Will: In my estimation this is the best co-op that money can buy. Admittedly we're rubbish at it and die all the time, and not a single one of us makes a decent leader, but what makes it so great is that when playing it we actually felt like a team. One balls-up means that you're all screwed - so there's a real on-edge feel to it all. I also like the fact that when you're in a cleared area of the drug-den. garage or whatever, you're all pretty safe and there's time spare for comedy. There's absolutely nothing better than tazermg Sefton at moments of high tension and laughing at his convulsing body or. indeed, accidentally-on-purpose misplacing a hurled flashbang right in front of his stupid, northern, digital face.
Prez: Obviously. Will has some unresolved issues with Sefton there, but skipping neatly over that potential minefield. I have to agree. He really does have a stupid, northern, digital face. Also. SWAT 4 is probably the best co-op experience out there right now. The very nature of the game makes tight, controlled, strategic thinking and tactical awareness a pre-requisite for playing as a co-ordinated team. Such a pity that we're all a bunch of hapless morons with the situational awareness of lemon pudding then. Still, when the planets align and those rare moments of lucid togetherness occur, then it's nothing short of a gaming epiphany.
Pissing About Potential: Sadism rules the roost here, as any game that enables you to spray mace into old ladies' faces, provide impromptu electro-shock therapy on panicking civilians and fire beanbags at carefully placed racks of beer bottles has great facilities for arsing around. The tazermg of friends also leads to great hilarity, but best of all is the lack of a hierarchal command structure, meaning anyone can pretend to be in charge and order their mates into a room full of machine gun-packing psychotics while they. ahem, bring up the rear.
Co-Op Rating: 5/5
Download SWAT 4
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E3 2002 . Two years ago. SWAT 4 was announced to an expectant crowd. We surfed heads to get a front-row view of the latest tactical shooter and... Pissed ourselves laughing. Looking more like a conga 'em up than a shooter, it was a total embarrassment, a non-game or, in the words of the PR person responsible, "shit on a stick".
Not surprisingly all went quiet on the SWAT 4 front. Then it was officially canned, only to suddenly reappear on the horizon last month, with Irrational Games at the helm.
Reasons to get excited: Irrational made System Shock 2 (SS2 is still one of our favourite games ever), and it's powered by an enhanced Unreal engine (as used by Irrational in its upcoming Tribes: Vengeance game). It's also shipping with three multiplayer modes and a cooperative campaign mode, and it sports authentic assault gear, realistic ballistics and Havok-defined physics. Woo-woo! And yay!
You take charge of a squad of up to five officers and have to work your way through a series of 16 high-risk missions - saving hostages, counter-terrorism and rescuing cats from the tops of tall trees (possibly) - following police protocol and avoiding putting your sirens on to get to the burger shop. We're excited again, and we think you should be too - look out for a more in-depth preview shortly.
We Have a regular games day' here at ZONE (ironic, I know). Once an issue is done, the pages checked, corrected and conditioned, and the files sent to the giant print-o-tron machine in the basement, we allow ourselves an entire day of games-playing merriment in order to unwind. It used to be strippers and coke, but the expense accounts were becoming hard to justify...
The most recent of these unofficial holidays saw us donning armour and loading the pepper spray for a day of SWAT4-ing, and blow me if it wasn't the best damn Games Day any of us have ever had.
Yes, SWAT 4's multiplayer game really is that good. At least, it's that good when you're in earshot of the fellow lawenforcers on your team and you can shout orders, insults and exasperations at them. Easily the best of the modes is co-op - five of you ganging together to play through the single-player campaign, planning tactics, backing each other up, accidentally throwing gas grenades at each other. Coming a close second though is the VIP escort mode, which amazingly works whether you have a minimum of three players or a packed server of 16. It's perfectly balanced and the added touch of having to actually capture a fellow player rather than kill them adds a level of tactical thinking that makes playing ordinary deathmatch games almost impossible to go back to.
Deathmatching in SWAT 4 is a team affair, SWAT vs suspects, in which one side annihilates the other (across slightly expanded versions of the single-player maps). Lip service is paid to the source material by allowing extra points for an arrest', something everyone ignores, and a competent but fairly lacklustre bomb hunt mode rounds off the content.
While SWAT 4 is a great LAN game, across the Internet things are a touch more messy. The server browser is very untidy and hard to navigate, the lag issues are still quite prevalent and it does seem that the majority of the playing community take the whole thing very, very seriously indeed. This is no place for nOObs, unless you're prepared for a torrent of abuse every time you make a costly mistake.
What would definitely have helped would have been a more structured chain of command setup. At the moment, anyone can bark out orders, which usually just serves to make a mess of any tactical notions unless you find yourself part of a well-honed clan. If orders could have been confined to a team leader or two, things would probably, have been far more enjoyable for everyone involved.
