I lurk along the corridors of a fantastically decorated Italian villa, disguised as a servant and keeping my eyes peeled for other thieves. Hidden among the guests, staff, and guards there are 11 other spies in their own holographic disguises, and only one of us can make off with the prize. I rifle through a drawer like a curious raccoon looking for clues, and find one—the location of a rival spy. I only have a few seconds, so I tear down the hallway, throwing caution to the wind. He doesn't see me coming—or doesn't realize that a maid is about to kick him in the head and unload on him with a pair of pistols. After nabbing the keycard he was carrying, I duck around a corner and turn myself into an armchair to regain my cover.
What is it? A spy themed extraction shooter for solos or squads
Release date: March 21, 2023
Expect to pay: $20
Developer: Sweet Bandits Studios
Reviewed on: Radeon RX 580, Intel Core i5-8600K CPU, 8GB RAM
Steam Deck: Playable
Link: Official site
I feel like a superspy. (And also like an armchair.)
Deceive Inc is an extraction shooter of sorts that hearkens back to the silly antics and gadgetry of good old Spy vs Spy. You play as an agent attempting to make off with a heavily guarded package, defeating a rogue's gallery of thieves along the way. To access the vault containing the prize, three vault devices have to be disabled, requiring various degrees of sneaking, shooting, and intel gathering. The key conceit here is that you're always hidden with a hologram, pretending to be a citizen or a guard unless you do something to blow your cover. Or unless another player does something to you, like kick you in the back and fill you full of holes.
The agents play a bit like the characters in hero shooters like Overwatch. Each one has three different weapons, abilities, and passives that you can unlock with experience points, and you can bring two gadgets along to tailor your build to a particular type of spycraft. With tanky spy Chavez I loved taking cover behind my shield-brella and taking potshots with my revolver. As Ace, the sniper, I used a bounce mat to get to elevated positions and a recon drone to scout my opponents. You only start the game with access to three spies, but I was able to unlock all eight playable agents in around eight hours.
With some agents being better in a brawl and others tending toward sneakiness, you can mix up your playstyle and come up with something special. For example, I spent a lot of my time on Cavalière, who can use an investigation skill to find enemy agents if she interacts with something they've tinkered with lately. Taking them down by surprise in a hail of gunfire was fun, but even more fun was using my shield-brella and my partner Chavez's invulnerability to frustrate the poor sap's teammates coming for revenge. They'd break their teeth on us just long enough for our third to do some mopping up.
Some of the best parts of a match are the cagey moments before you see a rival agent. I would spend the first minute or two brazenly dashing around and getting intel, before slowing down to sneak into a secured area. These rooms require you to spend intel to pick the lock and get in, unless you can slip in behind a security guard or staff member, which feels sneaky as hell. The game of cat and mouse really escalates as you try to suss out if any of the guards or maids milling around are actually other players. I would often throw down a turret and light up anyone who paused too long at an interior security door, which worked… about half the time. The other half I had to look down at the poor defenseless NPC and live with my guilt until the other players who heard the commotion came to kill me.
Once the vault devices are disabled, all the remaining agents converge on the package inside the vault. Hidden as a guard, scientist, or occasionally the VIP (a special costume that gets you in anywhere, but stands out to other players), you can make a beeline for the package or try to set a trap for another player who grabs it. One time I was sure I had the package bearer dead to rights as they had to run past where I was hiding as an office plant, but instead they sent a recon drone. My cover and surprise were blown, and we had to shoot it out for the prize.
Deciding what fights to take and when was my favorite part of Deceive Inc. Sometimes a bold exchange would secure me a big advantage—a choice keycard, or field upgrades—and sometimes it was best to lay low and let others do the fighting.
There are four maps in the initial release, which seemed like a fine number. They're huge, and offer a good amount of variety. One of the best is Diamond Spire, a gigantic office complex with cubicle farms, restaurants, and a tiny TV studio. Playing with a squad, we got ambushed on the roof of that map and had to duck inside a guard room to take cover. We thought we were doomed until we realized there was a vase we could interact with that uncovered a secret pathway up to the very roof we'd been ambushed from. We surprised the enemy squad, revived a fallen buddy, and chuckled on comms about what crafty spies we were. Each map has little nooks and crannies that keep encounters slippery.
Deceive Inc has a modest but enthusiastic playerbase at the moment, and the devs seem really keyed in. Hotfixes and patch notes are granular and interested in maintaining balance between the agents. Matches are quick to fire whether playing solo or as a squad of three, but queuing with a partner is sort of a miserable experience whether it's 2v3 or you get a random 3rd—either you're playing at a disadvantage by being down an agent in most engagements, or you're left with a teammate who may not communicate, a crucial part of the game.
The biggest quibble I have with Deceive Inc is a discrepancy between NPC animations and those of my disguised agent. When you're under cover, to other players your model only reflects your general movement, not exactly where you're looking with the mouse or the disguised actions you might take. This prevents it from being obvious when you're flicking back and forth to check corners and balconies. While disguised my agent will be doing undercover NPC animations on other players' screens, but it doesn't show the animations on my screen. How am I supposed to know how well I'm pulling off my NPC impression if I can't tell what my NPC "skin" is doing?
There's also no proximity chat, which would allow for fun mind games. I ran into a few bugs, including getting an achievement for 10 wins after my first—hardly a game-breaker. I didn't have too many performance issues, but did hard crash once or twice.
Deceive Inc does a great job of making you feel like a spy doing cool spy shit. When anyone can be anything, and everyone's looking for you while you're looking for them, every moment is tense—even the feather dusting phase.