I've got a lot of ground to cover in only five pages, so what I'll do is talk you through the basics of Seal Team as fast as I can. Here goes.
(1) Seal Team attempts to simulate the experiences of the elite American foot soldier during the Vietnam war.
(2) The game is put together in much the same way as a flight sim - indeed it actually uses the same basic engine as Chuck Yeager's Air Combat.
(3) The opening screen allows you to choose which of the four soldiers on offer you're going to control. You can't change anyone's name, but you can give yourself a 'handle'. You always play the pointman: the bloke at the front who gives the orders. The computer deals with the other three.
(4) Also on the initial screen is an option to choose the year you start your career: 1966,1967,1968 and 1969. The main difference between them is that the later the date, the better the available technology (more weapons to choose from).
(5) You now find yourself in the in-depth mission talk through. It's a close-up moving map of the area you're about to visit. Your 'waypoints' are shown and text boxes beneath the moving map tell you what you're expected to do at each stage of the operation. After having taken all of this in it's time to click on another box, which takes you to the equip screen.
(6) You now have to sort out who's taking what into the target zone. If you're expected to blow something up you'll want to make sure that somebody is carrying explosives. The more equipment a soldier takes, by the way, the heavier his backpack will be, and therefore the slower he'll be on his feet.
(7) You've memorised the plan, you've kitted out your lads, you've got a team member (your medic) who is roughly the equivalent of the person in Star Trek who wears a red shirt when landing on a dangerous planet. Now it's time to enter the war zone.
Still a quick walkthrough
(1) Blam! Automatic insertion time, by helicopter or boat. If things are too heavy for you (i.e. incoming grenades and tracers abungo), you can press a key and the craft that dropped you will pluck you back up immediately and then you can choose your own, safer, drop zone.
(2) Once the insertion craft has well and truly buggered off, the game really starts - and it's tension from the word go: a tension enhanced by the buzzing of mosquitoes, the chattering of crickets and the occasional distant echoey squawks of various jungle birds. (This is with a Sound Blaster of course.)
(3) The initial viewpoint is the external camera - the chase camera - which is centred on the back of the pointman (you). You can zoom out a bit and rotate 1800 (thereby seeing your three bitmapped chums), but the most sensible course of action is to hit the fi key, which plops the view into first person perspective. You're now looking through the pointman's eyes, Ultima Underworld-style.
(4) Another sensible opening move is to hit the 1 key; this instructs you (and your wingmen) to adopt the prone position. If there are any vc about, you'll now hopefully see them before they see you.
(5) Now might be a good time to call up the map screen. Just like map screens in all good flight sims, this one is zoom in and outable, shows you your waypoints, and allows you to play about with just about anything you like. You can split your lads up and send them to different positions, telling them to run, move stealthily, snipe, blow things up and so on. You can even call in airstrikes. It's all a question of clicking on what you want to command (as long as it's available on your particular mission), giving it a waypoint on the map and then clicking on one of the many instructions.
(6) So where were we? Ah yes, lying prone and motionless at the drop point. And what was the mission? Let's say it's to move north to a small village (two kilometres away) and to take a particular high ranking vc prisoner before legging it west to the pick-up zone.
'Quick' walkthrough continued
(1) Click forwards on the joystick. Still remaining prone, you and your team will now inch forwards at slow speed, on elbows and knees. If anything targetable passes before your field of view (be it animal, vegetable or mineral and as long as you're in the first person view), a target reticle will appear. It's sort of like you've got your own built in hud - you have visual information beamed onto your retinas. You'll be told what the target is (vc, civilian, ox-cart, hooch, bunker, prisoner, orphan etc.) and also its distance.
(2) The computer-controlled team members don't just follow you blindly they'll be scanning around for themselves, checking through 360°. If they spot anything you've missed, you'll be informed via your hud.
(3) Okay, so there you all are, inching along on your tummies at one squillimetre an hour. You've got two kilometres to cover and time isn't necessarily on your side.
