The game of Safe House makes you the station chief of a CIA safe house in the ‘60’s in a fictional African country that is embroiled in a tenuous political situation where the CIA has decided that it needs to overthrow a dictator with your help.
When the game starts, there is only a front for the otherwise empty safe house that operates like a book store where spies will come in and present the person working the counter with a code phrase. You are given a log book that you look through to find the matching response for a particular key word within the phrase given to you by the potential spy. You then match their response in the book and decide whether they are a legitimate operative for your agency, or someone trying to infiltrate. Accepting or rejecting correctly will earn you money that you can use to expand and fund your operation. Getting answers wrong will fund your enemy’s operations against you.
You have the duration of a shift to make as much money as you can by getting as many correctly answered questions as you can. Once the shift ends, you get a little more backstory about the local situation and then you get the opportunity to add on to your safe house by building new rooms. The second addition to the safe house is a loading dock, located on the opposite side of the building from the storefront, where you are assigned the task of checking the shipping labels with pre-approved label numbers. After that, you will be asked to add rooms like a decryption room, where you will intercept incoming coded messages and have to decipher them, or an infirmary where you will have to treat injured operatives by administering the correct medication for their injury while avoiding giving them anything that they are allergic to.
As you keep going in the game, the complexity of each shift gradually increases as you have more and more different rooms to manage, each with their own particular set of challenges and details that you need to pay attention to. So it’s the balancing act of trying to get through as much as you can in order to earn the most money you can, while at the same time trying not to make mistakes and lose money to the enemy, which will only serve to further complicate matters as you go forward.
Then, you will get to a point where not only are you building and adding on to your safe house and dealing with incoming things, but you will have an additional phase where you assign spies and soldiers to missions outside the safehouse, trying to get to the bottom of the tense political situation that you’ve been installed to try and control. The decisions you make will forge the path toward one of a number of possible endings that the game can follow.
I enjoy this style of game, and people who have played games like Papers, Please will find at least a little bit of familiarity in the type of things that you need to pay attention to in order to succeed in the management of the safe house. But there is the added complexity of a game somewhat like Fallout Shelter, where you are managing this big facility at the same time. There are a lot of plates to keep spinning while you forge your way through this game and it can get pretty hectic, especially at later portions.
Don’t play this game for the graphical fidelity, though. Where the game shines is in the management complexity, but the graphical style is somewhat bland. The characters are all rendered in a low-poly style that is reminiscent of games from about ten years ago, at least. Similarly, the interface is a bit clunky at times, too. The camera is always zoomed in a little too far on the safe house, where I would much more prefer it to be zoomed out to the point where I could always see the entire place at once, in order to watch for alerts from any of the rooms of incoming tasks. Being zoomed in forces you to pan around, which ends up being awkward and frustrating.
I think that for a game that is asking only $10 on Steam, these slightly dated graphics and clunky UI are things that can be forgiven when the scope of the actual gameplay loop is fully appreciated and realized. You are managing lots of different things at once, that are all still heavily interconnected, and having to pay attention to very small details and think quickly, but accurately and make rapid decisions that will have far-reaching effects on your experience. People that are looking for a challenge like this will be perfectly satisfied and pleased with the experience that Safe House offers.