I played quite a few games during Summer Game Fest Play Days—so much so that I’m still getting caught up sharing all my impressions three days later—but there’s no question what title takes the cake as my biggest surprise of the show.
Prior to sitting down with Vice NDRCVR, I didn’t even know the game existed. By the time my hands-on session was over, all I wanted was to keep playing.
Here’s the quick pitch. It’s the 1980s. The internet has already been invented, for some reason, but everything else is exactly the same. You’re a cop, working to infiltrate a powerful drug cartel, and also for some reason the best way for you to do that is to stroll into their offices while their computer expert is away and impersonate him. Over and over again.
If you can suspend disbelief on all of that—and it’s obviously not the most elegant or airtight premise—what you’re left with is super neat. You need to navigate and ancient desktop computer, toggling between various applications and windows, to both complete missions from the cartel (to maintain your cover and earn money) and gather evidence for the cops, all on a tight time limit of an hour a day (actually 12 minutes in real time).
As you make your way through subsequent chapters of the story, the game will layer on additional complexity, requiring you to leave the computer to check in on a CCTV system and make sure no one’s coming back to catch you in the act. You might even be forced to shoot someone to keep your cover, though that will obviously complicate your mission in other ways, too. The combined picture sounds like an intriguing juggling act—a bit like if you’d smashed together Lucas Pope’s Papers, Please with Five Nights at Freddy’s and Miami Vice—but I didn’t actually get to see the CCTV or shooting stuff in action.
Still, what I played of the basic, computer-based missions was really cool, especially if you’re into games that rely on fictional interfaces. In Vice NDRCVR, you’re checking emails and getting missions from the cartel, you’re getting IMs and missions from the cops, and you’re opening multiple programs and databases to get what you need to keep everyone happy. While you’re mostly just be cross-referencing information and copying it into the right field, there are little touches that make it genuinely dramatic.
Programs loading slowly, of course, because that’s old computers for you. Waiting for a database with info you desperately need to populate as your time is ticking away can be, honest to goodness, thrilling. And in a genius twist, the game actually keeps track of how much memory you’re using on the computer. If you try to do too much, not only will you struggle to keep track of what window is where, but you’ll also slow everything down. Eventually, you won’t be able to open any new windows at all, until you clean up your workspace.
I know, I know. That doesn’t sound like the most action-packed gaming experience. But trust me, developer Ancient Machine Studios is potentially onto something very special here. If the team can follow through on its vision and polish everything up before launch, Vice NDRCVR could be the latest in a lineage of great computer-based games like Her Story and Hypnospace Outlaw.