Don't let the professional nature of the gamers put you off though. SWAT 4 is easily one of the best multiplayer experiences you can have. If you're attending a LAN party it should almost be a mandatory fixture. Online it just takes a bit of getting used to is all, and we'd urge you to make the effort. This deserves to be the new Counter-Strike.
After VU made strange coughing noises and swept SWAT: Urban Justice discreetly under the carpet, the franchise appeared to be on the ropes. Thankfully though, for the series' hordes of tactically-minded squad-shooting fans, the fresh start made by current industry golden boys Irrational seems to have done wonders. Aiming for a strategic return to form coupled with a more streamlined interface system, the game has you doing everything from responding to 911 calls about maniacs to rescuing undercover cops after their cover has been blown and bringing arms dealers to justice.
All the expected incursion paraphernalia will be available to you - including non-lethal takedown tools like beanbag shotguns, stun guns and pepper spray. Should, however, the situation need a few more bullets in the fray, the game now caters for a sniper to be perched outside the unlicensed bookies (or whatever) that you happen to be storming. What's more, seeing as the game changes the enemy placement every time you boot up a level, you may well be needing him...
We'll have an in-depth preview next month, where we'll also go into the potential glories of SWAT 4 multiplayer. All in all, it looks to us like Irrational is cooking up something pretty special...
I've Been on the job for less than ten minutes and already I've electrocuted an elderly woman into unconsciousness in the name of justice. Yes, you're either SWAT or you're not, although I doubt pumping several gazillion kilowatts of spark juice into senior citizens was quite what Samuel L Jackson had in mind when he said it.
Nevertheless, 2005 appears to be the year of the non-lethal takedown as far as the socially responsible souls at Irrational Games are concerned. Brought in to put the SWAT series back on course following complaints about the aborted SWAT: Urban Justice's gung-ho, kill-first-read-rights-later' approach by the real-life Special Weapons And Tactics merchandising division (or someone), Irrational has totally reshaped things.
Or rather, it's put things back the way they were in SWAT3 - ultra-faithful police procedures and an emphasis on arresting suspects rather than easing the overcrowding situation in the nation's jails through judicious use of bullet placement. What's more, it's also boosted the visuals and gameplay mechanics to bring things in line with current FPS genre thinking.
The old lady in question was just one such suspect to feel the wrath of my arsenal of incapacitation tools. Of course, the SWAT 4 arsenal includes as fine an array of the world's life-takers as any contemporary-set FPS. These include pistols, shotguns, rifles, semiautomatics and so on, along with a more intriguing selection of gas grenades, pepper-ball guns (that look a lot like the paintball guns that busy executives manhandle in various forests at weekend team-bonding exercises), tazers and beanbag shotguns. Away from the firing range, you also get gadgets such as door wedges and the Opti-Wand, a telescopic camera used for peering round comers, under doors and up skirts. I expect.
In practice, you'd think that everyone would just eschew such novelties after one or two uses, but the game practically encourages their use, judging mission successes on the amount of people still breathing (even if through a haze of pepper spray) at the end of proceedings. Too much excessive force without authorisation though, and you'll like as not find yourself up on criminal charges yourself.
Combined with the realistic simulation of these weapons, it has the unusual effect in-game of making firefights incredibly tense affairs. You spend as much time ducking for cover and praying for backup as you do shooting at targets. A downside with the engine we were shown was that not a great amount of the scenery was destructible. Following the delights of Half-Life 2's physics engine (in which everything appears to be made out of coiled springs), this paints things in a more simplistic light than we were hoping for.
Filth And Scum
Still, it's more than made up for by the atmosphere, which is 50 per cent sneaking around corners and biting your fingernails, 50 per cent all-out chaos when battle is joined. Particularly nice is the option to intimidate rather than shoot opponents, bellowing at them to surrender and drop their weapons, or firing warning shots into the nearby air (or their less vital limbs) in the hope they fill their trousers and give up like a baby. One tactic I found effective was to sneak up on a suspect, shoot the gun out of his hands and then leap out en masse yelling at him to eat linoleum. Missions vary from simple barricaded suspects (wife-beaters, armed robbers and so on), warrant serving (which seemed to be more of the same, except on unsuspecting goons) and hostage rescuing, all of which provide plenty to keep the average bobby on the beat happy, especially with the diverse locations. Some, such as the kiddiefiddling paedo who'd locked a young girl in a filthy dungeon, were particularly grim, but all the more involving for it.
Nothing To See Here
One area that was still roped off behind yellow police tape was the multiplayer game. A restricted multiplayer beta test recently showed off a single VIP map, an interesting take on the hostage rescue gaming mode. It included SWAT members having to escort a random unarmed player to an extraction point, and Suspect players having to kidnap rather than kill the player, forcing the use of non-lethal hardware, coordinated teamwork and much swearing from the hapless VIP player as he constantly gets gassed, zapped and interfered with.
