Despite my earlier frustration, I did start a new game and it’s growing on me. I put myself in a death spiral in my initial game, and I understand how to avoid it now. The game still has flaws, and mission side progression bugs, and the “tutorial” is kind of useless in explaining things, but I’m enjoying it now.
Most important advice, there’s no need to maintain criminal networks everywhere. In my initial game I kept building up my control room until I had a criminal network in every region. This was a terrible mistake. By doing this what I really did was unlock every super agent. In my current game I’m avoiding having criminal networks in more than a handful of regions, and only a single full FOJ territory at any time. If I have a mission I need to do in a region outside my regular territory, I establish a network to do the mission and destroy it when I’m done. This not only keeps heat and super agents manageable, but makes dealing with the world map manageable too.
As I complained above one thing that was wrecking me was that failed distractions can result in the agents getting murdery. The mistake I made here was using the “distract” camera zone at all the entrances to my base from the cover operation. Which tagged each and every agent as then came in the door. Which would work for a while, but with higher level agents arriving due to the unmanageable heat of trying to keep networks everywhere, eventually a check would fail.
Having zones set up is also a recipe for mass minion death with heists. The super agent Synergy comes in with level 6 or 9 heist agents that are devastating if they get into combat mode. They are no problem if you just leave them alone they steal whatever they can (usually not much since I’m spending my money pretty quickly, and when you get the message that she’s coming you can just quickly burn all your cash on minions). But in my prior game they would trigger the distraction zone, my guys would fail to distract them since they are high level, and then the murders began.
In my current game I’m managing agents much better by only having zones in front of things that actually generate suspicion and letting agents walk around more. I also set up pointless mazes of locker rooms and doors that they waste time checking out. I took Eli Jr. in this playthrough as my initial henchman. His power drains the resolve of agents, and one use will send a level 1-2 agent home immediately.
Setting up combined rooms rather than monolithic rooms also. Rather than a separate mess hall, barracks, security room, etc. For example my control room has a lunch counter and some bunk beds right there in the room to minimize minion downtime. My prison has a guard table in it to deal with escapees. It also helps you separate operations so as the base grows you can keep moving things that cause suspicion like the control room and prison deeper into the base since they are self-contained.