When the French developers of Mi-Clos Studio announced the arrival of The Sigma Theory, they could count on the instant attention of a small group, but very determined of fans. Mi-Clos had conquered them with Out There, a roguelike science fiction that turned out to be one of the surprises of the indie panorama of the last years. Curiosity to see what he would have done this time the small development team was well justified: The Sigma Theory it is also a science fiction video game, but of a very different nature than Out There. It is, in fact, one strategic turn-based, with setting cyberpunk, which projects the player into a cold war in the recent future.
With this choice certainly courageous, Mi-Clos has entered an expanding panorama for years, precisely that of strategic games. He did it by choosing a game that, in the mechanics and in the turn-based system, as well as in the graphics, draws a lot of the operation of a board game. Has it succeeded? Before answering this question, it is good to remember that the game is in early access, which certainly informed my expectations before playing.
A Little Clear Scientific Discovery To Rule Them All
In The Sigma Theory, we are put in charge of a group of spies, at the service of a country of our choice (the options are the United States, Germany, France, the United Kingdom, Russia, India, Japan, China and South Korea). The first task is to form a profile, choosing identity of our character, and that of his spouse - the game also allows marriages between people of the same sex, incidentally, a little foresight that I found pleasant.
Once these essential practices have been carried out, we are informed by a diplomat of the nation we have chosen that the scientific community has carried out radical scientific discovery, called precisely the sigma theory, and that the world is about to change. As a result of the discovery, the great powers are committed to making use of the technological developments now at hand before their rivals do. The world has fallen into one second cold war, and we are asked to recruit four spies to help our country emerge as the winner.
During the game, it is never explained to the player what it consists of this amazing discovery. The Sigma Theory in fact it focuses almost exclusively on the spy work. While the scientists working for our country are working on Sigma research, our agents will have to infiltrate rival countries. And this is where we discover the surprising amount of facets that can boast The Sigma Theory.
The list of tasks to be performed is, in fact, very long. After recruiting the agents, we are presented with the map in all its splendor, and the soundtrack worthy of an album vaporwave it becomes more aggressive and disturbing. In rival capitals, our agents try to find out skeletons in the closets of the diplomats of those countries, in order to blackmail them, or try to get hold of sensitive data on the scientific research of others.
At the same time, agents must identify spies who try to do the same with us, fight their plans and if possible capture them (and yes, obviously the following interrogation is not respectful of human rights). Our diplomatic freedom to enter into agreements and treaties with other states is closely monitored by our government, with whom we must cultivate a relationship of trust to continue operating.
This list may seem overwhelming, but it turns out very intuitive. In a short time, we create ourselves checklist mental of things to do (or not to do) before ending one's turn. From then on, the game accelerates constantly, and the level of difficulty, which is unique, becomes quite high, but never being obscure or incomprehensible: a remarkable result, especially for a early access.
The War Changes, Every Time
In addition to the four agents, the game also makes us available a drone surveillance and one combat. The first helps the agents in their espionage and counter-espionage work, while the second is always ready to be sent in the third world to assist another great power engaged in a regional conflict; a quick, though not painless, way to improve diplomatic relations. The combat drone it also has another fundamental use, which I will discuss later.
In full coherence with its setting cyberpunk and the setting in the near future, The Sigma Theory it also has non-state actors that will help us or hinder, depending on the their ideology, of our choices, and of the technologies on which the various countries will concentrate. These actors vary from the World Bank to ISIS, going through extreme left armed groups and private space agencies.
Another important dynamic is the Doomsday Clock, which can advance or regress depending on the actions taken by the great powers. Needless to say, when the clock reaches zero, the cold war becomes hot, to be precise thermonuclear. The world, and the match with it, then comes to an end.
The key to The Sigma Theory, however, is that of protect its scientists and acquire new ones, with the bad ones or with the even worse. As in a board game, in fact, the goal is to get points before rivals, and although the reverse-engineering of research already carried out bring you some points, the only real way to win a The Sigma Theory I say make discoveries first. The first nation to reach the maximum score, in fact, will be able to try to make the conclusive discovery of the research process, and will win the game.
Considered the shortness of the game (in my case, the game lasted just over four hours) is really remarkable how Mi-Clos managed to introduce gradually all these additional dynamics during the game, transforming it into a well-defined crescendo of complexity.