Sounds convoluted, but the surprising thing is that it appeared to work. Or at least it did when there was any kind of active server besides a passworded French one with a lone terroriste wandering around marvelling at les graphiques. Even with just four players, it was quite the tense affair, if a more slow-paced one than online shootists are traditionally used to.
A Friend In Need
The real test for SWAT4's multiplayer chances is likely to be the cooperative mode. Whether playing through the existing missions as is, or - by unlocking the maps as you go - adjusting them through the mission builder to include as many suspects and civilians as you see fit, SWAT'S tactical leanings lend themselves more readily to co-op gaming than most shooters. Providing you can find friends who're willing to take your orders to Breach. Bang and Clear" seriously when uttered in your distinctly unauthoritative tones.
Those commands are much improved on SWAEs last outing. The context-sensitive menus are simple to negotiate and provide just about every tactical option you can ask for. Splitting your team into two elements proves particularly effective in larger situations, and the helmet camera views are greatly enhanced since SIVAT 3, giving limited real-time control over your squad-mates.
In addition, the much vaunted sniper mode offers yet more control over your environment, showing bad guy movement in remote areas of the map and letting you pick off potential troublemakers before they know you're on the scene.
All of this can be handled manually or by putting yourself in the hands of the game's Al, which might be a trepidatious prospect were it not for the fact that by and large, your team seems to be well trained for the job. Orders are carried out with the minimum of fuss and, usually, the maximum of efficiency. Things only seem to go wrong when you personally have failed to plan things out thoroughly enough. Or, in my case, when my badly-aimed gas grenades bounce off the door frame and land in the middle of my team, causing us all to have the kind of coughing fit, usually seen by asthmatics at a cat fur factory.
More than just a novelty for uniform fetishists then? Potentially, yes. Especially in multiplayer. When Splinter Cell tried to shake up the way we fight each other last year, it was a noble effort that failed to take off (imagine Paula Radcliffe trying out pole vaulting and you get the idea). Simply catering for more than four players helps - co-op enables five of you pretend to be American, while the other modes cater for 16 players. However, the balance between stealth and action is where the real magic will happen, by recreating as much of the single-player game's tension and atmosphere as possible while providing traditional multiplayer combat thrills.
And that single-player game? If the physics engine can get a bit of a tweak here and there to provide a greater feeling of realism (the game's raison d'etre after all), it should have the tactical shooter genre sewn up. Or clapped in irons. Or some other policebased pun.
Jiggers, It's The Fuzz
How Times Change In The Wacky World Of Law Enforcement
It's an oft-overlooked trivia titbit that the SWAT series evolved out of a long-forgotten text-input adventure series. Police Quest: In Pursuit Of The Death Angel was just one of Sierra's long-running Quest range of adventure titles back in the '80s, and tried to present as accurate a picture of real-life policing as it could with 16-colour graphics and mono-speaker sound. At least it did until Police Quests The Vengeance, when the developer decided to go all Miami Vice and roped in a Hollywood-style narrative about a serial-killer and tacked a simplistic love story on the end.
Police Quest 3: The Kindred continued the cod-Hollywood dramatics, while the fourth (Darryl F Gates' Police Quest: Open Season) was a bizarre affair experimenting with photo-realistic graphics.
The SWAT series started with Police Quest 5 (aka Darryl F Gates' Police Quest: SWAT), but was more of a reaction-guessing game, like taking a driving theory test about shooting people. At which point the adventure game genre died, so Police Quest: SWAT 2 took the unusual step of becoming an isometric Commandos-style strategy game. Sanity prevailed by the time we came to SWAT 3: Close Quarters Battle and the seeds of SWAT4's FPS-antics were planted.
"ARREST HIM, WILL!"
"He won't stay still!"
"Where's he gone?"
"GET DOWN! GET DOWN ON THE GROUND!"
"Jamie, he keeps running off!"
"Why are you arresting me? They're over there!"
"PUT YOUR HANDS IN THE AIR AND DON'T MOVE!" "Stop him!" "Help... Help..." "Hold on..." The electrostatic crackle of a tazer shot fills the air. "Right, he's down. Cuff him."
Not strictly in keeping with proper police procedure perhaps, but a panicky civilian is more trouble than he's worth and at least it got the job done. Yes, this month we've been mostly playing the co-operative multiplayer mode in Irrational Games' simulation of being a gun-toting rozzer, SWAT 4.
Last month we were offered a hands-on session with the single-player game, with all the pepper balling, flashbanging and optiwanding that entailed. This month, we took delivery of a more advanced version of the game, one that didn't have all the multiplayer modes greyed out and resolutely non-selectable. Our lunchtimes have never been the same since. Is the sun still yellow?
