Retrospective: Project IGI

All your bases.

Sneaking into bases is just the best thing. There's the feeling of anticipation as you scan the perimeter of a hulking military installation, the satisfaction of stealth kills and security camera outages as you breach its walls and (of course) that feeling of utter terror when the alarm is triggered and identical men in red berets start sprinting in rough diagonals towards you.

Project IGI stood for 'I'm Going In' (which made it a shame that its sequel wasn't called 'I'm Just Popping Out: Does Anyone Want Anything?') and it saw Brit hero David Jones doing just that. He went in, he went out, and he shook bad guys all about - with bullets.

What separated IGI from fledgling Tom Clancy rivals back in 2001 was what it was built in. It was a first-person military shooter, yet it had been put together on the foundations of a flight sim. Norwegian outfit Innerloop had treated us to Joint Strike Fighter three years previously, but seemingly grew a taste for headshots and men who shout 'Hey you!'

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Men in red berets will react to an alarm sounding. Gunfire? Not so much.

Play areas were vast and desolate. A common sensation was to sit atop a distant cliff and scope out a hulking military base sat squat in the middle of a valley. You genuinely felt like you were alone in the middle of nowhere, and that the only way out was in. Then it'd be a matter of course to snipe the guards in the watchtowers to make sure your waltz through the front gate could be made in private. Yes, the likes of Delta Force had treated us to wide open vistas and a realistic treatment of weapons before - but IGI pulled off both crisp craggy hills alongside decorated (although admittedly oft-repeated) building interiors.

The story posited that one Jach Priboi had stolen a nuclear device - and left a radioactive paper-trail to his secret underground headquarters through wilderness train yards, military training facilities and prisons that looked a lot like both of the above. As such it was down to the stiff-upper-lipped David Jones (who looked and sounded more solicitor than SAS) and a pretty lady with a headset to prevent nuclear catastrophe. Looking back, in fact, it was a game swimming in the heady scent of contemporary Brosnan Bond.

In retrospect there was a fair degree of player funnelling (those terrorists really loved long wire fence corridors) - but this was still an early outing for the action bubble mentality so beloved by the likes of Crytek with Far Cry and Crysis. You'd take down patrolling guards when they'd turned their backs, destroy security cameras and scoot up ladders (in a snap to the third-person view) to find yourself on rooftops where you'd be able to take down future opposition from afar. Most amazing of all, however, was the ability to slide down wires. Discovering that was a beautiful dream.

If IGI was two parts breaking into the Goldeneye dam, it was also one part collapsing into your keyboard and laughing at the AI.

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Anya's job is to furiously clatter a keyboard and tell you what order you should probably kill people in.

If IGI was two parts breaking into the Goldeneye dam, however, it was also one part collapsing into your keyboard and laughing at the AI. Soldiers would happily maintain eye contact with comrades who'd recently fallen to the ground with a strangled yelp, only to continue their stroll unaware that anything had gone particularly wrong. Gunfire, to them, was just ambient noise - like birdsong. When they did notice your growing bloodbath, they'd either do a press-up in sheer terror or make their way towards you on pathways guided by a set-square.

The most enduring memory of Project IGI, however, was the mental scarring inflicted by a late-level AK47 shot to the back. There was no savegame function: whether you were accessing plane logs in a flight tower, uploading a virus to a satellite or just murdering a camp of arms dealers for a lark, you'd only have one life to do it in. What's more, those guards may have been thick - but their guns bloody hurt. You'd maybe come across a single solitary health syringe buried far from the beaten track in each level, but even then you'd only get to slowly feed yourself a smidgen of regeneration.

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Many zipline descents would follow those of Project IGI; few would look as relaxed.

In some ways, this made the game what it was - the lumps being knocked from your health ensured that your nerves were kept pleasantly tight and jangly. Hearing an alarm siren kick off near an unassuming collection of log cabins would make the blood run cold as you scanned the windows for a tell-tale flash of haphazardly moving red berets.

The soft spot I developed for Project IGI back in the heady days of 2001 swiftly grew into a rash, and for a while covered much of my mouse-arm. It was a game that swooped in from startlingly different roots to every other shooter, which paid dividends in the way it managed to nail sensations of incursion and long distance take-downs.

Like all the best PC games of that era, meanwhile, it was a game that left its machinations open enough to invent your own rules. My favourite trick was to deliberately trigger the alarm in the demo level early doors, then crouch on a roof (IGI soldiers can't climb ladders) while the entire population of the military camp crowded around it chirruping at each other and throwing grenades. It wasn't a recognised military tactic to jump down all guns blazing, but it sure as hell was tense to stick the business end of a silenced MP5 into a hornet's nest and pull the trigger.

Sadly, the insane difficulty level and Innerloop's grumpenpuss attitude to health packs meant that I never actually completed Project IGI. In fact, I'd like to vigorously shake the hand of anyone who ever did. Despite the rare presence of a single savepoint halfway though that mission, my corpse must still be down there in Priboi's lair, mangled by an unfairly placed sentry gun. It's a shame, really. I said 'I'm Going In!' all those years ago and, technically, I never came back.

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