You might have noticed an influx of haikus as of late about Covert Front, an episodic point-and-click adventure series from Mateusz Skutnik and Karol Konwerski that began back in July 2007, and that’s because I’ve been playing a lot of Covert Front. See, that first puzzle was easy, almost to the point of idiotic. It’s possibly done on purpose, to ease you into things and make you believe that you can do this. That you are a super sleuth of steel. However, eventually things ramp up both in difficulty and red herrings, and you will concede to not knowing what to do next. I won’t hide the fact that I looked up a lot of answers online, but only to help put me a few steps ahead. Y’know, until I got stuck again.
Covert Front takes place in 1904, but an alternate history 1904. The sort where where a technological revolution in the previous century resulted in a premature World War I. During this conflict, a bunch of specialists from varying fields held a secretive conference in Berlin called “Knowledge for Victory,” and, shockingly, almost a hundred of these specialists vanished afterwards. You play as a spy agent code-named Kara who is investigating the disappearance of General Karl von Toten, and this adventure will see you traveling from shady location to shadier location, unearthing clues and tracking your target down.
As a point-and-click adventure series, you’ll do a lot of pointing and clicking. That’s obvious. You won’t do too much combining of items from your inventory, and using items on in-game environment items requires precision. If you want to unscrew those screws, you need to use the item directly on them, not just in the general vicinity. A lot of the puzzles require thinking and memorization, like entering passwords or knowing exactly what labeled drawer to search in the library. One might be able to brute force these puzzles, but not all of them, which is where a lot of roadblocks lay, especially for the far more obtuse sections, like that dream-esque sequence involving Toten’s magic typewriter.
There’s definitely a lot of pixel hunting too at work here, not just for items, but for additional scenes, as sometimes clicking in just the right spot will reveal a whole new area to explore. Yeah, I’m looking at you, pipe along the side of the house by the airplane. I do wish these weren’t as difficult to discover as it feels a little too unfair, something I also ran into in Skutnik’s Where is 2016? game. Also, red herrings galore. You’ll walk into a scene and immediately see a handful of common day items that are typically picked up in other adventure games and used to open doors and such, but they aren’t interactive here, no matter how many times you click or concoct some reason X item in your inventory should work with it. By the fourth episode, I got used to this and simply ignored a lot of stuff, but it was difficult to do so in the beginning.
One of the nicer aspects of playing a game series that took several years to complete back to back is that I can really see how it improved, both technically and visually, from episode to episode, of which there are four. Covert Front‘s graphics don’t really change all that much, but do become more detailed and stylish, and the cutscenes ramp up the camera angles and action. On occasion, Kara’s model looks strangely odd, with lengthy arms and a neck that stretches a little too far to the sky, and this changes from game to game. Voice acting gets added to give Kara more depth, but never to the point that I actually knew her or felt anything for her. She’s just a vehicle to get things done, and yes, she gets things done, but I’d have been okay with her failing too.
Still, I came away from the Covert Front series enjoying the ride, but feeling pretty dumb. Maybe the brain-teasers in it are just not for me and my simpler solving skills…or maybe the games themselves are unnecessarily difficult. I did find Episode 4 “The Spark of Life” to be the easiest of the bunch, with me resorting to looking nothing up online, so maybe Skutnik took some similar criticism to heart by then and tweaked the puzzles accordingly. There are a couple of series from him that I want to try out, like Submachine and Mr. Mothball, but not just yet. My mind needs a nap.