Delta Force - Black Hawk Down
Delta Force games live and die on their multiplayer. Or so goes the conventional wisdom. The latest runner from the Delta Force stable. Black Hawk Down, is aiming to pervert the course of history, not only by providing a nicely playable revision of America's disastrous 1993 incursion into Somalia, but by having a single-player game that's just as compelling as the online side. We've already had a taste of the multiplayer with the online demo, but the true test came this month, when some brand new singleplayer missions landed on our desks.
And we must say we haven't been disappointed. The four levels in the new beta code were clearly chosen to show off the diversity of action Novalogic has crammed into the game this time round, and they do so with considerable aplomb. Rather than splitting different types of action up into different levels, each mission is a carefully scripted blend of styles, broken up into several short, pacey, objective-led bursts. It's a strictly linear approach and at times completely on-rails, but it does make for an exciting pseudo squad-based romp.
To give you an example, even the shortest mission on offer involves at least four distinct segments. You start the mission on a river barge, just as it's delivering you to a small village where UN supplies are being handed out. As you step on to the jetty, bandits launch an attack. Needless to say, this is your cue to unhook the trusty M-16 and cap a few Somali bad-boys, taking pains not to wipe out too many starving villagers in the process.
About a minute later the reinforcements arrive: two trucks packed with bandit gunmen. While you can blow these people carriers sky-high simply by emptying a few clips into the cabin, the preferred action is to hop in a nearby hummer and use the mounted 50-calibre to turn them all into Swiss cheese. Not only far more satisfying, this also ensures you don't run out of ammo later in the mission (no ammo pick-ups here).
After this, another bandit attack starts on the other side of the village, at which point it becomes obvious that they're using a nearby bridge as a rallying point. A quick recce to the bridge ensues, followed by another shoot-out, a tangle with some snipers, a few more trucks to blow up (with your underslung grenade launcher), then a swift retreat before blowing up the bridge with some satchel charges. And... breathe.
Variety and pace are the keywords here, though closet generals may be upset to hear that tactical depth and realism most certainly are not. There are one or two more stealthy missions, but Black Hawk Down is definitely more Operation Wolf than Ghost Recon.
Strangely, the arcade pace sits quite well with the Somali setting, conveying a general sense of chaos and panic not unlike that of the film (did we mention it's not based on the film?).
Indeed, probably our only beefs at this stage are minor things like visibly re-spawning enemies and a scarily high spec requirement. There are some nice graphics lurking in there but we suspect you'll need a pretty hefty machine to draw them out. It's not going to be the most tactical shooter out there, nor the best looking, but Black Hawk Down is going to be bloody entertaining. PC, at least, already finds it hard to put down. Check out this issue's cover discs, where we've got you an exclusive single-player demo.
They Say those who fail to heed history are doomed to repeat it. As you read these words it's entirely likely that Gulf War II: Baghdad Or Bust! is well under way. Hmm.
Vietnam. Cambodia. Korea. Panama. Nicaragua. Iran. Libya. Cuba. Let's be honest, the US military miqht hardly has the most sterling form when playing away from home. Hence, one supposes, its willingness to go after an identiflably easy target such as Iraq rather than try it on with an opponent of significantly greater threat to global stability like, ooh I don't know, North Korea, perhaps, or Israel?
One of the most recent away defeats for the US was during the early '90s in Somalia, Eastern Africa. The infamous Black Hawk Down affair has been chronicled in both novel and film forms, and now here, for good or ill, is the computer game form from lightweight military specialists, NovaLogic.
Mogadishu, Bless You
I won't bore you with too many details (I'd be here forever) but the bottom line is that this is not a very good garFor all sorts of reasons. Most glaringly of all, it's very poorly built. Every level is just a long session of trial and error, the longer the mission, the bigger the trial, the more numerous the errors.
Progressing through each mission is a painstaking process, with the emphasis on pain. Rather than create any realistic sense of conflict, you just have a thinly-disguised shooter on rails, with enemies fixed in position, often with no way of knowing they're there until they've shot you first. Load, shoot, move, save, die. Repeat to fade.
Every FPS cliche in the book is in Back Hawk Down. Which wouldn't be so bad if they were backed up by some sort of innovation in areas such as Al programming, level design or environment building. Instead, these are all found to be just as lacking. You might as well be on your own for all the help your squad mates provide, either at following your (limited choice of) orders or actually aiming at anything more than four foot away. As for the enemy, cannon fodder' doesn't even come close.
