Covert Action's gameplay is divided between an over-arching strategy mode and 4 different Mini-Games, which in fact make up the bulk of gameplay. Whenever Max performs a special action during the mission, the player will be required to play the corresponding Mini-Game for that action, testing the player's manual and/or mental skills.
Success in Mini-Games is required to succeed in the mission, and failure in a Mini-Game usually results in a waste of in-game time. Repeatedly failing at Mini-Games may lead to losing the mission. The difficulty of each Mini-Game depends primarily on the current Difficulty setting, as well as on Max's Skill levels.
The Microprose "Mini-Game Game" ConceptEdit
During the late 1980s and early 1990s, the Microprose game development company produced several games of a new genre unofficially referred to as the "Mini-Game Game". The concept behind this genre is that the entire game revolves around playing various Mini-Games in order to further the player's main goals, with the "primary" game serving as the thread that ties these mini-games together.
In other words, the player is involved in an over-arching plot where he decides where to go and what to do, but once an action has been chosen (or thrust upon the player), that action is performed by playing a specific Mini-Game associated with that action. Success or failure in the Mini-Game has impact on the progress of the primary game, as normal, and may also indirectly have effect on the other playable Mini-Games. The majority of the game revolves around playing the Mini-Games, rather than playing the "primary" game - they will take up the majority of playing time, with each Mini-Game being played dozens of times during the course of a single playthrough.
The most famous Mini-Game Game to be released by Microprose was Pirates!. In that game, the "primary" game was limited to sailing one's ship between various ports around the caribbean and conversing with characters and merchants within those ports. The majority of the game, however, was constituted of various Mini-Games: Ship-to-Ship combat, fencing and land-combat, each with its own rules and method of play. This game became so successful that it was remade twice (most recently in 2004), to stay up-to-date with evolving technology, and sold well in almost all incarnations.
Sid Meier, designer of Pirates!, went on to design several more games in the genre, though the majority of these ended in obscurity. "Sword of the Samurai" took the same concept into the world of Medieval Japan, while Covert Action applied it to the world of Super-Spies and espionage. Again, both games included a "primary" plot where the player makes strategic decisions such as where to go and what to do, but actions themselves were played out as stand-alone Mini-Games whose outcome affected the progress of the story.
Sid Meier has commented in the past that he was quite disappointed with Covert Action due to its inability to properly "tie together" the various Mini-Games. He felt that the game was too eclectic, with each Mini-Game being so alien to the others and to the main plot, that it almost felt like they were separate entities - hence failing to provide a single unified experience.
Mini-Games in Covert ActionEdit
The game of Covert Action contains 4 different Mini-Games, each played at the appropriate time based on player actions. Each Mini-Game corresponds to one or more actions Max can perform during his investigation (which constitutes the "Primary" game):
While it is possible to earn some points on a mission without playing any of the above Mini-Games, this can never lead to a successful conclusion of the mission (I.E., the thwarting of a Criminal Plot). However, the only Mini-Game that is actually required to play for completing any mission successfully is the Combat Mini-Game, which is the only way to perform Arrests. It is quite possible to conduct an entire investigation by only performing Break-Ins (played as a Combat Mini-Game) to gather data and arrest suspects.
- Main article: Combat (Mini-Game)
The Combat Mini-Game is rightly considered the "meat" of the entire game of Covert Action, and is by far the most common Mini-Game played during any investigation. It is also the only Mini-Game which must be played if you wish to complete your Mission successfully.
The Combat Mini-Game is triggered primarily when Max attempts to Break Into any Hideout. However, there are also several plot-driven instances where the player is forced to play a Combat Mini-Game, such as when assaulted by enemies on the street or when enemies attempt to free an Arrested comrade from prison.
Combat is an action-oriented Mini-Game, taking place in real time. It shows a brid's eye view of Max's position, as well as the surrounding environment. Max needs to navigate around the environment, and based on the reason the Mini-Game was triggered, either kill all enemy agents or perform espionage by collecting information.
Failure in Combat usually occurs when Max is sufficiently injured by his enemies (or by his own Grenades). This leads to being Captured and interrogated, an outcome that can potentially cost a great deal of time off the game clock. Success in this mini-game again depends on the reason it was triggered: In Break-Ins success is usually measured by the amount of information that could be gathered during the Break-In, though sometimes it just means being able to Arrest an enemy agent or Confiscate an item. In other Combat scenarios, success simply means being able to kill all enemy assailants, though it is also imperative to avoid injuries, as these can cost time off the game-clock.
From the player's point-of-view, the Combat Mini-Game requires good manual skills, quick reflexes, and the ability to analyze one's surroundings rapidly.
- Main article: Driving (Mini-Game)
The Driving Mini-Game is often considered the most obscure of all 4 Mini-Games.
