Polish developer CITY Interactive, formerly known as Lemon Interactive, puts players in the role of secret agent Nina, a counter-terrorism expert with extrasensory psychic ability, who travels the world infiltrating, eliminating, dominating, and assassinating nasty global threats. This one-woman army, an unequaled tour de force in the world of global policing, works through nine missions in places like South America, the Ukraine, and the Middle East, visiting diverse locales such as a Taliban village in Afghanistan and ancient temples and ruins in a tropical forest.
Codename: Nina -- Global Terrorism Strike Force, released as Nina: Agent Chronicles in Europe, is powered by the Lithtech Talon game engine. The appearance of Nina, the Lara Croft/James Bond-like heroine, is patterned after the striking features of top Polish model Izabela Czarnecka. Not only does Nina dispatch global terrorists during her missions, she also extracts counter intelligence from them with her paranormal abilities.
Entitled Nina: Agent Chronicles in Europe and published by City Interactive, the game has been renamed and brought to North America by ValuSoft as a "budget" title called Codename: Nina - Global Terrorism Strike Force. I can only assume the purpose of this was to get the "terrorism" reference into the game name, which seems rather blatantly opportunistic. Still, that would be easy to overlook if not for the fact that the title is now completely unmanageable and forgettable. So let's do just that - forget it. Since Nina is a "strike force" of one, anyway, we'll just go with Codename: Nina for short.
The game's heroine is a field agent of a secret, international anti-terrorist organization. Over the course of three multi-leveled missions, Nina's assignments are to destroy a bio-chemical weapon in the Far East, then track down the conspirators in one of the Soviet republics and on into the ancient ruins of a South American jungle. Believe me when I say I'm giving nothing away by telling you this - the story does little (and by "little" I mean "nothing") more than serve as a backdrop for introducing the game and mission locations.
Gameplay is traditional FPS fare, but simplified more than most. The developers fully intended to make the game accessible to casual players, and they've succeeded so far as the basic mechanics of the game are concerned. Anyone who has played a shooter of any kind will find no surprises in interface, controls, items, or objectives. The only real feature that distinguishes this game from countless other generic shooters is Nina's psychic ability to control minds, which she'll be called upon to do periodically throughout the game.
Nina herself is portrayed by Polish model Iza Czarnecka. While Detalion certainly isn't the first (nor will they be the last) to use an attractive female lead in a game, they at least earn recognition for choosing a model that isn't the stereotypical top-heavy freak of nature like other more notable game heroines. Unfortunately, the effort ended up being largely wasted as a selling point anyway. Codename: Nina was originally designed to be a third-person game, but during production, that idea was scrapped in favor of the first-person perspective. Since Nina never appears in any of the game's few cutscenes, the only times you actually SEE her (usually dressed in fatigues) is in static images during level loads, a tiny icon by the health meter, and briefly after dying (which admittedly, you'll be doing a LOT).
Codename: Nina is based on the renowned LithTech Talon engine - the same one that powered other titles like Aliens vs. Predator II. This serves to raise the question, "How did it get so butt-ugly?" Okay, okay, I'm being a little harsh, as the game isn't downright ugly so much as it is extremely dated. The backgrounds look blurry, blocky and two dimensional, and there simply isn't much detail in anything. I know action reviewers are often guilty of demanding that a game demonstrate cutting edge graphics, but this isn't about bells and whistles. I don't expect Nina to compare with the latest and greatest big-budget titles, but it had better compare favorably with older games that can be found in bargain bins.
To make matters worse, the in-game cinematics are few and far between, and there are NO engaging opening or closing cutscenes. I don't care how you slice it, that's just a rip off. Do something - ANYTHING - to pull me into the story, and reward me for my efforts. Don't just drop me in and yank me out and send me on my way. That just reeks of "amateur", and Detalion has proven itself better than that in the past. Still, the game's visuals were head and shoulders above...
Without a doubt, the voicework for Nina is the single worst demonstration of acting I've ever encountered. My guess is that the developers were trying to have Nina NOT be identified with a single nationality... sort of a "one accent fits all" mentality. Instead, the result is an absolutely wretched distraction that is part British, part southern American drawl, and part making-it-up-as-she-went-along. Bleccchhh... Fortunately, being a shooter, we're not subjected to a ton of it, but between radio transmissions, thinking aloud, and narrations, you'll be desperately wishing there was a subtitle-only option. On the plus side, the other sound effects were decent, if minimal. There was no music in the game (by now, I'm sure you're shocked). Of course, graphics and sound don't make a game, but gameplay itself is further marred by...
Let's face facts... most shooters require suspending a certain degree of disbelief. So we usually don't concern ourselves with how our character is able to lug around massive weaponry and enough ammunition to stage a small war. However, in Codename: Nina, the developers decided that Nina would be allowed to tote only what she could "realistically" carry. The result of this decision is a whopping two (count 'em... TWO!!) weapons for each of the game's three missions. Along with the pistol common to each mission, you'll also be dazzled with a basic shotgun or submachine gun. Adding to the exciteme... YAAAAAAAWN.... Oh, excuse me!! The thrill of recounting this portion of the game must have exhausted me!