It's not just the random abuse of civilians that marks out the multiplayer game of SWAT 4 as a potential work of comedy genius. Asthma fans are well catered for, with a wide variety of smoke grenades and pepper spray dispensers that, in the wrong hands (Sefton's), can result in fun-filled minutes spent coughing your lungs up after a badly thrown projectile.
Then there's the near irresistible urge that fills any true gamer of salt when confronted with the rear end of your team-mate while you hold your tazer secondary weapon. Will spent about three whole minutes convulsing on the floor following that one. Although on the plus side, his quivering body served as a half-decent human shield to hide behind.
On The Floor!
Truly, most FPS merchants have missed a trick with their interminable sorties into alien deathmatch landscapes, evil terrorist lairs or WWII battlegrounds. For sheer entertainment value, nothing can top three of your mates storming into some Kwik-E-Mart style convenience store and shouting at petrified old women to hit the dirt lest you put the business end of your pump-action shotgun up their backside. Who says games don't let you live out your fantasies?
Of course, the life of a modern tactical response police officer isn't all laughs. SWAT 4 does a bang-up of job of recreating the tension involved in storming a jewellery store filled with masked banditos. Hidden triggers set off thumpity-thump mood music that raises the hairs on your neck, and accidental discharge behind your team-mates after you've just spent minutes creeping silently along a dark corridor can almost cause the older members of your gaming units to have coronaries (as we learnt from bitter experience - my fault this time).
All of which highlights the importance of good communication. Integral to a good co-op game of SWAT 4 is being able to tell your buddies exactly what sort of height they should jump to when you tell them. The context-sensitive command menu from the single-player game is present and correct, but the need for a more coherent chain of command is still an issue that needs to be worked on prior to release. At present, everyone is free to issue commands left, right and centre, which more often than not just results in your hapless Optiwand operator (the sneaky under-door/round-corner camera device) running back and forth in a miasma of confusion.
That's the co-op game anyway. The rest of the multiplayer smorgasbord consists of competitive team action in the shape of VIP escorting, rapid deployment bomb defusals and standard cops vs robbers deathmatch-style shootouts. Even here though, SWAT 4 is a little different, with more points being offered to players who arrest their opponents than those who dispense justice through the medium of flying pellets of death.
We covered the VIP game last issue, although it's worth quickly reminding ourselves of the bizarre feeling that comes from being forced around a gaming environment on your knees, shackled like a German sex tourist. It's not much fun for the hapless VIP either. Ho ho.
The Rapid Deployment mode is a simple variation on the point capture gameplay variant seen in many a teambased online shooter. Three to five suitcase 'dirty' bombs are randomly scattered about the map of choice, slowly ticking down to detonation. SWAT have to find and defuse the buggers, Suspects (the bad-guy teams) have to keep them ticking away, strangely giving you the chance to experience life through the eyes of a suicide bomber. Blimus!
SWAT 4 code is this close to being finished. What's left to come are one or two cosmetic tweaks and a tightening of the graphics engine (several texture rips are still visible, eliminating the tension of whether anyone is standing behind the door you're about to blow open - a legitimate take-down tactic as it happens).
The Al also needs a bit of a polish. Take the panicky citizen at the start, for instance. Was his refusal to stand still and be taken to safety until fried with voltage an accurate simulation of terror or just a fault? It's unclear, but come the finished product we'll at least have the evidence to see how hard the bug testers are working. Ha ha! Evidence. Do you see?
How Your Friends See You
One of the more interesting features of the single-player game is the helmet-cam viewpoint that means you can see things from your team-mates' perspectives (and even control their actions to a small extent). The same device is present in multiplayer, minus the control options, in theory meaning you can coordinate your entry actions with your buddies on the other side of the room, but in reality simply providing an oddly existential method of seeing yourself being tazered in the backside by your so-called best friend. Which is nice.
I Guess we've all had our run-ins with the law - I certainly remember my own harrowing brush with the constabulary. I was on a primary school assignment to raise awareness of the police force in my area. We had to find a local bobby, as we called them, and get them to answer the questions on our worksheet. My first question was. what shift do you work"? They gave their answer, "late turn and to my eternal horror I marked it down as lake turn, thinking it was some sort of area-based reply. Naturally, the officer checked over my answers at the end of the inquisition and tut-tutted as he corrected my horrible, horrible faux pas. I left shame-faced and vowing never, ever to stray from the path of justice and righteousness again. I can't pass a prison to this day without thinking: There but for the grace of god go I...
So naturally, any computer game simulation in which I get to make amends for my early life of criminality, however virtually, is to be embraced to my bosom. SWAT 4 not only lets me arrest criminals, but gives me the option of squirting condiments into their face beforehand. Let joy be unconfined!
