Deceive Inc. Preview: Suspicious Activity
The pitch for Deceive Inc. is pretty simple: It's a pseudo-hidden-role multiplayer game with espionage flavor that requires you to act natural and fly under the radar in a race to complete objectives. Admittedly, that's totally my thing, but after playing an early preview build of the game, I was left feeling a little underwhelmed.
After talking to some of the development team at Sweet Bandits Studios, they gave me the impression that the goal of Deceive Inc. is to recreate the tension of going undercover in a spy movie, translating it to a multiplayer video game environment. I think that they definitely succeed on some levels, but there's still a long way to go.
Each match consists of three phases: insertion, infiltration, and extraction. Essentially, the goal is to infiltrate a science facility, grab a package, and high-tail it out before the other players can beat you to the package or stop you from leaving with it. All the while, you're copying the identities of the NPCs in the facility to gain access to different areas that require different levels of clearance.
In concept, that sounds like a lot of fun, however, in practice, it doesn't always work so well. As soon as someone picks up the package, everyone playing is alerted to their location. You drop whatever you're doing and try to kill them, making the last five minutes of each match turn from psyop to shooting gallery.
Although permadeath makes for tense shootouts, there's currently no reason to even bother with all the espionage when you can simply wait by the extraction point for someone to grab the package and promptly kill them. In the handful of matches I played, I don't think there was a single time when the person who first got the package was able to win the match by getting away. Instead, the winners were those who were best equipped to fill everyone else with holes.
It's a shame, too, because the hidden-role mechanics are far better than the shooting ones. It's clear that a lot of thought went into how assuming the identity of an NPC would work so that players wouldn't be easily identifiable when hiding. Those elements work really well, so it was something of a shock when they were dropped instantly in favor of bog-standard shootouts.
There are plenty of great mechanics that fall to the wayside as soon as someone grabs the package. The spy gear that comes with every loadout — like instantly inflating balloons that launch you through the air — is a lot of fun, but there was nothing as effective at taking someone out as shooting them.
Each character has their own unique weapon, but apart from some aesthetic choices — such as one character's prosthetic shotgun arm or the character who wields a type of sword — they're all typical FPS weapons. I didn't use them during the demo since they are rated the most difficult to use; no one else in my lobby seemed to feel confident enough in the game's mechanics during our short time with it to give them a spin.
Based on Deceive Inc.'s spy mechanics, it would seem as if it were designed for a stealthier approach, one favoring patience and trickery. For example, the level available during the preview is packed with secret passages and openings only accessible by using fun spy gadgets. However, they went largely unused because they weren't directly linked to the objective at any point in each match.
The game isn't due for roughly another six months, so there's still room for it to grow and change. But after playing a few rounds, I'm not entirely convinced its spy-movie influences can outgun its shooter DNA.
If the goal is to recreate the tense moments from espionage movies, it's missing the mark a bit. What makes a game like Spy Party so compelling is that one player is trying to pull something over on the other while in secret, which seems to be part of Deceit Inc.'s goal, but so much of it is deflated once the bullets start to fly.
In the end, I liked what I played and saw some promise in Deceit Inc. but for it to truly be successful, there are a few wrinkles left to iron out before it launches for PC, PS5, and Xbox Series X|S.