The question is: do you spend the next three weeks crawling through the undergrowth with loads of horrible, scary jungle insects creeping up your nostrils? Or do you press key 2, which pops you all into a crouching position, thereby giving you extra speed but at the same time increasing your chances of being spotted?
(4) In fact sod all of that. Let's move into a fully upright position (key 3) and then push forward again on the joystick so that the entire team is running at full speed. Here we are, you darned cowardly yellow Geeks! Johnny Yankee is inbound!
(5) Aaaargh! Gunfire. The screen turns red for a moment, and a text message then pops onto your hud, saying: 'You are bleeding heavily'. Oh dear. But then the gunfire stops, as suddenly as it started. Your computer-controlled wingmen have dealt with the incident. You can see a dead vc to your right, lying on his back.
(6) Pressing the S key initiates a search of the area... your team-mates are about to go and search the body, so relax and enjoy. Watch them as they diminish in size to the east, frisk the dead vc and then return. Result? Two weapons and one document seized.
(7) Back into the prone position, and, inching through the undergrowth, you spot a civilian. The distance readout on your hud is decreasing rapidly and there's very little left/right movement, meaning the civilian in question (a couple of pixels at the moment, but getting larger all the time) is innocently strolling directly towards you. Once he spots you, he'll run away, screaming, and your position will be given away to any nearby vc. Instant dilemma...
(8) ...Do you empty an entire clip into said civilian? Or rely on luck that he doesn't spot you? Do you throw caution to the wind, jump up and run into the village shouting 'I am John Wayne!'? Or do you change direction yourself and crawl out of the civilian's path? Or how about calling in an air strike to divert attention? Hey, you could even do an airstrike on the civilian, killing two birds with one stone, so to speak.
(9) Your dilemma is solved for you... the screen goes red again, and the hud message reads: 'The pointman dies of his wounds'. You forgot about the wounds, didn't you? Switching to the external view, you see yourself lying dead on the ground. Your joystick movements and frantic key presses are to no avail. You're about to be treated to the funeral screen, and then you'll be starting a new career.
Quick walkthrough over
Sounds good, doesn't it? And to a certain extent it is good -very good, and very big, with heaps upon heaps of varied missions. In fact Seal Team would be absolutely and totally brilliant but for one major flaw: the implementation. What I'll do is to refer directly to the sketchy notes which I usually make whilst playing a game that I am currently reviewing. Ready? Let's go...
Jerkovision™: The trademark symbol is necessary here, because if any game ever deserved to hold the Jerky Graphic copyright, it's Seal Team. The bitmapped soldiers are fine, but the polygon stuff is appalling. It's a case of Katherine Hepburn goes pneumatic drilling with Shakin' Stevens during a slow-motion earthquake. (And that's on a 486 dx 33.)
Grass: Seal Team should have included areas of long grass where your soldiers would be totally concealed when prone (like in the films, the real war etc.) Not WYSrWYG: The debriefing session can be totally inaccurate. I actually found myself being commended on a well executed mission when my final action had been to call in an air attack... on myself.
Mouse nightmare: The mouse pointer, 99% of the time, has a mind of its own. On the option screens it's simply highly annoying, but in-game it can get you killed. (An emergency extraction under heavy fire? Great, but first you've got to set the helicopter's waypoint and by the time you've coaxed the crosshairs into the correct position, your entire team is suffering from rigor mortis.)
Crap shapes: The boat, plane and helicopter shapes are very basic, as are the buildings and so on. If the game ran smoothly I would be content: a necessary concession to the limits of processor speed. However, what you end up with in Seal Team is both crap shapes and Jerkovision.
Auto aim, blam bi.am:.I crept up behind a vc who was standing between a well and a hooch and was so near I could have flicked a wad of cotton wool at the back of his leg. The aiming reticle highlighted the well and it highlighted the hooch, but it wouldn't target the vc. He eventually spotted and killed me while I was faffing around with the mouse on the map screen, trying to designate him as an airstrike target.