OK. it's a touch more complex than that. Regular readers will of course need no introduction, having been treated to not one but two of my previous essays on the subject over the past two issues. But in case you've been in jail for the past three months (perhaps on a drink-driving charge, or disturbing the peace somehow). I'll quickly recap...
Criminals do something bad. Special armed response police turn up. They do a bit of sneaking about, looking behind doors and that. Then they take a deep breath and... BANG! GO, GO, GO! GET DOWN! DROP THAT GUN! SHOOT HIM! AARGH! CHUCK A GRENADE! YOU'RE UNDER ARREST!" Which pretty much sums it up I guess.
The idea is to follow proper SWAT procedures to the letter. You're faced with a series of increasingly tricky criminal situations to defuse - from nightclub riots to an armed robbery in a hi-tech jewellery store to anti-abortion fanatics bombing a research facility -and each time you have to lead a five-man team into action. Where it gets good (from my perspective at least) is with the ability to issue tactical commands on-the-fly. Stack up on that door. Toss a flashbang in and clear the room. Arrest that man. Take a position on that side of the corridor. Red team cover me, Blue team assault.
That sort of thing. It's all handled via an extremely comprehensive context-sensitive menu that, basically, works a treat. Right-click the mouse to bring it up, make your choice and watch as your well-drilled team of Al police bots carries out your every lawdispensing desire.
What really makes the game open up is the amount of freedom you have to work your way through each of the levels and deal with the perps therein. Lethal ammo, non-lethal ammo, camera gadgets, door-breaching explosives, pepper spray, gas grenades, Taser stun guns - you have enough equipment to make 007's garden shed look like an old man's allotment hut, all of which have individual usefulness rather than all being mere varieties of the same thing.
I Say, Good Show
On to the Al, which is essentially the crux of the whole game and so warrants mention early on. In short, it's blisteringly good. So good sometimes that you barely have to do anything other than issue an order and let them get on with it. But where's the fun in that?
Of course, this wouldn't mean a thing if the enemy Al wasn't up to scratch, but incredibly this is just as convincing. Perhaps not STALKER convincing, but certainly good enough to react to your team of shouting policemen by either bottling it and surrendering, running away very fast in a mad panic or taking cover in an intelligent place and opening fire.
What also helps the game is that each time you play, SWAT 4 sneakily randomises the level elements, so that bad guys, hostages, civilians and so on are never quite in the same place each time. What this means of course is that you can never simply learn a level by trial and error, but actually have to rely on your wits to make progress. This is not only desirable in and of itself, but gives the single-player game a good degree of replayability.
Which brings us neatly, I suppose, to the multiplayer game. Normally we'd shove in a caveat here about there not being any servers up at the time of review so we'll bring you a more in-depth look in a future Online Zone. However, since we've been playing both the co-op and VIP modes pretty extensively in the office since the review code turned up (and since there's only so many jokes about fly swatters to go around), it would be pretty remiss to ignore it.
Last month's preview detailed the modes available, especially the co-op game in which you can team up with up to four of your nearest and dearest to play through the single-player campaign. The only bugbear we had then was the issue of maintaining an acceptable chain of command, and unfortunately Irrational hasn't even attempted to resolve this.
Players are all still free to issue orders left, right and centre with gay abandon, meaning that unless you decide in advance who's the man and who are the man's little helpers, you're probably in for something of an uncoordinated time of it. Especially playing on the Internet where attention spans are so small you need atomic microscopes just to measure their ballpark figures and it only takes one whiny little Herbert to decide to take the law into his own hands and storm off all guns blazing.
Of course, if you do find yourself in a well-structured team willing to play sensibly, then co-op SWAT 4 is one of the all-time highs in multiplayer gaming. Yes, it's that good. The sense of achievement that comes from conducting a well-oiled multi-team room takedown is second to none, although the game is crying out for some kind of integrated voice comms to properly coordinate things. Third-party programs such as TeamSpeak only work if you already know the players you're dispensing justice with and is therefore next to useless for random Net games.
Stick 'Em Up
Away from co-op. there's still plenty of fun to be had. The aforementioned VIP game has enough novelty to make it interesting. Rather than a simple challenge to get from point A to point B, the Suspects (SWAT-speak for bad guys) have to capture and hold the VIP player for a full two minutes before being allowed to kill him. In the right hands (as is so often the case with Internet gaming) it can make for some pretty cool gunfights. Suspects charge about setting up impromptu defensive barriers around the capture point, SWAT members try to storm in from any and every direction, gas grenades and flashbangs fill the air and in the middle of it all the VIP player mills around making life difficult for everyone.
