RATING: 2 Key RESULT: Win REMAINING: *Not Timed
Even the world’s greatest international spy wouldn’t be able to find the fun hidden in this game.
From the moment you pass border patrol, you enter the exotic world of Khandar and the mysterious realm of espionage. Waiting in the bus depot for your field station contact to meet you, you can’t help but notice disturbing newscasts on the aging TV monitors. You sense the political unrest roiling the country of your late-breaking assignment. You size up your new colleagues, who are also waiting…do they have what it takes?
Finally, you spot your contact fast approaching. With few words, you and your colleagues follow them through a back alley of the city’s marketplace. Winding your way down the narrow cobblestone street, you weave through shadows by unusual stores, as the scent of spices drifts through the air. A nondescript door in a courtyard reads “Khandar Exports.” This is the front company for the intelligence agency’s command center in Khandar. You enter.
In the command center, the intelligence chief at Khandar City Station patches in to brief your team. From this moment on, you are launched full speed into the fast-breaking operation. Your mission: find the trigger device and discover who is involved in its theft.
Decrypting secret audio conversations, penetrating and escaping from a high-security compound, as well as interrogating a suspect agent are all part of your mission. Your pulse will quicken as you evade capture and search for hidden evidence. Who knows what could happen should the trigger fall into the wrong hands. One false move could have serious consequences. You’ll have to remind yourself it’s only a game.
Operation Spy’s story is masterfully crafted in a way that instantly immerses us into the adventure, making us the clear main characters in a very, very active role. It’s everything we look for in the story of a game.
It probably should come as no surprise given how well structured Operation Spy’s narrative is that this game was originally created by the interactive attraction masters at 5 Wits – creators of some of our favorite attractions like Drago’s Castle, Espionage, 20,000 Leagues, Deep Space and The Tomb.
Even being one of their earliest full-scale game based productions, Operation Spy crafts an incredibly immersive and realistic scenic environment. The attention to detail throughout the space instantly transports us into the world of Khandar in a way that becomes easy to suspend disbelief and tackle our mission.
Large scale Disney-quality set facades begin the experience which is capped by rushing through multiple rooms, an underground passage and even at one point boarding an actual motion simulator to “transport” us to our safe house. It’s a level of dedication to show that few in this industry other than 5 Wits could understand the value of.
Operation Spy is probably 5 Wits’ least game-like experience. Though it has several puzzles, they are modest at best and honestly do not feel as though your progress through the adventure in any way hinges on their successful completion.
That’s not to say that these are puzzles for puzzles’ sake in the traditional sense; to the contrary everything you do connects perfectly and organically into Operation Spy’s storyworld. It just feels as though that storyworld will continue for you with or without the puzzles existence. In that sense, they feel more like activity stops than gameplay moments.
Standing on their own, the interactive steps of Operation Spy would probably make for a fine escape game. Unfortunately for the world class caliber 5 Wits produced, its operators at the International Spy Museum hinder that greatness beyond recognition.
We were extremely excited to finally get the chance to experience Operation Spy. It’s no secret that we are huge fans of the 5 Wits brand – and this one is, for now anyway, the last 5 Wits-designed full scale attraction we hadn’t yet seen.
It should be noted clearly that Operation Spy is not a 5 Wits attraction, but a 5 Wits designed attraction. This game is owned and operated by the International Spy Museum, and simply initially supplied by 5 Wits.
The truth is all of its major faults exist on the International Spy Museum’s side of the coin. The product 5 Wits designed is of their consistently high standards, with a thoroughly immersive story, some jaw-dropping sets and a few cleverly interactive puzzles that appeal to all levels of audience. The problem is International Spy Museum takes this great product and dumbs it down beyond recognition, pairing guests with a quote “actor” who treats them more like an overbearing elementary school teacher forcing you to learn something rather than an active character trying to draw you into an adventure.
And therein lies the problem: International Spy Museum is just that – a museum. And while that is most certainly not to say museums cannot be fun or exciting – it is to say their attraction design philosophy is traditionally very different than that used in the rest of the amusement industry. It becomes a “you have to learn something first and foremost” far more than a “you have to be immersed and engaged in an exciting world.” And what results is the most insulting form of educational pandering, where each moment is presented like a pop quiz, forcing guests to mimic information the actor just delivered making them far less spy operatives themselves and far more trained parrots. And as painful as that is even at the start, just imagine how it feels after a full hour.
This style of “you’re going to learn this whether you like it or not” takes the clearly action-packed adventure 5 Wits initially created for them and turns it into a constant case of “hurry up and wait.” A brief, high paced action sequence would rush us into another 4 minutes of “Now what did we learn here” talking down, and let me tell you – no one in our group of 15 was engaged by the end.
It’s a sad day for us to not be able to endorse a 5 Wits-designed product, but again to reiterate, the product they delivered would be easy to endorse had it been run the way we are confident they envisioned it would run. Sadly, International Spy Museum takes something that would be very cool and chooses to operate it in a way that makes it a painful endurance test of patience.
5 Wits remains one of the greatest design companies in the interactive gaming world – and anywhere else you can come across one of their internally run venues – Foxborough, MA or West Nyack, Syracuse or Albany, NY – or even the licensed use in Pigeon Forge, TN – should become an immediate priority visit.
Venue: International Spy Museum
Location: Washington, D.C.
Number of Games: 1
GAME SPECIFIC INFORMATION:
Duration: 60 minutes
Capacity: 15 people
Group Type: Public / You may be paired with strangers.
Cost: $14.95 per person