SPIES LIKE US
Have you ever thought that the present government might be doing a lot more than you realise? That the large but mysterious body that runs the country might be pulling all sorts of dirty tricks, whilst simultaneously pulling the wool over your eyes? According to Virgin, it's a vicious reality - and all this is made possible by a secret organisation based on the 13th floor of a docklands building. Welcome to Floor 13.
YOUR NEW POSITION
As the new Director General of an official group which doesn't officially exist, your job is to nip all politically-damaging news in the bud. To do this, you must find out what's going on, and stop as much of it as possible from getting into the papers. This is not as easy as it sounds.
As the group is so secret, you don't actually know anyone else who works in your team - even your secretary is just a robotic voice. All communications between you and the outside world is through a constant flow of paperwork, and from this you have to keep the present government ahead in the polls for a year.
Your group consists of yourself and eight departments, all of whom are dedicated to certain objectives, including searching property, interrogation, and even assassination. You are given a limited amount of resources, and a very limited flow of information, thus making the right decision is crucial. In addition, you don't actually perform the actions yourself, so butcher-mongers should look elsewhere for their thrills. All you do is draw up and sign orders, which can take a couple of days to process - but that's bureaucracy for you. The wrong order can have disastrous consequences, even to the extent of a prominent government figure being gunned down in public by a known government employee.
THE PLOT THICKENS
As you pass through the year, you pass through dozens of sub-plots, pairs of which run concurrently. Plots include known anti-government supporters threatening to leak papers, or terrorist groups planning strikes on major power bases. All this has to be kept a secret from Joe Public.
Although the government is the focus of the game, little is said of them. Policies aren't mentioned at all, and neither is their political leaning. The way the system works is extremely intricate. In the morning, upon entering your office, you may receive a news report saying that a major government minister is to resign for undisclosed reasons. On the same morning, you may also open a letter informing you of a new nuclear submarine. Your initial thought may then be that the two are connected in some way, but this isn't always the case.
The first thing you need to find out is why the minister is quitting. For this, you must place him under surveillance and scour his house for clues. After a couple of days your search team return to you with a letter they found in the house revealing, for example, that the minister is having an affair. A phone-tapped message from the surveillance team reveals an early morning phone call with the suspect leaving the house soon after. Posting a pursuit team to watch his moves through the city, may then reveal it's a jealous rival sending the letters. Problem solved.
OR YOU COULD...
That's how a plot is built up and consequently solved, but there are many others. For example, if you find any details on the missile at the minister's house, you can assume that he had something to do with it, and you could then kill him so he can go no further with the plot.
If this got into the papers, though, it could have serious political implications. The plots are very subtle - so subtle, in fact, that often it doesn't become apparent for quite some time what is actually going on. You are only fed small amounts of info at a time, but sometimes this is enough. One of the joys of playing Floor 13 is the sudden realisation of what to do to solve each problem.
The year is broken up into three week segments, at the end of which you have to be ahead in the polls or the ficticious Prime Minister will have you killed. In fact, he keeps popping up here and there to offer his opinion of how well you are doing. If your dirty work gets into the papers - a report on someone being killed in a messy way, for example - he won't be pleased. If this happens too often, then you'll find yourself plummeting from the 13th floor window, just like your predecessor Richard Branson was his name, apparently. If that isn't enough, you are also part of a Masonic group. At the start of the year, you are a mere acolyte, but at various points throughout the game, the grand wizard will appear and give you certain quests, such as protecting an individual or group - whether you have to do these with your left trouser leg rolled up though is left undisclosed. These tasks, when completed, will enable you to progress through the ranks of Masons, but won't make much difference to the rest of the game.
The entire game is menu driven, with the many instruction boxes appearing in the top right of the screen. All menus are placed in a hierarchy, with all basic options stemming down to more precise orders. For example, opening the suspect file shows you all available suspects, and will also reveal another menu allowing you to look at a different suspect's file or issue orders. Selecting the orders menu then unveils a list of available directives.
The game breaks a couple of traditions, one of which is that all the graphics are monochromatic. At first glance, this may appear a little dull, but, strangely enough, it adds a lot to the game's atmosphere. I seem to remember an old C64 spy sim called The Fourth Protocol, and that, too, used functional colours. It's an effect that works well, and mirrors the blandness of office life whilst retaining the undercurrents of pressure and secrecy. The other unusual feature is that the game is keyboard-controlled. Again, though, the reason is simple. As the entire game is run from menus, all options can be |ust as easily accessed by cursor keys or the appropriate number keys, and minimises the possibility of choosing the wrong option.
Playing Floor 13 is an experience to be savoured. The game is rich in atmosphere and suspense, and waiting to see the results of each action is but one of the reasons to play it into the dawn hours. I can't remember a clue solving game of this calibre, and Floor will go down as one of my favourite games of all time.
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