This Mini-Game is triggered if Max chooses to Follow a suspect's car leaving a Hideout, in the hope of either trailing them to a new, undiscovered location, or Arresting them. It is also triggered randomly whenever enemies attempt to run Max off the road.
Driving is the second action-oriented Mini-Game, taking place in real time. It shows a bird's eye view of the City, with three cars involved in a chase. One of the cars is attempting to drive towards its destination, while the other cars attempt to follow it or (in the case of a Car Chase) run it off the road.
Success in a Follow Car scenario results from being able to keep the opponent's car in view throughout most of its journey, and leads to discovering the location of the Hideout where it was headed or making an arrest. Failure simply wastes Max's time. In a Car Chase scenario however, the enemy cars will simply need to make head-to-head contact with Max's car to end the scenario in a "failure" (although this only leads to a Combat Mini-Game where the outcome can change altogether). In a Car Chase, success stems from Max being able to reach any office belonging to an Allied Organization.
From the player's point-of-view, the Driving Mini-Game requires good manual skills, quick reflexes, and the ability to analuze one's surrounding rapidly.
- Main article: Cryptography (Mini-Game)
The Cryptography Mini-Game is a more relaxed mini-game, although it can also prove very difficult. It is only ever triggered voluntarily by Max, and may or may not become available during play, depending on circumstances.
During this game, Max is presented with a gardbled message, where each letter of the alphabet has been replaced with another letter randomly. Max must then place the letters where they originally belonged, thus deciphering the original message.
Cryptography is only available for play at a CIA Office, and requires Max to have knowledge of at least one un-decoded Message sent from one Participant to another. This Mini-Game will not occur involuntarily, and while it can be helpful, there are plenty of alternative (though less efficient) methods to acquiring the same information that it can bestow when successfully played.
This Mini-Game cannot be "failed" per-se, as there is no time limit nor failure conditions (although the game clock does track how much time it has taken to complete the process). The only way to "fail" is to give up and end the Mini-Game prematurely, hence simply wasting a few valuable hours. Success in the Mini-Game will reveal a lot of extremely-useful details about both the sender and recipient of the message, making this a very efficient way to discover such details. Again, there are other, less-efficient but possibly easier methods of acquiring the same information, but Cryptography is by far the most time-efficient one - assuming you are good enough to play it.
From the player's point-of-view, the Cryptography Mini-Game requires a good English vocabulary and/or understanding of the English language.
- Main article: Electronics (Mini-Game)
The Electronics Mini-Game is a Puzzle game. It is only ever triggered voluntarily by Max. There are two varieties of this Mini-Game, played in the same way but with slightly different goals.
The primary use for the Electronics Mini-Game is when Wiretapping an enemy Hideout. This is done to acquire information in the form of Evidence, Clues and Mentions. The other use is for Tracing an agent's car as they leave a Hideout, in the hope that they will lead you to a new location.
This Mini-Game is a logic puzzle. In the game, a view of a circuit board shows electricity flowing through a large set of Logic Chips which can allow it to flow through, change its direction, or cut it completely. Each chip has a different effect. Max's goal is to switch the chips so that they cut all (or most) of the electric current flowing across the circuit board.
Success in this Mini-Game depends on the purpose for which it was initiated. During a Wiretap, simply cutting electricity to each of the Target Chips on the right side of the board may yield some useful information, and so the more Chips you can disconnect the more successful the Mini-Game. During a Car Trace, success only occurs once electricity has been cut to at least 5 Target Chips. In both cases, it is possible to end the Mini-Game prematurely (keeping any info gleaned from disconnected Target Chips during a wiretap, but earning no benefit during a Car Trace).
Failure in this Mini-Game occurs when electricity is allowed to flow into any of the Alarm Chips. This instantly ends the Mini-Game, and raises the Hideout Alert level at your current location.
Also, this is the only Mini-Game which is limited in time. You only have a set amount of time to complete it before it ends prematurely. Although reaching the time-limit does not set off the alarm, it does constitute as at least a partial failure (a slight waste of time).
From the player's point-of-view, the Electronics Mini-Game requires good logic skills, and being able to quickly analyze the logical pattern on the circuit board.
Mini-Game Difficulty Level vs. SkillEdit
The four Mini-Games can have a varying degree of subjective difficulty, from the player's standpoint. In other words, one Mini-Game may be perceived as "more difficult" than another simply because the player has the required skills to play one but lacks the skills to play another. For example, a player with quick fingers may find the Combat Mini-Game easy, while the Cryptography Mini-Game appears impossible to solve.
However, the difficulty of Mini-Games is also affected directly by the Difficulty setting of the game. As the Difficulty setting is increased, each Mini-Game will become objectively more complicated. For example, during Combat on the hardest Difficulty setting (Global Crisis) your enemies will aim very rapidly, shoot with high accuracy, and throw grenades at an alarming rate. For comparison, on the lowest Difficulty setting (Local Disturbance) even a slow player will have ample time to shoot an enemy guard, who may miss repeatedly himself even at close range!
