Deceive Inc could just become your new favourite multiplayer game. It will worm its way in slowly, infiltrating your brain. Decieve Inc. isn’t really clear upfront on what it offers, but here’s the core part thing to remember: Either solo or in a team of three, you play as several different spies dispatched to fulfil the same mission. That mission, which you’ve chosen to accept merely by clicking the play button, is to pull a suitcase full of something out of a locked vault and get it to the extraction point, surviving long enough to pile into the escape vehicle and get out of there.
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There’s a nod here to Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood’s iconic multiplayer, but there’s a lot more going on here with complexity added from a series of interlocking systems. Firstly, the free for all nature means that conflict can bubble up as a team comes to third-party a player versus player fight or even that the toilet attendant watching over the cubicle you’ve crawled into to regain your composure and take stock after a bad firefight is a player ready to take you out when you’re at your very weakest.
Every spy is not created equal, though. For some, dual pistols enable up-close blasting followed by a savage kung-fu kick that can take out the hardiest of foes. A sniper is happier skulking across far-off rooftops, while a former supervillain has a hand-mounted shotgun and will happily crash any party to get what he wants.
They’re good in different circumstances and smart players will play to those strengths. Each mission has several stages, each of which offers distinct play. At first you’re trying to get keycards, intel and the right outfit to enable you to hack the terminals keeping the giant vault sealed. The second phase is the vault infiltration itself, which involves skirmishing with guards and the other teams. The third, final, phase involves getting the suitcase full of mcguffin and getting it to the extraction. Everyone on the map can see you, but your enemies will often have the benefit of stealth, except for an intel-burning true-sight that can let you see where enemies are, but only for a very limited amount of time.
The end result is spy-based euphoria, a surprisingly tight deception-based shooter that mixes close-quarters gunplay with social stealth, fun gadgetry and even the framework of the hottest genre of the moment, the extraction shooter.
I can’t say how annoying it is to get to the extract and then be killed with a single headshot by a sniper that’s spent the entire round hiding out, ready to strike. I can say that doing it feels brilliant, and my few scant wins have all involved me hidden away, taking people out at their weakest point.
While crouching on that rooftop, there’s plenty of time to admire the aesthetic of the game. ’70s spies have more fun, and in a famously dour profession, it’s those cool cats from the ’70s that are enjoying it the most. That aesthetic has been used in games before – remember No One Lives Forever? – but it absolutely sings here, and you can see it in the incredible outfits, the music and even the mechanics of the game itself, everything blending together to combine a shooter that has a madcap feel that makes it impossible to feel bad when you get murdered by a pot plant.
You see, if you die in a solo game here you’re dead instantly and the game hands over your XP and sends you on your way without so much as “a better luck next time”. If you’re in a team and you all get downed, you’re done, and while you can get revived by your teammate there’s a good chance the enemy team will be camped around your body, laying in wait to ambush your would-be saviours while disguised as a dustbin, a nearby guard or even just flat out invisible, as a spy becomes tangible in front of you just in time to empty his gun in your direction and then hurl the empty pistol at you.
That combat-ready dustbin? Enabled by the game’s item-mimicking gadget, delivering Prey-esque mimicry technology to anyone that equips it. It’s one of several gadgets players can choose between. It’s an outlandish choice compared to more standard options like a sentry gun or remote hacking device, but not completely unique, joined by tools such as a tiny cube that can be inflated or deflated instantly at will, pushing anyone near it away at high speed,but also blocking line of sight and bullets for a second too, giving a smart player time to reposition.
Deceive Inc’s greatest trick will reveal itself to you the first time another player completely blindsides you, using one of the game’s gadgets, a character ability or even a generic skill that everyone has to make you feel like a toddler. Once you have that, the desire to turn it around and outsmart your fellow players is intoxicating.
Unfortunately, every match will eventually come down to a shootout and the more stealth-focused operatives just don’t have the combat potential of their fightier teammates. Worse, the shooting feels messy and imprecise, making close-quarters deathmatches chaotic fun, but precise scalpel-like attacks frustrating.
The guns themselves are fantastically designed even if the shooting doesn’t quite scratch the itch. The weapons are unusual and fun: the aforementioned hand shotgun is reloaded with a little tube jabbed into your wrist, and dual pistols are reloaded with a flamboyant twirl. There’s not much here you wouldn’t have seen before, but the care lavished on these weapons shines brighter than even the best that AAA games have to offer.
Those spies that struggle up close? They can get different weapons that make things a little easier, but they’re locked behind agent mastery levels, with players often needing to level up with a set agent several times before they can try different weapons or skills to give them the edge. Playing as new operators often involve gathering a ton of in-game credit, meaning a well-rounded team could often involve three friends putting in a lot of time just to unlock what they need to be competitive.
There’s a myriad of progression systems here, and they are a mistake – Deception Inc is at its best when it sets you loose with the toolbox and encourages you to mess with the world and the opposing players within it in interesting ways. It would be a better game if it got out of its own way and let people do that immediately.
Still, it’s a unique multiplayer experience and one that is easy to recommend. If this world was a fair one, everyone would give Decieve Inc. a go to see if the high-tempo deception might work for them. Sadly, many won’t and yet another excellent multiplayer game with a unique conceit will struggle to find an audience in a market packed full of live service distractions.
Deceive Inc. is out now on Playstation 5, Xbox Series X|S and PC. We played this on PC.
Deceive Inc. is a fantastic multiplayer game hamstrung with confusing progression and some minor annoyances that people who vibe with this spy-’em-up won’t mind a bit.
- ’70s spy aesthetic is perfectly done
- Cool gadgetry
- A truly unique multiplayer concept
- Squishy shooting
- Punishing progression