Death to Spies is a third-person perspective stealth game from Russian developer Haggard Games. It takes place during World War II (but sort of an anonymous WWII, since the word “Nazi” is never used, and since you never see a swastika), and you play as an operative from SMERSH, the USSR’s intelligence and counter-intelligence directorate. You’re sort of a James Bond type -- you always work alone, and you definitely have a license to kill -- and your goal usually is to slip into a location, kill somebody or retrieve something, and then slip out again undetected.
In the 10-mission campaign that comes with Death to Spies, you get to visit some expected locations, like a prison camp where you need to rescue a captured soldier, and a military compound where you have to assassinate three enemy captains, but there are some oddities, too. In one mission you have to infiltrate a laboratory to steal some papers, and in another you have to sneak into a hotel to eavesdrop on a meeting between a traitor and his handler. Most of these missions take place against German forces, but in a couple you have to square off against U.S. or British soldiers as well.
The controls for Death to Spies are about what you’d expect, given that the game uses a third-person perspective. You use the WASD keys to drive your character, the mouse to look around, and the left mouse button to fire your weapon (or execute some other commands, like knifing somebody in the back). Sort of oddly, the middle and right mouse buttons don’t do a whole lot, and instead the game relies on a sort of clunky keyboard-driven menu system. For example, when you reach a door, you can’t just click on it to open it. You have to move next to it (in just the right spot), wait for a context-sensitive menu to pop up, press E (the action button), and finally select “open door” from the menu. This is obviously a little more cumbersome than it needs to be, but I eventually got used to it.
In many ways, Death to Spies plays like the Commandos games from a few years ago. Although it’s given to you as an option, you can’t really just shoot your way through the missions. The game uses a fairly “realistic” system for damage, where one bullet wound is usually enough to kill somebody. That means when the guards realize that you’re there, and they start making liberal use of their sub-machine guns and grenades, you have almost no hope of surviving.
Thus, you have to move through the missions carefully and quietly, and when you kill, you have to move the corpses out of plain sight. Conveniently, if you knock somebody out, they never wake up, and so you don’t have to spend a lot of time tying people up. The interface is also friendly -- maybe too friendly -- in that you can view a mini-map of the mission area (superimposed on your regular view) to show you where all of the enemy soldiers are, which way they’re facing, and if they can detect you as an enemy (you can steal uniforms to fool some soldiers).
On the downside, the interface makes certain activities very annoying. For example, if you want to cut somebody’s throat, you can only do it from behind them, and only if you’re right behind them. If you’re a little too far away, or if they start to turn towards you, then you throw the knife instead, and since you were planning to use it as a melee weapon, you probably won’t have any idea where it’s going. Similar things can happen when you try to knock somebody out or use chloroform to put them to sleep. That means you have to save and load a lot in the missions, even if you have a good plan of attack, but at least the save and load times are very quick, and so it doesn’t get aggravating to try sequences over and over again until you get them right. Well, not too aggravating anyway.
I had a reasonable amount of fun while playing Death to Spies. It’s not a game that I’d normally play (I basically received it by mistake), and I have no idea how derivative it might be of other titles, but I can say that the missions are challenging, you get lots of options for how to play through them, and the 10-mission campaign takes about 20-30 hours to complete, which, all-in-all makes Death to Spies a pretty worthwhile purchase at its $30 suggested retail price.