No, the only variety in your tools of the trade is the aforementioned mind control. On certain occasions, Nina will be required to utilize her paranormal gifts by getting close to a person and wafting some heebie jeebie rays at them through her hands. So much for realism. It's easy to identify which particular targets are susceptible to this telepathy, because when you instinctively kill them in response to them SHOOTING at you, the game will abruptly end and inform you that you've offed a key information source. Oops.
Yo, Detalion... next time... if you're going to make realistic tactical combat the basis of your game, fine. But if "reality" is going to be arbitrary, then Vulcan mind meld - out; flame throwers - in!
Although boring, you'll at least find the arsenal to be adequate for progressing through the game, thanks in no small part to...
Actually, I'm not sure the dopes in Codename: Nina even deserve to have their brain functions described as "intelligence". Honestly, not only was it nice of them to stand still and shoot wildly while I pumped them full of lead, but it was particularly considerate of them to announce their presence with a grunt-like "Hey!" every time they saw me. On occasion, an enemy would further accommodate me by getting hung up on a wall and jogging in place until I put them out of their misery. Yes, to be fair, they occasionally DID run away when injured, but that's about the extent of their tactics. Adding to the fact that ammunition and health packs are plentiful, really the challenge in the game doesn't come from the enemies at all, but rather from...
Like any shooter, Codename: Nina includes various puzzle elements. I'd have thought this is where Detalion would really shine, given their adventure roots. Unfortunately, the transition between genres wasn't entirely successful, and the puzzles were largely run-of-the-mill shooter stuff - flipping switches, finding missing items, etc. There were a couple of moderately clever ones, but whatever goodwill these earned were blotted out by a few dreadful ones which, for all intents and purposes, amounted to a pixel hunt. If not for a walkthrough in the very first mission, I'd likely still be wandering around aimlessly. Fortunately, when I encountered a similar (though more difficult) version of the same dilemma later in the game, I was prepared for what the game expected of me, but causing me to feel stuck in the early stages was most unwelcome.
The worst of the "puzzles", however, were based on avoiding mounted weapons. Unlike the popgun shooters used by the mobile baddies, these weapons resulted in virtually instant death when approached. While annoying enough in themselves, these puzzles were made infinitely worse by the presence of...
It's been a looooong time since I last played a shooter that didn't offer full freedom to save your progress wherever you pleased. That's probably because every previous game that has tried it has been loudly criticized for doing so. And for good reason!! When the object of a game is to kill or be killed, it's inevitable that the latter will occur, and probably frequently.
I guess the developers of Codename: Nina didn't get the memo that said gamers are outraged by having to repeat huge chunks of a game over and over again. It's ANYTHING but fun having to repeat a level just to find out WHY you died, let alone beginning the arduous task of avoiding the same fate.
I could ALMOST excuse this decision if it were explained by developing for consoles, but that simply isn't the case here. Nina is PC-only, so there's simply no excuse for this omission. The game auto-saves at pre-determined points. Some of these seem fairly placed, but others are ridiculously far apart, necessitating a great deal of repetitive gameplay.
Admittedly, no FPS veteran will be severely hindered by these challenges for long, but since Detalion was aiming Codename: Nina at casual gamers, this decision is all the more bewildering. Even if all other aspects of the game met with my approval, I'd be reluctant to endorse a game to newbies for this fact alone.
Only as I continued to play did I realize the reason for the restrictive save feature...
For all my moaning and groaning about Codename: Nina, it does have some reasonably fun moments interspersed among the frustrating ones. Once I'd adjusted to the game's many shortcomings and lowered my expectations accordingly, I began to think it just might climb out of my doghouse and into the rarefied air of mediocrity... and then it happened... the end!! I was STUNNED!!! It was easy to understand THEN why the save-anywhere feature was left out, but even WITH all the repetitive gameplay, I couldn't have been playing for more than about 6-8 hours.
Amazingly, the original plan was to have the game released in short segments (hence the "Chronicles" moniker). This version of the game is the result of scrapping that idea and COMBINING the episodes. Thank goodness for that, but even this was inexcusably short.
So what do we make of Codename: Nina? I'll go out on a limb and suggest that a game like this might have a market in eastern Europe. It seems fairly obvious that compromises were made to get this game to market at ALL, but a budget title by a "local" company is never a bad thing, and I applaud City Interactive and Detalion for the effort. However, I think it was a mistake for ValuSoft to bring it to the North American market, and I suspect they've already realized that. Glancing through ValuSoft's catalogue, I'm sure I've seen all of their other budget titles sold elsewhere, but I've yet to see or hear a single peep about Nina. Bad marketing? Certainly, but having played the game for myself, I wouldn't be surprised if the decision to do NO marketing was intentional.
Codename: Nina isn't a horrible game; it just offers nothing that a myriad of other games don't do better, and it misses both potential target audiences with poor design choices.
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