Reviews From The Backroom: S.W.A.T. 4
The vast majority of Multi-Player featured in today's games is not geared toward the thinking crowd. When many think of Online Multi-Player action, an image of the Call of Duty, Counter-Strike or Halo games usually comes to the persons mind first; with varying degrees of screaming foul-mouthed children, hackers, and tea-baggers thrown into the mix. Recent games focus more around action, twitch skill, fast-pacing and bragging rights more than having players working together and communicating as members of a team.
However, an attempt was made in 2005 by Irrational Games and Sierra Entertainment to create a game that featured extensive communication and cooperative effort in its game-play. The outcome was S.W.A.T. 4
S.W.A.T. 4 has no story-line integrated into its game-play. Instead, it focuses on having levels that, while few (totaling at 13) are extensive and extremely well executed. While it is possible for the player to attempt any of the given levels on their own, S.W.A.T. is meant to be played with a selection of team members, and it has its own ways of holding you to it. While there are no actual cop-out moments, such as forced 2-or-more-person objectives, it throws challenges at the player that are near impossible to carry out alone.
This is largely due to the two-pronged effort of the design put into the levels and the sheer ability of the A.I. While games such as F.E.A.R. have levels that have a natural flow and rhythm to them, allowing the player to acclimatize and plan, the levels featured in S.W.A.T. focus more on realism and believability than giving the player and their team a set course. Levels feature several entry/exit points out of any given room, yet do not appear over-done. Areas for persons to take cover generally favor the enemy, as would be expected of a similar real-world situation.
For the most part, the devil lies in the details. The most notable level is, while the simplest and easiest mission in the entirety of the game, the most chilling.
This particular level revolves around the arrest of a man who's living with his ill mother. He's wanted as a suspect in a ring of grisly murders being aimed at college-aged women. While the outside of the house is rather non-descript, the detail and effort poured into the inside of the house is awe-inspiring. Objects lay about in logical spots, the interior is decrepit and infested with roaches. Food and trash lay in piles, rooms are stacked with old papers and discarded boxes. Upon entering the lower levels of the house, everything is poorly lit, and hints of the suspect being a psychotic nut are plentiful. Cages filled with dead, tortured rats are stacked floor to ceiling. The mans' room is a trashed heap, wall-papered with newspaper cut-outs featuring his murders. A room full of paper-mache' masks and bodies covered in make-up leads the player into a dug-out tunnel made for the mans' own sick purposes.
The sheer dynamics of this particular levels had me fearful of just what would happen next, and every inch of explored territory was a highly detailed horror show. When it comes to atmosphere, S.W.A.T. is quite possibly the best by far.
Outside of that mission, which features only one real danger, the rest of S.W.A.T. is a challenge that stands to a T. Each individual member of the squad is extremely vulnerable at any given point during a mission. Not only is cover limited, but the lay-outs of each area and the enemies involved are seemingly out for blood. Even though you are given the option of taking heavier armor at the beginning of each mission, taking a few shots from an enemy is almost guaranteed to bring you down, meaning that each and every person you face is a life-or-death situation.
Compounding on this is the focus that every mission gives the player: put the most effort towards arresting the suspects, rather than killing. Killing the enemy, while a viable option, is heavily discouraged. Along with a selection of weaponry that focuses on taking down a target; such as silenced SMG's, full-on Assault Rifles, pistols large and small, and an array of ammunition meant for differently abled targets; there is also the option for the player to choose from "Less-Lethal" weaponry. Things that are meant to stun the enemy into submission, such as Tazers, flash-bang and shrapnel grenades, bean-bag shotguns, and pepper-spray paint-ball guns are all made available to the player. While each ones' application may be different, taking down enemies for arrest is a must, and S.W.A.T. still allows you to be adequately prepared.
Preparation for each mission is just as vital as team-work. Each mission features enemies that are vastly different from one another. While one may feature civilians armed only with small pistols that can be taken down with pepper, another may feature terrorist factions that are armed to the teeth and wearing gas-masks and body armor. Adapting weaponry for piercing armor, preventing collateral damage to civilians, taking enemies down softly, or focusing around stealth are critical. Adapting for large-scale killing when approaching a mission that demands less-lethal tactics is almost guaranteed failure.
As for the team-work aspect of S.W.A.T., the approach is surprisingly standard. While the ability to view different areas through the eyes of your teammates is a welcome addition to the expected mechanics, the rest is run-of-the-mill for more recent team-based games. Ordering your team to open doors, clear rooms, dispense different types of grenades, changing tactics from hostile to holding fire, commanding them in two different groups, almost all of it will prove intuitive to anybody who has played a team-based shooter before.
All things considered, S.W.A.T. 4 has everything to make it one of the most memorable, most intense games of all time. It would be, at least, if it weren't for a few fatal flaws.
While each of the levels is mind-blowing, and S.W.A.T. attempts to randomize the location and disposition of each person with every play-through, the overall re-play value of this game is relatively nil. The level mentioned previously that had the player attempting to arrest a serial-killer in his mothers home was only actually a good experience once through. After a single excursion into the home, any semblance of stress or fear is ultimately extinguished, making the level a quick run through a house with a slightly difficult arrest made at the end.
Even on the larger levels that call for multiple people for a play-through, enemy randomization does little to effect the experience. When a level is put to a players memory, it loses its challenge.
As for the combat aspect of S.W.A.T., it's alright, but seemingly broken. Tazers fire in random arcs, shooting a weapon and evading fire is fool-hardy, and taking down an enemy without killing them as an extremely tedious and often overly-difficult affair. Even if the player convinces a target to drop their weapons and go the their knees, they often move in groups. Arresting one is likely to get you killed.
S.W.A.T. 4 is made with an air of sophistication and style that is too rarely seen in any games anymore. Unfortunately, the amount of content in this game is far too limited, and they make up for it by padding the difficulty a bit too much.
It's a great experience, but doesn't last long enough to justify a purchase.
"Let's Play" Extra!
PLEASE NOTE: Harsh language and yelling are used liberally when Cleril and I play together. Viewer discretion is advised.
If you enjoyed this review, please tell me! And if you have any suggestions for future games to get for my back-room, let me know!