Deceive Inc. preview: Combining social multiplayer, stealth and hero shooter

What do you get when you cross a social stealth game with a hero shooter? That’s what Deceive Inc wants to find out, with developers Sweet Bandits Studios cooking up a retro future of funkadelic spies and sassy villains competing for a single prize.

Each round of Deceive Inc starts with a simple setup: you’ve chosen your spy, now you’re unceremoniously dropped onto the map, already disguised, one of 12 players with the same goal: enter a secret vault, obtain a gold briefcase and get out.

Screenshots of Deceive Inc.

During a recent hands-on session, I had the opportunity to check out an early version of Deceive Inc. What I discovered was a studio trying to create something that we had never seen before – and doing a very good job.

In a round of Deceive Inc, you can adopt one of several general strategies to win: you can try to quickly move between security levels to get to the case first. You can focus on finding other spies and eliminating them. Or you can keep a low profile, focus on your weaponry and get upgrades, then try to snag the deal in the final mad dash to escape.

The trick with Deceive Inc is that you have to stay flexible throughout the round, which has three phases.

Which area you are best at will depend on your personal skills and the character you choose. There are generalists, like Squire, whose silenced pistol, item search, and bursts of speed allow him to excel both in combat and out of combat. Then there are specialists, like Madame Xiu, whose kit is to fly to find and mow down enemies with an automatic crossbow.

I took a liking to Cavaliere, whose dual auto pistols were superb for ambushing enemies in tight spaces. Combine that with his ability to do kung fu melee jumps and I felt safe in fights. The icing on the cake was its ability to trap an entire room’s electronics, letting you pick juicy spots to stage fights.

Of course, you have to combine the three main strategies to win. The trick with Deceive Inc is that you have to stay flexible throughout the round, which has three phases.

First, you infiltrate. In this phase, you want to collect information points from terminals and then spend them to unlock doors, find items, and hack terminals that open the secret safe. This is the stealth phase, where the map is wide open and there’s loot to grab, like the moments after a Battle Royale drops. Too visible and another agent will pick you up. Too sneaky and the good stuff will all be gone before you get there.

Second, the vault doors open. You can now sneak through increasing safe zones towards the prize, but so can everyone else. Anyone who wants to try and get this briefcase is pushed into a big funnel with the other players. Anyone who wants to wait outside can do so – the rest of the map is still accessible – but they risk being out of position for phase three: escape.

Once someone claims the briefcase, they need to go to an extraction point around the map. The problem is that if you run with the box, your position is constantly reported to all other players. After reaching an extraction zone, you have another problem: call the rescue vehicle first, then climb on it, while each spy remaining on the map closes in to kill it. It is a chaotic bloodbath with absolute stakes.

Pistol combat and the use of hero skills plays very well with stealth and gimmicky elements, forcing you to figure out how to combine your situation with the tools at your disposal.

Through these phases, Deceive Inc really shows what it’s all about. Pistol combat and the use of hero skills plays very well with stealth and gimmicky elements, forcing you to figure out how to combine your situation with the tools at your disposal. The combat is dangerous but the kill times are quite high. You can usually pull off a smart escape if you feel threatened or change tactics to find a way to win.

It’s good that blowing your cover isn’t a death sentence. Not always, at least: your cover is a shield, so the first hit that knocks you out of it reduced the damage. The problem is when you mess up, shoot or blast an NPC while entering a restricted area without the correct color-coded disguise. This leaves you exposed and vulnerable if another spy is around to notice.

We’ll be keeping a close eye on Deceive Inc as it develops. For more stealth multiplayer goodness, click above for the trailer for Spectre, a spiritual successor to Splinter Cell’s Spies vs Mercenaries multiplayer mode.

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