It must be rough for the character of M. While 007 galivants around the globe to foil evil plans with a flying car and a few martinis, poor M is stuck at their desk, keeping their secret organization running smoothly. Such as it is with Safe House, developed and distributed by Labs Games through a successful Kickstarter, where you solve a series of mini-puzzles to build up, manage, and run a clandestine spy ring.
Taking place in the fictional and war-torn country of Kazataire, you are The Manager, the leader and operator of a CIA safe house. Tasked with overthrowing the corrupt ruling regime, every night you have to perform a wide range of daily tasks: you’ll crack ciphers, administer medicine to wounded agents, and assign black-op missions in a series of ever expanding daily jobs.
Borrowing elements from 2013’s border inspector simulator Papers Please, Safe House is about keeping up with the little details. You’ll need to pay attention to details, refer to your in-game dossier, and maybe even keep a pen and paper handy to take some helpful notes of your own. Each successfully completed task nets you additional operation funds, while mistakes dock your pay. Things start easy enough, as you check a spy’s dialogue against your list of code words and type in the appropriate countersign word. As you construct new rooms and expand your operation, you’ll soon have to crack alphabet word ciphers, administer the right medication your agent is not allergic to, and check the person of interest records to make sure you’re interrogating the right informant. It’s just a taste of the kind of tasks that’ll pop up at any moment as your timer ticks down toward the next day, where you’ll do it all again.
In the construction phase, the funds you earn will be rolled back into building new rooms for code breaking, black ops prep, med bay, interrogation, etc, to receive new tasks and to move the story along. In the assignment phase, you’ll hire black ops soldiers to send out on missions such as assassinations and info gathering, to earn money and gain experience to level up your soldier in their stats of stealth, combat, and firearms. Some assignments you receive contain high chances for success using soldiers with a high enough level in a particular field of expertise.
While the puzzles are initially simple enough, over time their complexity (especially with ciphers) may lead you to spending nearly half your night solving it. Thankfully, the title doesn’t let tasks stack up, but they will eat into your time and prevent you from gaining additional funds. The margin for error is also pretty low, as any docked funds will be sent to the coffers of a rival spy faction. Enough screw-ups and your enemies will levy penalties on your daily work, such as a ten percent drop in daily funds. Also, your pay will increase night by night, so while you can quickly amass a nice war chest, one mistake can fully fund your enemies and make things even harder further on.
Still, when you know the right countersign or medication, or when you solve a tricky cipher, you really do feel pretty darn smart, so there is a lot of satisfaction to be earned when playing Safe House. Much less can be said of its overall look, as in-game characters have a blocky look, like Sims or original PlayStation era characters. The interface is also very… utilitarian. Not bad, not broken, but not particularly elegant either. It’s there just to navigate the menus and convey the information you need and nothing more.
Safe House doesn’t require a beefy computer to run, so it may appeal to the lower spec gamer. And while I didn’t encounter many bugs or any crashes during my time with it, it wasn’t a totally bug free experience.
Safe House is a simple game with a fair amount of challenge, in my opinion. It’s easy to pick up, easy to understand, and it challenges more of your focus and attention than your thumb dexterity. I’d recommend Safe House to anyone looking for an easygoing, story-based, puzzle management title.
A copy of this game was provided to us for review purposes.