We’re living in an age where “fake news” is at an all-time high. Pushed by populist politicians on both sides of the Atlantic, it’s led to a wider debate about the credibility of online news sources, and amidst the current pandemic, misinformation has never been rifer. It’s a fitting time to see Floor 13 return, an obscure 1991 PC release where you controlled the UK government’s secret police. More of a remake than a sequel, Deep State accurately maintains the spirit of its predecessor, keeping the point-and-click style interface as players “keep the peace”. Though it holds some interesting complexities, it falters in the execution.
Within Deep State, you become General Director for the UK’s fictionalised “Department of Agriculture and Fisheries”, a ministerial agency which hides a secret police force at your command. The goal is simple: keep your government popular and avoid letting them drop in the polls by “taking care” of potential scandals. Suspects vary depending on the case but often includes journalists, celebrities, MPs, business owners, and more. As Director-General, you can read reports and check suspect details to gather information before making decisions.
Cases are dynamically generated, and though they differ each time, Deep State retains a set of common threads. That includes taking down an IRA-style movement, a Tony Blair-esque moment where the Prime Minister is calling Uzbekistan a threat to national security, a horsemeat scandal and so on. Though it promises a look at modern politics, there are some undeniable throwbacks to scandals of former decades here.
By any means necessary
To maintain “peace”, nothing is off the table and at the Director General’s discretion, he can issue wide-ranging orders. That includes surveillance, pursuing a target’s actions, searching or ransacking their homes, abduction, creating disinformation to discredit targets, infiltration (if it’s a group) and more. Deep State never examines the ethical perspective of carrying out these horrific actions, though, in a sense, that’s the point. Rather than carry out tasks directly, decisions are all made by some faceless bureaucrat within their office, maintaining totalitarian control behind the curtain of a false UK democracy.
There are some strategic elements to consider too. Though searching for homes and distant surveillance won’t draw attention, heavy-handed tactics like “removing” people or ransacking will raise media interest. As you’d expect from a secret agency, remaining hidden is an utmost priority, and anything that highlights your visibility is highly detrimental. Your resources aren’t endless either, being given a limited number of teams to perform tasks and your disinformation slush fund only goes so far. You need to prioritise areas of interest, as orders have an estimated completion time. Some require you to manually rescind them, so careful planning is key.
It’s a performance-based job, and a Cabinet Office review takes place every 14 days. Poll ratings fluctuate, but should the government’s poll ratings drop beneath 50% compared to the opposition, you’ll be removed from your position. Deep State will then grade you for that playthrough, so all you can do is start again, but it doesn’t take particularly long to go through it. If you make a major miscalculation, such as killing an MP, you can be removed a lot sooner. So if you don’t want to face “early retirement”, be careful.
James Bond but without the bond
It presents an interesting gameplay system, giving you a lot of discretion in how to achieve your objectives whilst holding players to account, but the execution is flawed. There’s a suitable challenge as answers are rarely given to you, but missions can feel rather directionless. Multiple threads start emerging, and when you’ve got limited resources, that poses the biggest problem. Early steps are easy enough to work out, but Deep State offers little signposting for what to do next. Considering the weight Deep State puts behind tough actions, that risk or reward payoff just isn’t worth it.
Floor 13: Deep State makes for an interesting espionage premise. By making you Director-General, it becomes the Football Manager of spy games, putting you in M’s shoes rather than James Bond. Though it raises some reflections on modern politics, a lot of scandals are based on dated incidents and whilst there’s strategic depth to the gameplay, that’s ultimately hampered by poor mission structure. If you enjoyed the original Floor 13, then Deep State is worth looking into, but otherwise, it’s a cautious recommendation.
[Reviewed on PC]