I've played UNDERCOVER: Operation Wintersun for a few hours, and I'm finding it not at all what I expected.

Yes, it is a spy thriller set in World War II. But it's also a compelling character study and a glimpse into the "ordinary" people and decisions behind crucial historical events. Using a film analogy -- I was expecting The Dirty Dozen, but was pleased to find something more like Hitchcock's Saboteur or Torn Curtain.

UNDERCOVER begins as the war-weary civilian populations on both sides hope desperately for a way to end the fighting. German scientists believe they may have found a solution -- a bomb with so much destructive potential that its use would be decisive. British intelligence agents get wind of this weapon, and they know they must send someone to Berlin to evaluate the threat.

"I suppose the last time you fought was in kindergarten."

Enter John Russell, a British physics professor with a quick mind, self-deprecating humor, and a conviction that violence never solves anything. Against his better judgment, he teams with a British agent to get inside the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute in Berlin.

Our humble hero is soon joined by yet another agent. The first agent is an action-hero type who lives for the thrill of danger. The other is a cool-headed female with a voluptuous figure, who enjoys tossing sarcastic one-liners at our unassuming professor.

It's the job of the professional spies to get John Russell into heavily guarded places to evaluate the plans for the bomb -- and then to get him safely out. But as soon as the mission starts, the rules begin to change. It seems that a sharp-witted physicist with a creative problem-solving approach may be more effective than the gung-ho professionals....

"Perseverance, luck and deceit."

UNDERCOVER is, I'm happy to say, a "traditional" point-and-click adventure where most of the challenges engage your wits and you can play at your own pace.

Many of the puzzles in the game are inventory-based. The inventory is easy to use, and the tasks are thoughtful and make sense within the game world. Their difficulty level increases as you progress. In a couple of instances, it was necessary to search the screen carefully. There is a jigsaw puzzle and there are dials on safes to manipulate. One particular puzzle cleverly misdirected me twice, but did so in a way that was fair.

I encountered one timed stealth challenge in the first few hours of gameplay. This takes place in a shadowy archives section, and limits the locations/direction in which you walk so that it functions like a board game challenge with timed, interactive moves. Still, like most stealth sequences, I was caught repeatedly by guards and had to restart many times before finding the path that led safely to my goal.

Movement through this third person game was fluid. Double-clicking makes John Russell run, and double-clicking on an exit causes the screen to fade to black and then takes him straight to the next room.

"The Heereswaffenamt. An architectural mix of showy and bureaucratic."

The graphics exhibit considerable attention to historical detail. Background movement in exterior scenes includes drifting snowflakes, rising smoke, and fluttering banners. Most locations are inside fortress-like buildings -- these have a claustrophobic intensity. Haunting music adds to the tension during moments of danger (of which there are many). The game nicely balances exploration, character interaction, and puzzling.

"Violence begets violence. And I would only shoot myself in the foot."

I'm at a point in the game where our hero finds himself alone, and in circumstances that hint of betrayal. Odds are against him, and he's smart enough to know how slim are the chances that he will survive. Will he manage to complete the mission he's been given? Will he kill in order to save his own skin? Will he make it back to England alive?

Would you like to learn more about UNDERCOVER: Operation Wintersun? Read the full review by gremlin.