Will it replace Counter-Strike: Source as the online team game of choice? Of course it won't. Nothing will in the near future and it's an act of purest optimism to have posed the thought in the first place. But much as Splinter Cell's unique spin on multiplayer gaming has captured a small but loyal audience, so too should SWAT 4's interesting diversion from the standard deathmatch scenarios. Multiplayer gaming appears to be growing up at last, stretching its toes a little and seeing what it can do. Hooray for that.
On A Mission
Beyond multiplayer, longevity can also be found in the SWAT4 mission editors. First is the ingame editor, which is little more than a tool for altering the parameters of the single-player campaign missions. Fill a previously deserted level with terrorists, reduce a teeming nest of bad guys to a single mano-a-mano pistol hunt - it's fairly comprehensive but of little longterm interest. The idea is to create scenarios to swap with your friends, but it's a safe bet that your friends will soon tire of playing the same level time and again but with a different combination of bad guys to shoot for no discernable reward.
What's of more interest is the full SWAT 4 editing tool (essentially a modified version of the UnrealEd tool). Although hideously complex to look at -and even scarier to actually try and use - the inclusion of the tool for those with a masters degree in working out the blisteringly unfathomable goes to show that Irrational is foursquare behind supporting the modding community. With any luck, it won't take long until we start to see a wealth of extra maps and missions, in much the same way we did with SWAT3 all those years back.
Bobbies On The Beat
One other thing that you may remember from the SWAT 3 special editions was that the multiplayer side of the game was only added later on due to overwhelming pressure from fans. Aside from creating maps, one thing the small but loyal SWAT community might want to campaign for this time round is an enhancement in the physics engine being used.
Perhaps the only major fly in the ointment for SWAT 4 (Fly? SWAT? Told you those jokes were limited) is the rather static nature of the game world. In this modern age of Half-Life 2 and Havok physics and all that, SWAT 4 can feel rather old-school - no doubt a hangover from the protracted development period. Aside from doors, certain windows and the occasional beer bottle, not very much in the world of SWAT4's urban rescues is interactive. It doesn't detract too much from the overall enjoyment of the game, but it will serve to date things very quickly. You can't help but wonder at just how much more compelling a lot of the gunplay would have been had chairs and tables been usable as impromptu cover and so on.
As it is, SWAT 4 is definitely from the previous generation of FPS engines and while still perfectly playable, the likes of Half-Life 2, F.E.A.R., Brothers In Arms, even Doom 3 are all showing what can be done when you push the technical side of the genre to new limits. Consequently, you can come away from SWAT 4 thinking it's a little short in the technical trousers.
Lock 'Em Up
Mind you, Irrational has certainly done its best to make the most of things, and the mission design generally achieves an impressive sense of atmosphere and tension. Certain levels, such as the Fairfax Residence, in which a psycho loner has taken to kidnapping young girls and forcing them to perform' for his cameras, are particularly unsettling. This is especially true as you creep past ghostly face masks, with a whimpering girl lying on a rancid mattress in front of a video camera and walls full of newspaper clippings about kidnapped children. Even more creepy since you've already had to subdue his ageing mother who continually protests the innocence of her little boy. Sometimes it's all a little too close to home, especially with news reports about paedophiles cropping up almost every day on TV nowadays. Even your Al mates can be heard muttering things like Sick and Man, this is disgusting as you proceed through the level.
In some ways it's brave of Irrational and VU to include something like this rather than sticking with safe' subjects such as robbers, terror bombers and cultists. The fact that it's handled with the appropriate gravitas and not trivialised in the slightest almost demands that everyone should play it, and certainly puts the unintentional comedy in using non-lethal devices on civilians into sharp relief.
Sorry, this has all got rather serious and weighty hasn't it? (Try another fly swatter joke - Ed.) No time. Instead I should probably just sum things up by saying that Irrational has done an absolutely bang-up job in saving the SWAT series from what was looking like certain death its prior Urban Justice incarnation. All it needs now is a more advanced engine to power a sequel, a more involving sense of training and life in a pair of SWAT shoes. That, and a willingness to continue dealing with the dark underbelly of real world criminality without pulling any punches.
Experience Is One Thing, But Some Proper Training Might Help
One area of SWAT 4 that Irrational could really have gone to town on is the training aspect of the game. I know from experience (I watched a documentary on Discovery) that when a SWAT team isn't in the field shootin' bad guys, they spend their time brushing up their tactics and training with cool weapons and gadgets. The in-game training, however, is bog-standard stuff - no more than an interactive version of the manual. You learn how to move. How to look up with the mouse. How to open a door.
What it doesn't even touch on are the relative merits of using a Colt M4A1 assault rifle in a situation over a GB36s. Or when you should use a gas grenade over a flashbang. Or anything useful that a SWAT officer might actually want to know.
