Walking around the retro-style maps of Deceive Inc can be an exciting, yet on-edge experience. At every turn, enemy spies might get the jump on me, whether they pop out of a disguise as a guard, or even a nearby armchair positioned just slightly out of the way, but still within line of sight of an important choke point. Indeed, I’m cautious of every action I take: am I being too obvious as I hunt for Intel, approach a guard to steal a disguise, or set a trap for an enemy agent? Deceive Inc’s social stealth gameplay is engaging in many ways, even when there isn’t another player around for miles (from what I can tell, at least).
Coming on March 21st, TripWire Interactive’s upcoming multiplayer social stealth sim pits players against each other as rival spies, each vying to extract “the package.” Each level is intricately designed, screaming a 70’s spy aesthetic that reminds one of the golden age of spy movies.
We previewed Deceive Inc last year, and heading into the launch later this month, we had the chance to go hands-on once again, and its undercover PvP never feels old. Back then, I mentioned that Deceive Inc “is the exact type of game I love, but am utter rubbish at.” I’m proud to say that holds true here as well.
I’m garbage at stealth games. I’m not great at hiding amongst the shadows, or even staying undercover when disguised. And you’ll need to do both when trying to deceive your rival spies to secure the package itself to win.
In this preview, we were treated to two new maps which will make up part of the total four maps Deceive Inc is launching with later on this month: Diamond Spire and Fragrant Shore. Each map is vastly different, offering new approaches and challenges that you’ll have to learn through exploration and sheer trial and error.
The gameplay loop hasn’t changed too much since I last played the game in July of 2022. Each match starts with spies infiltrating the location in various disguises. Steadily, spies will gain intel from nearby PCs and tablets left open to be hacked, find keycards to access various areas of the map to get ever closer to the prize package, as well as leave traps and more for your rivals to stumble upon revealing themselves to the guards and other spies.
Each character has their own unique take on what they can bring to bear in a match. It feels like a natural blend of a spy game with a hero shooter: each character is unique and approaches the match differently. Larcin, for instance, can steal items when using his skill, swiping a keycard or something else off an opposing spy without hesitation. Cavaliere, meanwhile, can investigate intel spots to see trails of previous spies, leading her right to them. Learning which spy meets your playstyle needs is key to success.
It helps fill gaps as well in Deceive Inc’s multiplayer team mode, which sees 12 players (four teams of three) all attempt to extract the package together. Learning which agents work best with each, and balancing a team rather than just sowing chaos by running and gunning things is key to success.
Hiding in plain sight as a chair while your teammate lures a rival spy in only for you to pop out and finish the job is extremely satisfying versus just always being on alert for guards by running and gunning the map. It’s a stealth game, and you’re rewarded for using the environment, your skill, and the tools available to you throughout each match.
You'll need to blend in with more than just your fellow spies as well, using each of the various NPC classes - workers, guards, lab techs - to progressively gain access to various levels of the facility as well. Being disguised as the wrong class in the wrong spot could lead to guards blowing your cover, exposing you to their guns - and your rivals' guns as well.
Tools can have more than one use as well, such as a giant pad you can throw down to break your fall from a long jump - or put up to block a hallway as you flee from enemy spies. Trip wires can be used to alert you and your team to enemy movements, giving you a heads-up to hide and ambush if you’re quick enough. There is so much potential for tons of different gameplay styles and approaches, no two matches felt the same.
I remember one of the matches where I was solo against the other press and TripWire devs in our preview. I felt rather confident walking around the Fragrant Shore, blending in with the guards on duty. I was cautious - or so I thought, to make it look like I was just walking a predefined patrol, blending in with the AI.
Little did I realize an enemy spy had been watching me the whole time, and as I broke into one of the first locked doorways in my path, I was gunned down from behind, my keycard stolen and pushed to spectate the match - all thanks to a spy who spent part of his early moments hiding in plain sight as an NPC here on vacation, or the potted plant he jumped out as the moment he struck.
In another match, I made it to the end, trying to stop an enemy from extracting after I had unlocked the terminal which dropped the security around the vault. The enemy carried the package and had called in their ride, a sporty-looking flying car that would fit well in Q’s garage. Multiple spies converged on the extraction point, but I tried to be cute. I blended in as a guard, changing my disguise twice to try to throw enemies off my scent.
Unfortunately, as I tried to disguise myself a third time, this one as a lab assistant, the spy carrying the package spotted me. She started to shoot, but I had started to get good with Cavaliere’s dual pistols, and scored a few hits. The rival spy ran around a corner, and that’s where I lost her.
She had disguised herself, only to pop out of stealth and fire at me when behind me, ultimately taking me out, and leaving with the package.
These types of moments can be hectic, and frantic, yet always fun. Deceive Inc feels like the perfect kind of party game - the type where you and your friends pop in for a few hours, talk about the day, and see who can outwit the others. It’s also the perfect type of game that can lead to some hilarious clips on YouTube and Twitch, as players find ways to trick and sabotage each other, all in good fun.
I’m eager to see how well this title will do, especially in its open beta across PC and console, though time will tell if we see Deceive Inc extract with the package itself, or slip into obscurity in a few months once the spy novelty wears off. Thankfully, TripWire are thinking ahead. While the title will launch with four maps, they are already hard at work on more post-launch. Cosmetics and more are unlockable as well, with a battle pass system coming as well to keep players who like collecting in-game items engaged.
While only $20, which is cheap in the age of $70 video games, is it low enough to entice players to grab it and give it a whirl? I’m definitely hoping so, as I can see myself losing hours in this title for quite some time, especially with some good friends to share in the laughs along the way. Hopefully, the content will come at a steady pace to keep players engaged beyond just the initial offerings.
Either way, I'm eager to jump in and heist with some friends during the open beta, which starts today. The wild, crazy, and ever-changing experience Deceive Inc has on offer is an absolute blast, one I'm hoping I'll be hooked on for a long time to come.
Who knows, maybe this time I'll be just a bit less rubbish at this?