Pistols at dawn
Light gun games have been pretty thin on the ground since the tragic events of Columbine last year, and although we mean no disrespect, that seems a little harsh to us. Either way, Sega didn't hold out on us too long, and one of the most understated aspects of its final run of Dreamcast releases is a pseudo-sequel to House of the Dead 2 called "Confidential Mission". The game met with critical acclaim when put on display at last week's Electronic Entertainment Expo, but there are a number of things this writer didn't like about it, starting with the characters themselves. The games gives you control of a James Bond-esque fella, Howard Gibson, and his sassy sidekick Jean Clifford. Since it's one of my pet hates about games of this sort, I'll start with the voice acting, which is predictably dire. Howard sounds like a Japanese man trying to emulate an American doing an impression of Pierce Brosnan. Jean's voice is fairly effeminate on the other hand, if a little too weak for someone who blows people's brains out, and most of the bad guys sound like Rick Moranis in Spaceballs. Moving on, there's the equally detestable bobbing-the-camera-to-simulate-movement irk. For most of the game you stand in full view of your attackers shooting at them as they appear. It's certainly no Time Crisis, but it isn't difficult to spot when you're on the move, and it does not require the hilarious bobbing antics that have been a trait of all light gun titles from the original Virtua Cop to the present day.
Good evening, Mr. Gibson
The story is a knocked off Goldeneye spy satellite drama, starting you off in a museum of antiquities shooting your way through history in pursuit of a short little fat man with a computer disc. Instead of just blasting the whole time, the developer has opted to include small sub-games, the earliest example of which crops up when Howard and Jean get caught in a room that's filling with poison gas. Using adhesive bullets, Howard is given 10 seconds to plug the five vents above. If he manages it, it's a bunch of points and off you go. If he doesn't, it's sub-mission failed and the screen goes wavy for about half a minute while the poison wears off. I didn't think much of these little distractions at first (more in a moment), until I noted that one of two of them actually changed the course of your movement through the levels. In the first level Jean pulls out a Rope launcher and you have the task of hitting a target on the opposite side of the courtyard. If you manage it, you can zoom down the line and through a window, whereas if you don't you have to take the long way round and fight off even more guards.
She's got issues
Going back to the first point though, the reason I took issue with the sub-missions (particularly the adhesive bullets one) was the difficulty involved in hitting the target enough within the ten seconds whilst moving the gun away to reload. Even with a properly calibrated gun, hitting the target is less of a science and more of a fluke, which takes the fun out of these little sub-missions and a lot of the sections later on where enemies are perched two hundred feet away in a pillbox. The poor controls aren't really Sega's fault - it's been a problem with light gun games on the Dreamcast since day one. Oh, and make sure your television isn't in some weird mode. I had mine in 16:9 instead of 4:3 for a minute or so and most of my shots were a couple of centimetres high or low. Speaking of which, if you don't have a 21" or larger television, don't even bother buying Confidential Mission, or any other light gun game. The later levels, even on low difficulty, will be quite frustrating. In a way though, it's a blessing in disguise for Sega, since although it becomes next to impossible to beat off the attentions of five or six assailants with one clip in later levels, there's always a desire to continue or restart, if only to find out what happens if you do succeed in that sub-mission in Level x.
Poorly calibrated controls and cute sub-missions may conceal the linearity of the game for a few moments, but once completed (for me about an hour after turning the Dreamcast on for the first time), you'll have no trouble spotting how narrow the paths you tread really are. All in all, it's a colour by numbers Virtua Cop game in fancy dress, with virtually nothing to distinguish it from earlier efforts, except the odd diversionary sub-mission and a few training scenarios. The graphics are good, albeit very Virtua Cop-ish, and the same targeting system is used as well. Although it's worth playing through a couple of times, if you're like me you will have difficulty mustering the energy to continue after the cascade of unshootable heat-seaking rockets from the game's second big boss take you down one credit yet again. You can't escape the feeling that games of this ilk have no real future in the single player arena. Even in multiplayer, unless you own two light guns (and lets face it, who does), you'll rarely get full enjoyment out of it. The final levels are virtually impossible to complete with a gamepad (I managed it only once in nearly a week's solid play), so unless you buy another gun, Confidential Mission will be as short-lived as the voice-acting career of whoever played Howard Gibson. Our recommendation is that you buy a second hand copy of House of the Dead 2 - Confidential Mission is only a mite better than that anyway.