Glass, Steel, The Sigma Theory
In The Sigma Theoryhowever, the real emphasis is people. Despite the usefulness of drones and the importance of research, the difference between victory and defeat is made by the attention paid by the player to sensitive details. Knowing that a diplomat has unduly seized public money can afford to blackmail, and thus have access to highly protected scientific data. Know the background of our agents, their ideologies and their priorities allows us to use them for missions that are best suited to their profile.
The same applies to scientists: try to buy loyalty an incorruptible scientist will never work, for example. The game provides a huge variety of tools to get in touch with the scientific staff who works for the enemy, from seduction hypnosis, but it is up to the player to choose the right agent and the right strategy. Should they all fail, the most extreme option remains: kidnap the scientist concerned and forcing him to work for us. To do this, our agent will need the assistance of both drones - it is theoretically possible to proceed without, but if you care about your agent or want to avoid the third World War, it is highly discouraged.
The kidnapping takes us into a separate and blatant interface cyberpunk. Our agent moves on the map, escorting the abducted scientist, and encounters a series of positive or negative events. Each event is given to us a binary choice on how to proceed, and the result changes dramatically depending on the ability of the agent, the presence of a surveillance drone to suggest alternative routes or identify security forces hostile to us, and the level of alert in the target country.
If things go wrong, it is in any case possible to carry out a precision attack with the combat drone. This is only possible once per mission, but if properly executed, it is devastating: a well-aimed attack is indeed able to decimate an entire team of enemy special forces, in addition to several civilians that they will have the misfortune of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Obviously, being a particularly cruel game, there are other ways of causing civilian casualties, for example setting fire to a store around to distract the police. The more civilian victims, the worse the reaction of the affected country, with serious implications for the Doomsday Clock.
These very intense missions add to the surprising variety of the game, which proceeds really tightly. The Sigma Theory it must be played with a little time available: the sequence of moves on the map is made increasingly frantic, and just press the end shift button a second before reminding you that you had to blackmail a politician or procure a lethal weapon for a group of terrorists to cause dire consequences that could make you lose the cold war - or get the hot one started.
The Top Three Of Nefariousness
If people and fast pace are two characteristic elements of The Sigma Theory, a third is undoubtedly the complete absence of scruples in this new cold war. The constant acceleration of events towards the end of the game led me to resort to moves increasingly blatant to assure me the supremacy, accomplishing at least questionable acts. I think the list of the three worst is a great way to illustrate the type of decisions to be made while playing The Sigma Theory.
3 - Blackmailing US Foreign Minister. My spies have discovered it attend a BDSM club and have obviously taken compromising photos. In exchange for the destruction of the file, I requested the transfer of one of their scientists; when he told me he was working on Sigma making crazy, I threatened him with dire consequences if he didn't return to work immediately. Here we are still in a pretty bad state an entry level, and this type of action is in fact the daily bread of the game.
2 - After developing a technology that allows me to immediately identify all the deposits of fossil fuels and natural gas under the earth's surface, I did not announce the discovery to the rest of the world. The data was shared exclusively with a private interest group, who agreed to fund my research and development programs. My armed forces have therefore been sent to secure the fields under the pretext of "restoring order" in the third world. To sweeten the pill, I sent my combat drone to assist China in his bombing of Sudan.
1 - I helped ISIS lead an attack in the United States, as well as to hit their security systems with a ransomware, unilaterally approaching the Doomsday Clock at midnight. This will make a great impression on my CV!
One Minute To Midnight
When the game of The Sigma Theory comes to a conclusion, it does almost by surprise. The game is very short - in my case, the game lasted four hours, and ended with my victory - but the very fast pace of the challenge gave me the impression that there were many more. Only in the final itself is a little missing pacing, and I found the last moments of the game slightly undertone compared to climax towards which The Sigma Theory travels like a train.
It is, in any case, a small sore point in a game that he preferred to provide few hours of excellent content, instead of lengthening the stock. The interface is clear and frankly very beautiful, the good level of the textual part (with the vivid biographies of medium acceptable agents and dialogues) and the colonna sonora appealing all support an excellent system of gameplay. The Sigma Theory è pressing, captivating, and once finished it leaves the desire to start over, and try to do better. Or maybe bring the Doomsday Clock to midnight, to watch the "negative" ending of the game.
Answering the original question, therefore, the answer for me is absolutely yes, and I am very curious to find out how it will change The Sigma Theory when it will finish theearly access and will come to its final version