoding entirely. This is especially true because at higher difficulty levels, you're bound to want at least a few levels in Combat skill, as that is practically required for the game to be playable.

Letter HintEdit

It is possible to have the game decode a letter for you by pressing the F1 key. However, 1 hour will be added to the clock every time you press F1. This can be done as many times as you like if you feel you can spare the time.

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