Ah, the 80s. Everything was bigger in the 80s. The hair. The fashion. The action movies. Developed by Dynamix and released in the last year of the decade, David Wolf: Secret Agent encapsulates all of those things and more besides.
The game describes itself as an Interactive Movie, which is a bit of a misnomer. There are no 'movie' sections in the game with cut-scenes represented by still photos and text commentary. Sure there's some glorious text dialogue, but not one of them are interactive. And they can go on for some time. The playable part of the game or four rather short 3D levels simulating different set-pieces: hang gliding, sky diving, a car chase and a stealth fighter dog fight. For 1989, each of these are technically impressive but with such little content, the game can easily be completed within half an hour.
Even so, the developers have made sure that you see the end. In a rather unique move, Dynamix chose to implement what they call a "VCR Interface". This is essentially an options menu where you can change the difficulty, sound and video settings, but there's one feature that stands out. You can fast forward or rewind levels, just like a video tape, and go directly to your favourite scene or level. While admirable, it does lessen the impact of the story, not least because you can't get the best ending if you use this. It also takes away any sense of danger or challenge, thus robbing you of any reward when you succeed.
The levels themselves control rather stiffly. The hang glider segment sees you flying over the ocean near a cliff. A number of enemies surround you which you'll need to shoot down to progress. You're plunged right in the middle of battle, with nary a hint of what to do, so naturally I ended up dead. The story continues for some time until you get the game over screen which sees the White House get destroyed. Who knew the fate of the free world relied so heavily on one man? Time to hit fast foward.
Next up is sky diving. The aim here is to safely land on the moving truck to continue the story, but good luck doing so. There's what seems like a minute or two's worth of free falling before this, giving you ample time to ponder the state of Agent Wolf's shoes. I was never quite able to figure out the key to getting it right and to be honest I stopped caring midway through my descent. Perhaps the 3D imagery was enough to hold a player's interest for such a long time back then, but not so much now. Skip!
The car chase segment is by far the most playable. You have three weapons at your disposal; an oil slick, a machine gun and a rocket launcher. Each will take out an enemy at a different position. The oil slick is perfect for cars on your tail. Slam the breaks just after deployment and whoever's chasing you will veer off and crash. Waiting until you reach a turn in the road will have the same effect. The machine gun is useful for enemies directly in front of you, while pesky helicopters can be taken out with a well-placed missile. Juggling the three weapons while trying to stay on the road can be quite fun, though for this level only I'd recommend the higher difficulty. The easiest will have your car steer for you, which removes a key part of the fun. This section kept me playing until I actually beat it.
Lastly there's the stealth fighter. Control-wise it's the most complex of the four simulations, having multiple viewpoints and keys dedicated to thrust. Once you're in the air, you're co-pilot Kelly O'Neal (aka Stereotypical Bond Girl) will often interrupt to give you advice. For example, after a homing missile locks on to you, she tasks you with flying through a hanger to get rid of it. After this, it's standard dogfighting fare. The cut-scenes interject the levels rather seemlessly and, along with the intense action music adds to the tension. Of course the spotty controls also do this, but then what do you expect.
David Wolf: Secret Agent could've been a fun and inventive action adventure. The cut-scenes are joyously cheesy with an attempt at a branching storyline that had potential. Unfortunately the lack of any player agency during these scenes makes them rather redundant. You could be passively watching the still panels scroll by for quite some time until you get to an action scene, only to die in the first few seconds as you scramble to get to the joystick.
Dynamix's first self-published game is ultimately a frustrating experience which ironically is something they were trying to avoid with their VCR concept. In the end, I'd recommend using this feature to just that - skip to the end.
To download the game, follow the link below. This custom installer exclusive to The Collection Chamber uses DOSBox to bring the game to modern systems. Manual Reference Card and Developer's Note included. Tested on Windows 10.
File Size: 10 Mb. Install Size: 13 Mb. Need help? Consult the Collection Chamber FAQ
David Wolf: Secret Agent is © Dynamix
Review, Cover Design and Installer created by me