Midwinter sound: For the most part. Seal Team's sound effects are brilliant - although you do really need a Soundblaster. However, if ever a game cried out for simulated 'surround sound', this is it. In Midwinter, things got louder as you turned towards them. Not so here. Bah.
Jingoistic: Speaks for itself, really. Seal Team is Buf-Puf clean. Nobody in Vietnam took drugs. Nobody went mad. Nobody bayoneted a pig, stamped on a child's head, ripped his clothes off, rolled in the mud and then claimed to be Valkalla, the Norse God of Pointy Things. Etcetera.
Mouse for guns: Although the hud reticle works well for identifying targets, it would have been significantly better if you could have used a mouse pointer to actually aim your guns and grenades.
There are three sides to the Seal Team crap/not crap equation. On side one are the polygon graphics, which aren't exactly (understatement approaching) the best you'll have seen, either in definition or animation. On side two however - and this is a gigantic plus - is the atmosphere of the game: much of which is given over to sheer tension, as you lay prone, with a sweaty groin, peering at a distant hut, with a parrot squawking in your ear. On atmosphere alone, Seal Team scores massively... don your anorak, dim the lights and become thoroughly engrossed. The third side of the equation, however, drags things back down again - because when you approach the thicker end of the realism wedge things begin to fall apart. Maybe ea's mistake was to use the Chuck Yeager engine in the first place. Maybe Seal Team should have been written from the ground up - especially as far as the graphics are concerned. I don't know. Whatever.
A final note
If you've been waiting for a simulation of this sort (i.e. first person perspective soldiers) for absolutely ages (like I have), and are disappointed with the first one available (i.e. Seal Team), then I have to quickly add a couple of things. Firstly, the version I played had not gone through final bug testing so faults like inaccurate debriefings and not selecting targets may well be corrected by the time the game is released. Secondly if (and, I repeat, if) you're prepared to forgive Seal Team its shortcomings, then you'll find that there is actually a corker of a game lurking between all the annoying bits. And you can forgive Seal Team if, when playing, you blame everything on the chemicals Vietnam soldiers were so fond of. For instance, the jerky polygon graphics don't matter too much if you pretend the jerkiness is induced by having taken too much acid. As for the rather iffy debriefing sessions: simply pretend you still haven't quite 'come down' from the alcohol, mescaline and quaalude omelette you had for breakfast, and that the person debriefing you is stoked up to the eyeballs on angel dust. And so on.
Like I said, if you're prepared to forgive Seal Team its shortcomings, you'll still be in for a good time because of the tension and atmosphere. If you're not prepared to forgive its shortcomings, however, then 1 suggest you wait until somebody else releases another first person perspective soldier game. Quite how long you'll be waiting, though, I cannot say.
Vietnam - The Story
Vietnam is an S-shaped country between Cambodia, Laos and China. The Vietnamese drove out the Chinese in 1939, the French in 1954 and the Americans in 1973. Not bad for a country the size of Nevada.
First contact with the West was about 1500, with merchants and missionaries. France captured Saigon in 1859 and annexed Cochin China in 1862. This was later merged into Fench Indochina. After the Japanese defeat at the end of the Second World War Ho Chi Minh proclaimed a republic in 1945.
The French attempt to reassert their hegemony ended with the humiliating defeat at Dein Bien Phu (1954). At the Geneva conference of 1954 the country was divided into communist North, under Ho Chi Minh and non-communist South, under Ngo Dinh Diem. This was to be a temporary measure pending elections and unification. Diem refused to hold them and declared an independent republic in 1955. The War ensued, with the Americans entering on the side of the South to preserve their right not to hold free elections.
For the Americans, the war lasted from 1965 to 1973, when they withdrew. The North immediately invaded the South and gained control in 1975. The Socialist Republic of Vietnam was declared in 1976.
Download SEAL Team
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