Mata Hari (2008)

Mata Hari (2008), developed by Cranberry Production, published by Viva Media

The name Mata Hari, at least to me, paints an image of a fem fatal type of a spy, who used her female attributes and fame as a dancer to seduce men in right places in order to get her hands on important information. I don't know how much of that is true, as I know very little of the actual person that was known as Mata Hari, but I'm also certain the game Mata Hari has even less to do with the facts about Margaretha Geertruide Zelle, who after her divorce took up a profession as an exotic dancer and who later on turned a spy during the first world war.

The story begins after Matari Hari has just arrived in Paris, where she has gained her first bit of fame as a scandalous dancer. She's attempting to gain an entry to a party but has sadly lost her invitation, when a mysterious gentleman offers to vouch for her, thus letting her in. Little does Mata know, that this is her first step towards the world of espionage and spycraft.

Sometime after, Mata has established herself as a dancer but is also working on the side as a spy using her career as a disguise. The story itself revolves around her attempts at trying to prevent the looming war by stealing secrets, thus sticking pokes at the wheels of war.

The game itself has three score gauges: wealth, spying and skill. Wealth can be accumulated by performances, which Mata needs to scourge the locations for inspiration, spying, and this is the easiest to miss, is done by locating political secrets and skill is simply avoiding getting caught and succeeding in your missions.

While the game itself is mostly very simple point and click, the score gauges are filled by performing different kinds of mini-games. The performances are simplistic reaction games, where you need to guide Mata Hari's dancing by tapping the right circles at the right time. Spying requires you to pixel hunt the screens for any possible item or people of interest and the skill is mostly rewarded of doing things like phone tapping or world travelling, where you need to avoid enemy spies in a kind of a board game type of a mini-game.

As such, the idea of Mata Hari is far more interesting than what the game ends up as.  It's not only because it is dotted with repetitive, and sometimes a tad unsuitable mini-games for a mouse-driven game, it is that the gameplay design is done by honouring some of the worst elements in the adventure genre.

It isn't very uncommon to have to travel crisscross the Europe hunting for some item or a piece of a clue so that you can proceed. This all is doing even more so annoying by the fact, that you need to complete the travelling mini-game each time if you haven't found the speed travel locations. And even if you have, you do need to play those mini-games if you want full scores at the end. The score doesn't really affect the game, but they do bring out some alternative bits of dialogue at the ending summary.

I'd love to say, that the scoring system adds some amount of replayability to the game, but I don't really think that's the case unless you are obsessive in trying to get the perfect score. The journey towards the end is always the same, so you'd have to be a somewhat of a fan of the rather mediocre writing and voice acting to actually bother.

It is really a shame, that Mata Hari doesn't succeed in being an actually thrilling spy game. There are proper elements in the there, but in the end, it just doesn't manage to be that great of a game. It is a game that is trying really hard at times but is dragged down by the mix of relaying in mini-games as well as in trying to hold on of the archaic design elements, that doesn't work that well with this kind of a story in mind.

And I also have a suspicion, that the real life of Mata Hari would have made a far better story in the end.