The missions are varied enough, certainly. And to be sure, there is a fair amount of entertainment to be had from riding on the side of a helicopter as it swoops in over a target zone crawling with enemies. But manning the guns on these rides' (choppers and Hummvees mostly) provide the few truly bright spots in an oasis of tedium.
What gets me is that you have games like Operation Flashpoint or Ghost Recon which prove that you can do intelligent squad Al, that you can make realistic feeling environments, that you can create a true sense of the dangers of being in combat situations, but we still end up with something as shoddily put together as Black Hawk Down. Even having been developed several years after those previous titles and with the full awareness of what's possible.
We're supposed to be innovating in this industry, always improving, getting better and better with every new day. That's the nature of the business. yet Black Hawk Down feels as though it deliberately set out to avoid being any good. As though it looked at what the competition was capable of and actually thought, Yeah, but we don't want to be like them. They're decent."
There's something more insidious at the heart of Black Hawk Down than just the bad design (and if you think that political discussions have no place in a game review then you might as well skip forward to the next bit). The manual makes a big play at the start about honouring the fallen soldiers of the Somali conflict and how as we play we should reflect on their sacrifices".
Which I'm all in favour of, except that this game honours the memory of fallen soldiers about as much as an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie. All I know is that if I had given my life for the service of my country I would want to be represented by something that tells of the true cost of a war. That describes the dangers, the horrors, the courage, the fear and the terrible cost to all sides of a conflict. All Black Hawk Down honours is the US Army's public relations department.
This is war as produced by Jerry Top Gun, Pearl Harbour Bruckheimer. Explosions, gunfire, lots of earnest shouting and the false sense of authority that comes with reciting military terminology in an American accent. It gives no sense of what the men of Task Force Ranger really endured, instead portraying the events as a gung-ho thrill ride that turned out all right in the end. You even get a bonus' mission at the end set three years after the conflict ended. In real life the opposing commander, General Aidid, was killed in clan fighting in 1996. Here the story supposedly goes that you, as a black ops specialist, were sent in to take him out covertly, thus trivialising whatever small sense of respect the developers had previously tried to muster in the preceding game by coating it all in further subHollywood action movie style plotting. The moral: the good guys (America) always win.
Anyway, back to the gameplay mechanics. NovaLogic has turned the science of developing brain-dead action shooters that masquerade as realistic military simulations into an art form. Playing this and just about any of their output recently gives the impression that every project leader in the office is a 15-year-old thrash metal dude who survives solely on a diet of Chuck Norris films.
Their recent titles have come pre-packed with an air of pointlessness that leaves you wondering why on Earth you're thering with it in the first place. BHD is no different. It's all just sound and fury signifying nothing. As each level blurred Into the next it was all I could do to remember what had just gone before. At no point do you feel any sense of emotional involvement in what's happening which, given the subject matter, is all the more chafing.
One more thing. Other than the shoddy levels of craftsmanship, the questionable politics and the sweeping sense of nothingness prevalent throughout, there's one other reason why Black Hawk Down fails to impress. It only took me the weekend to complete. From basic training through to the closing credits. Two days. Not exactly the hardest game. Just frustrating. On so many levels. Let's hope it fairs better in multiplayer, which we'll be reviewing over the next month or two.
Roll Out The Barrel
Cliche After Cliche After Cliche...
Ah, the good old exploding barrel. The staple ingredient of EVERY FIRST-PERSON SHOOTER EVER. Somalia is apparently littered with them. Big old barrels of explosion juice that ignite on contact with a single bullet. Except that here they're also accompanied by exploding wooden crates and, I kid you not, exploding market stalls. Apparently everything in Somalia is built from the most combustible substances known to man. No wonder all the civilians in the game just seem to run around waving their arms in terror.
Luckily there are plenty of magic health packs lying around every corner though, just in case anyone should get hurt from the several thousand explosions that must happen every day in Mogadishu whenever someone sneezes too hard.
Processor: PC compatible, P-III 800MHz 256MB, Free hard drive space: 750MB 32MB 8.1
OS: Windows 9x, Windows 2000 Windows XP, Vista, Win 7, Win 8, Win 10.
Game Features:Single game mode Multiplayer (LANInternet)