On the other hand, this increase in difficulty is mitigated by the set of Skills selected for Max during character creation. Each Mini-Game has one associated skill (named after the Mini-Game itself). The higher Max's skill, the less impact the current Difficulty setting will have on the appropriate Mini-Game. Therefore, having a higher Skill level will make a specific Mini-Game less difficult despite the Difficulty Setting being increased.
For example, as we said, in the Combat Mini-Game enemies become more dangerous as the Difficulty setting goes up. However, if the player has also placed many points into Max's Combat Skill, the increase is not as dramatic. In fact, with the Combat Skill at maximum, playing Combat on the highest difficulty setting is only about as difficult as playing it on National Threat, the second difficulty level. The same goes for all other Mini-Games, though each Mini-Game reacts slightly differently to the combination of Difficulty Setting and Skill Level.
The specific choice of Max's skills can therefore affect the relative difficulty of Mini-Games. A player who has good manual dexterity may still find the Cryptography and Electronics Mini-Games to be easier than Combat or Driving simply because he has chosen high Cryptography and Electronics skills during character creation. In other words, the high skills in Crypto and Electronics makes these games relatively easier, when the Difficulty setting of the game is ramped up, while Combat and Driving become progressively harder, possibly even beyond the player's own skills!
This means that proper selection of skills for Max is a powerful tool in making sure that the respective Mini-Games related to those skills do not get impossibly difficult when the game's overall Difficulty level is increased.
The "scale" we use begins at level "1", marking the "easiest" difficulty of any Mini-Game. From there, each Mini-Game scales up in difficulty differently, responding to the game's overall Difficulty Level, while it scales down based on Skill. No game may have a difficulty of less than 1.
The maximum Mini-Game Difficulty is different for each Mini-Game. The maximum Mini-Game Difficulty is achieved when the overall difficulty setting is Global Crisis, and Max has no points in the appropriate Skill. However, each Mini-Game reacts a little differently to intermediate combinations.
Note: When the overall difficulty setting is Local Disturbance, all Mini-Games are played at the lowest difficulty setting (1), regardless of Max's skills! In other words, skill choice is completely irrelevant. However, remember that overall Difficulty can be (voluntarily) increased during a campaign, while skills never change.
Combat Mini-Game DifficultyEdit
During the Combat Mini-Game, Difficulty affects only your opponents' behaviour:
- The time it takes an enemy to shoot once they have identified Max decreases as the Difficulty setting goes up.
- The chance for an enemy to hit Max when firing his weapon increases as Difficulty goes up.
- The chance for an enemy to throw a Grenade at Max increases as Difficulty goes up.
- The number of enemies present at the start of any Combat Mini-Game increases as Difficulty goes up.
- The number of enemies spawned when an Alarm goes off during a Break-In is increased as Difficulty goes up.
Unfortunately, due to the nature of the changes caused by difficulty, it is not currently known how many Mini-Game Difficulty levels there are to Combat, or how exactly they are affected by Skill. Measuring these may require intense research.
Driving Mini-Game DifficultyEdit
Data on the effects of Difficulty and Skill on the Driving Mini-Game is currently lacking. Please add data here if you have familiarity with this Mini-Game.
Cryptography Mini-Game DifficultyEdit
|Local Disturbance||National Threat||Regional Conflict||Global Crisis|
The computed Mini-Game difficulty value affects the formatting of the encoded message. The higher the value, the less organized the message text will be, generally making it harder to pick out and solve individual words. The following table lists the effects in detail:
|Mini-Game Difficulty||Punctuation Marks||Spaces||Pre-Solved Letters|
|1||The two most common letters in the message (usually "E" and "T")|
Electronics Mini-Game DifficultyEdit
Max's Skills and the current Difficulty setting interact to determine the difficulty of installing electronic tracking devices. The resulting "Mini-Game difficulty level" value corresponds to the following table:
|Local Disturbance||National Threat||Regional Conflict||Global Crisis|
The computed Mini-Game difficulty value affects the layout of the circuit board, the types of Logic Chips that may appear, and your ability to remove chips from the board. The following table lists the effects in detail:
|Mini-Game Difficulty||Chips||Max. Crossover Size|
|1||No Action Crossover Top Combiner Bottom Combiner Top Splitter Bottom Splitter||0||0||6|
|2||All of the above, plus: Top Inverter Bottom Inverter||2||0||6|
|3||All of the above, plus: Double Inverter Top Crossover Inverter||4||5-11||8|
|4||All of the above, plus: Bottom Crossover Inverter Double Crossover Inverter||6||12-20||10 or double-10|