What Irrational should have done is properly simulate the life of a SWAT team - mixing ongoing training sessions that fl teach you new techniques with actual emergency call-outs. Creating some sense of cohesion rather than just giving you a series of unconnected missions with little sense of progression.
Two And a half years ago at E3, we sat through a demonstration of the Sierra-developed strategic shooter SWAT 4: Urban Justice. To say that we were underwhelmed would be putting it mildly. The game was, quite frankly, a disgrace, with appalling Al. Exactly why it was shown is anyone's guess.
But fear not - much has changed since then. In fact, everything has changed since then. The SWAT 4 that now stares back at you from these pages with come-and-get-me eyes is a totally different game, developed by a totally different team (the one responsible for the excellent Tribes: Vengeance). It also features a totally different engine. The Unreal engine and the Havok physics library to be precise. Bit tasty isn't it?
So we caught up with Paul Pawlicki, SWAT4's associate producer at Vivendi Universal Games and slammed his fingers in a draw until he divulged the latest info on what's already threatening to be one of 2005's big hitters...
SWAT 4 places you firmly into the Special Weapons And Tactics team tasked with undertaking dangerous urban missions.
SWAT 4 brings the law enforcement experience to the strategic shooter genre," explains Paul. You experience what it's like to be a part of the revered law enforcement unit, and learn how to lead a team of highly trained officers and quickly execute a plan through our context-sensitive interface. You're also challenged with gameplay situations unique to law enforcement such as barricaded suspects, serving warrants on hostile suspects and hostage rescues."
The Real Deal
In order to ensure the game's authenticity. Irrational has hired Ken Thatcher, a 25-year SWAT team veteran, who's been overseeing every part of the game's development. "It was important to the team to create an experience that was visually authentic, and punctuate that with tactical gameplay based on real-world SWAT tactics," says Paul.
Ken's overseen everything, from animation to how the Al should behave in a hostile situation. You see your Al-controlled team-mates breach doors, clear rooms and snap to corners in the same manner as their real-life counterparts.
Combat with suspects is very strategic too - you have to seek cover and stay calm under fire. You won't be able to run into a room with guns blazing as you risk not only your own life, but the lives of your squadmates too." Making sure your team members don't die prematurely by blindly rushing into dangerous areas will hopefully be made all the easier by the game's context-sensitive and - according to Paul - intuitive command interface.
"Irrational Games has done a great job creating an easy-to-use interface. I swear to you that it takes more time to describe than it does to learn - it's that easy," he claims. "Default commands are dynamic and change on-the-fly based on the location of the crosshair. The game actually predicts what you want to do. So, if you're pointing at a door, your default command states Open and Clear'. Simply press the spacebar to give your team the order and watch them open the door and clear the room. Sounds good so far...
If you want to do something other than the default command, then just right-click the mouse and a list of available commands pops up, such as breaching or wedging doors, looking around corners with mirrors, securing suspects or clearing rooms using flashbangs or CS gas. Just click the one you want and watch your team respond."
If what Paul says proves to be true, then SWAT 4 might just prove to be the game that blows this often inaccessible genre wide open for the masses to enjoy.
According to Paul, Irrational has been working feverishly on SWAT 4's Al in order to ensure that you don't get a repeat of the E3 debacle back in 2002. The Al can choose to fight, run for cover or give up when you shout at them to comply, boasts Paul. In some cases, if the Al's morale is high, they won't give up. It's then up to you to apply a little pressure to convince them to comply. To do this, you can use anything from pepper spray and Tasers to deadly force - or just shoot them in the leg."
And how about your squad-mates, what can you expect to see from them? "They behave using real SWAT tactics," comes Paul's confident reply. "They stack up on a door, check it, breach it, enter the room and clear it - all the while covering each other and behaving like real SWAT members. Of course, all of this so-called innovative Al would be wasted if enemies were always found in the same places, a shortfall that Irrational is very keen to avoid. "One of the best features in SWAT situation, you won't know who's behind the door even if you've played the mission before.
Paul also informed us that thanks to a Quick Mission Maker, you'll be able to create your own scenarios and levels, where you can customise every tiny detail, down to the morale of each enemy.
Now There's An Idea
SWAT 4 is also promising some truly original ideas. The first of these is the Helmet Camera Window, which enables you to split your team up and see what the other group is doing in a mini-window. Not only will this help you keep track of where your other team members are, but it'll also allow you to issue on-the-fly commands to far-off squad members.
Another imaginative feature is the •Friendly Sniper'. Snipers are placed in strategic locations outside of your objective, explains Paul. "They report to you when they see suspects or hostages. At that point, you take control of the sniper through a window on your HUD sniper through a window on your HUD and take the shot." It's a simple yet powerful addition, and it's amazing that no-one's thought of it before.
