Spies come in many forms, so the best spy games on PC could be tense games about intrigue and infiltration, or high octane adventures starring a special agent. It would be good to see more games focusing on spycraft, espionage, and subterfuge, but we can make do with putting on some cool glowing goggles to infiltrate a base. Here are some of our favourite games starring awesome spies.
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A gloriously janky RPG from Obsidian that casts you as crack spy Michael Thorton. This was a brave attempt to combine Mass Effect style conversation and branching plot systems with a cover-based shooter. The combat side of things is a mess, so it’s worth looking up the different weapon classes so you know which disciplines to avoid (I found pistols worked well enough). It’s worth playing through the dodgy action to roleplay your favourite flavour of spy—pick your JB: Jason Bourne, James Bond, or Jack Bauer.
The best thing about Alpha Protocol is the branching plot. The alliances you choose will change the order you visit each continental hub, and can have a huge impact on the characters you meet and the endings you unlock.—Tom Senior
Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory
This classic stealth sandbox came out 13 years ago, but still perfectly captures the thrill of being an action movie covert agent. It’s like Hitman, but you have cooler gadgets and the ability to suspend yourself above guards by doing the splits.
This is Sam Fisher’s finest hour thanks to Michael Ironside’s performance and a darkly humourous script. Chaos Theory features some exceptional level design, and a decent co-op campaign that encourages you to co-ordinate sweet simultaneous takedowns from the shadows. —Tom Senior
No One Lives Forever
One of the few spy games to draw influence from the cheesy Man From Uncle meets Austin Powers 1960s idea of a spy adventure. As the glamorous Cate Archer you fight through jump out of planes, race bikes, scuba to sunken ships and other antics you might expect from Roger Moore era Bond. Every mission is different, and the whole adventure is played for laughs. It’s a difficult game to get hold of, and tough to get fully working on current machines, but it goes down as a great spy game in the PC gaming canon.—Tom Senior
Paranoia is an important part of being a spy. Your cover could be blown at any moment, and the consequences are drastic. In fact someone could be watching you through a high-powered scope right now. SpyParty captures this feeling in a series of small scenes—a party in a pub, a penthouse party, a boat party (spies love to party). One player plays a sniper, assessing the scene for any signs of spy-like behaviour. The other player is the spy. As the spy you have to blend in with NPCs as naturally as you can while you saunter around completing secret objectives.
As the spy you can see the sniper’s targeting laser moving through the room. It’s terrifying to see it flick from one side of the room to your forehead after you make a sloppy move. On the plus side you can see when the sniper is obsessed with innocent NPCs and use them as cover to plant that bug you need to win.—Tom Senior
Infiltrate high-security environments as a group of specialists in this hybrid of stealth game, turn-based strategy and roguelike. Get in, run the job, then get out again, and use your agents' different abilities to make it happen. This is a meticulous spy game where every wrong move can cost you dearly (you can rewind a turn if you've messed up that badly), but every well-executed strategy will make you feel like a badass.
The best thing about Invisible Inc is that you can customise the parameters of a campaign to your preferences—adjust the amount of credits you get, how long each campaign goes on for and how many guards you can expect to find in each mission. Even though it gets real tricky, the difficulty is very much in your control. On additional playthroughs, you'll unlock new agents who provide you with a different power base.—Samuel Roberts
Sid Meier’s spy game was remarkably ambitious for 1990. You investigate randomly generated missions by infiltrating facilities, planting bugs, stealing files, tailing suspects and decrpting codes. Each of these activities has its own minigame. To decrypt a code you have to decode a scrambled message under time pressure. To infiltrate a building you pick a loadout, slip into the premises and start photographing documents with a microcamera.
It looks ropey by today’s standards, but Covert Action has remarkable breadth of scope that few games attempt today. There’s a reason for that, perhaps. Sid Meier was unhappy with the disparate nature of the Covert Action’s minigames, and felt as though the activities detracted from the overall mission, which involved tracking down spies in a network to find the mastermind.—Tom Senior
Set in Russia during the last days of the Soviet Union, this brutally difficult point-and-click adventure sees you investigating corruption within the KGB—at least to begin with. Over the course of the game, protagonist Maksim, a KGB captain, finds himself swept up in a conspiracy involving the murder of a former agent.
It’s from 1992 so it’s hardly the most slick or accessible of adventures, but its depiction of Cold War espionage is brilliantly done and uncompromisingly realistic in places. There are numerous ways to suddenly die, including being executed for speaking out of turn to your superiors. KGB was also released on CD-ROM under the name Conspiracy, featuring FMV cutscenes that starred Donald Sutherland as Maksim’s late father.—Andy Kelly
Steal secrets in (former PC Gamer staffer) Tom Francis's stealthy puzzle/platformer, where you play a spy who can hack and control different parts of a building's security system. What I remember liking about Gunpoint more than anything is its length—you'll clear it in about three or four hours, but in that time you'll go from being shot dead a bunch of times by guards to perfecting its systems and skilfully bounding in and out of buildings. It's perfectly paced, with no unnecessary levels or dull bits.
If you like immersive sims, this reframes most of their core elements into a 2D game. Plus you can smash your little spy guy through windows, which feels really good.—Samuel Roberts
Metal Gear Solid
“Tactical Espionage Action” is Metal Gear Solid’s tagline. In some ways the first game captures the spy fantasy better than the rest of the series, because in MGS Snake is an underdog rather than a legendary battlefield soldier. Snake’s hushed conversations with his handlers over intercom create a sense that you’re camped behind enemy lines, and it’s a dedicated stealth game. The worst thing you can do is get spotted by a guard. That brash alert noise is burned into my brain.
It’s a good introduction to Kojima’s brainverse. Expect bizarre bosses and a tendency to reach through the fourth wall. The spy fantasy starts to falter when you get into the extraordinary melodrama of the finale, but overall it’s a clever spy game that stands up today. Now we just need the brilliant Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater to make the leap to PC.—Tom Senior
A cyberpunk spy thriller that pays homage to Deus Ex, Neon struct is a slick heist game that challenges you to complete missions non-lethally. You have a bunch of sci-fi gadgets that can scramble gadgets and turn lights off at range, but its best move is a totally silent slide move that can get you out of trouble.
You explore city hubs between missions. That’s where you buy gadgets and stims that make you invisible in short bursts. It’s a neat little spy game with a stylish low-fi look, though Andy found the sparse sound design offputting in our review.—Tom Senior