I am an unparalleled gentleman thief, strolling around a seaside resort. My enemies don’t realize that I’ve stolen the identity of an unassuming civilian, and I blend in with the tourists. I see a guard who has abandoned his duties and is hovering suspiciously off to the side. I sneak past him, pilfer a purple keycard from his pocket, and flee. I’ll use this to grab the prize and prove myself the best spy of all.
I’m playing Deceive Inc., a multiplayer game with elements of social sabotage, combat, and silly antics. The spy business is now a monopoly, owned by the titular Deceive Inc., and the company likes to cover its bases. Much like when there are two Starbucks within a block of each other, Deceive Inc. prefers to send several spies after the same package. Only one can be successful, but that’s capitalism, baby.
Deceive Inc. is a spy-versus-spy thriller, putting players in charge of highly trained agents with gadgets and guns. If you’ve played Overwatch or Apex Legends you’ll be familiar with the archetypal cast. At times, gameplay is similar to a battle royale, with squads of players converging on an extraction point firefight. Players can either queue solo, or in three-person squads.
“This spy agency recruits agents from every walk of life — they’re the best of the best in their field,” said Philippe Pelletier Baribault, co-founder of Deceive Inc. developer Sweet Bandits Studio, in an interview after a press gameplay preview. Baribault said one focus of the game is having a varied cast full of clearly readable, distinct characters. This includes a detective, ex-spy, professional thief, and Kingsman-style English agent. “We definitely went off the ’70s vibe, when spy movies weren’t taking themselves too seriously, with wacky gadgets and stuff going on. But one thing that’s important to the game is that for the characters themselves, it’s serious.”
Characters are grouped into four categories: Trickster, Tracker, Disruptor, and Vanguards. Lapin is the aforementioned gentleman thief, but there’s also a Russian supervillain with a shotgun arm, and the very tall Madame Qu who is great at hunting down her rivals. Each agent has their own active ability, weapon, and skillset that can be employed in clever ways. Players can snatch away someone’s valuable item, trap them in goo, or use an expanding bounce pad to block an enemy’s shots while you scamper away, giggling.
The core inspiration for Deceive Inc. comes from an unlikely source: Dark Souls 3 PvP. “You could disguise yourself as an NPC, and just wait in their world and ambush them. I found that very compelling,” said Baribault. “Dark Souls PvP is very competitive — people get very good at it — I think there’s room to get that deception mechanic and be able to outplay someone by wits.”
There are times when using spy gadgets and character abilities to play mind games works very well. When I play Ace, the sniper character, it was satisfying to track down enemies and watch chokepoints through my sniper scope. Players who know how to convincingly imitate an NPC will have a huge advantage over those who head straight for their goals; as players learn strategy, there’s an enormous amount of potential for outplaying your fellow spies.
If anything, there might be too much to Deceive Inc. Take the team mode, which puts teams of three agents against each other in a desperate struggle to extract the sole prize. But that can get incredibly awkward when every agent is capable of shenanigans and outplays. There’s a reason The Three Stooges always just had the three stooges and everyone else was a straight man; it wasn’t The 27 Stooges! There’s a high skill floor to Deceive Inc., and while there’s a robust tutorial, my early time in the game was still spent just figuring stuff out.
Deceive Inc. is in early alpha, and there’s still ample room to grow and evolve. The characters are intriguing, and the game is bursting with more character and wild outplays than a traditional battle royale-style brawler would allow. If this game will take off among streamers and friend groups, it may need to focus a little more on one specific pillar of gameplay. I hope that the spy-vs-spy antics stay, but are easier to read and grasp. Right now, it’s a little too chaotic — but that can change, and the premise is teeming with promise and potential.