As you can see, SWAT 4 is now looking more 'shit hot' than a turd on a stick' thanks to Irrational. If it manages to deliver on its potential, SWAT 4 could be the game that propels the tactical shooter genre into the mainstream, while still managing to retain all of the hardcore strategic elements that made the SWAT series so great in the first place. Look out for our exclusive hands-on next month.
Packing A Punch
More Weapons Than You Can Shake A Taser At
What tactical shooter would be complete without a terrifying collection of weaponry? Not SWAT4, that's for sure. With each team member's arsenal fully configurable before the start of each mission, you'll be able to make the most of hardware like M4A1 rifles, silenced sub-machine guns, Colt 9mm pistols and Benelli shotguns.
There's also set to be plenty of protective equipment to shield your balls with, such as light and heavy armour, gas masks and goggles. Plus, if you're the more forgiving sort, you can kit up with non-lethal weapons such as Tasers and Pepper Ball guns. There's something for everyone here.
Multiplying The Fun
Join Swat 4's Online Police Force
SWAT 4 is being designed with multiplayer very much in mind - Irrational is currently working on three different multiplayer modes. The first of these is Team Deathmatch which pits SWAT against Suspects. You can earn more points by arresting the Suspects than shooting them dead. The Suspects are also equipped with Zip Cuffs and will be able to restrain the SWAT officers, promises Paul.
Next up is Rapid Deployment This is a game mode in which SWAT is tasked with finding and defusing bombs. The bombs are randomly placed within the levels and SWAT has to locate and defuse them. The Suspects must prevent SWAT from doing so. Oh, and did I mention there are suicide bombers?" Sounds terrifying.
Finally, the game is set to include a VIP mode in which SWAT escort a VIP to an extraction point, while the Suspects do their best to take out the VIP before they reach safety. If this kind of multiplayer isn't your bag though, don't worry - you and your mates can just play through the single-player campaign cooperatively. Sorted.
SWAT 4 is a tactical shooter developed by Irrational Games, and follows the missions of a group of SWAT officer in a fictional Eastern United States city. There are 15 missions to undertake, and each one presents a unique scenario to approach. Like a true SWAT officer, lethal force is frowned upon unless absolutely needed. For this reason, you'll employ a wide range of equipment and strategy to eliminate threats and defuse situations. Unlike other shooters, SWAT 4 prioritizes realism and consequence. Because of this, it's an intense and tactical shooter, where your every action is important.
The beginning of the game sees your character at a training facility, led by your commanding officer. Here, you'll quickly pick up the necessary skills to complete your missions. Instead of blasting assault rifles and chucking grenades, SWAT 4 encourages players to think smartly and use their entire arsenal. From flash and concussion grenades to riot shields and rubber bullets, there is a wide array of weaponry and gadgets you'll use. In order to properly proceed, you'll need to breach rooms, secure potential threats, and watch out for unknown threats. After the training facility, you'll embark on a number of missions that see you defusing hostage situations, taking down dangerous criminals, and generally saving the day.
The criminals you'll take on in SWAT 4 are a varied breed; ranging from dumb, trigger-happy drug dealers to smart planning kingpins. In order to complete your objectives with minimal bloodshed, you'll need to properly order your five-man squad around, properly identify targets, and check exits. Each level is a highly detailed scenario, and whether you're investigating a kidnapping at a residence or taking on a gunfight in a night club, you'll have to have your wits. There's a big focus on tactics and strategy, and unless you plan out your assault, you'll likely fail. SWAT 4 is designed for a more hardcore player; one who will think of multiple strategies and lay out a game plan before going in.
Besides the 15 main missions in the single player mode, there are a variety of multiplayer modes to enjoy as well. You're free to join private and public servers, where players can pick between a handful of multiplayer modes. There's “Barricaded Suspects”, which acts like a sort of team deathmatch. “VIP Escort” picks one member of the team to defend, while the opposing team attempts to kidnap and execute him. Finally, you can enjoy some intense bomb defusing in “Rapid Deployment”. In addition to these three multiplayer modes, you can also take on the single player missions with a full squad of friends in Co-op mode. Generally speaking, there's a wide variety of both competitive and cooperative content that boosts replayability and keeps you invested.
Overall, SWAT 4 is a brilliant shooter that focuses on smart strategy, cohesive planning, and deft execution. You won't succeed by running and gunning, instead you'll have to choose your shots and make them count. Although it's similar to games like Counter-Strike and Rainbow Six in style, the various scenarios and police role playing gives it an interesting edge. Whether solo or with friends, SWAT 4 offers some excellent content and satisfying missions to enjoy. It's a tough game for sure, and one that demands near perfection. However, it's one of the most rewarding games to complete, as only the most patient and disciplined will come out on top.