US Special Forces: Team Factor
"Kalishnikov? $3,000 for you. No problem." It’s not what you usually hear after jumping in a cab on your way to a software house, but in Prague they like their guns. In fact, you could say it’s the perfect city to develop a shooting game - which is why we're here. Team Factor, a FPS by first time Czech developer 7fx, has the unenviable position of finding itself up against Counter-Strike - a bit like taking on Lennox Lewis in your first professional boxing match.
Still, project supervisor Pavel Sinagl is unfazed and even dismissive of suggestions that challenging the one time PC ZONE office favourite is the intention: "Team Factor is far more tactical. It may be comparable with Counter-Strike in arcade mode, but in realistic mode it’s not quite the same game. It’s actually offering something quite different."
It's a sensible approach from Mr Sinagl. There's no point in deliberately stepping out in front of a juggernaut like Counter-Strike. By deftly stepping aside you can at least shoot out a few tyres and see what happens from there.
7fx has also had the sense to take its time over its first stab at gaming glory. Development began in September 1999; almost ten years to the day after Communism fell in former Czechoslovakia. The programmers believed there were a lot of things missing from FPSs and set about coding their own game from the engine upwards. The afternoon we spent munching curious sandwiches and playing the latest alpha code showed that the Czech spirit of innovation is indeed flying.
TF is trying out a lot of new ideas. A huge part of your success relies upon increasing skills like marksmanship, breath control, stamina, strength, stealth and surveillance to improve your character, which can be either scout, sniper, specialist or soldier. Snipers for example will put everything into their marksmanship or breath control skill. Scouts will probably concentrate on stealth. It’s basically up to the player to choose how they want to fine-tune their particular character with the skill points awarded to them.
29 Bots To Go
TF also allows three teams containing a maximum of ten players per side to play against each other. Interestingly TFs single-player game is virtually identical to multiplayer. The only difference is that instead of having human players, you have bots in their place. Theoretically, a single-player game can contain 29 bots and one human.
But do the bots do the job they’re supposed to? Well, from our experience they still need some work but are heading in the right direction. "You can tweak the skill levels of the bots to suit the player, but bots will always be "dumb" explains Pavel. "They might have a superior accuracy setting, meaning they can easily shoot you. But, lets face it, when it comes to real intelligence a human can always outsmart them. But they do learn."
Learning is not just a case of turning the skill level up over time either. These artificial warriors will analyse their surroundings Terminator style. Our Czech guide once again provides the detail: "It's quite complex to explain, but players (computer controlled or human) leave invisible traces of information behind them. The bots read this and depending on their intelligence setting will decode and react accordingly. For example, if a bot is set in aggressive mode and hears somebody coming around a corner it might just run in and shoot regardless. If it’s not in aggressive mode it might run away and hide itself ready for an ambush."
We wait with interest to see how this works in the final version, of course.
Like Counter-Strike the playing environment is a mixture of indoor and outdoor locations. The Turkish baths level for example has some opulent interior design along with some sun-baked exterior locations. One of the jungle missions also hides some underground caves. There are 14 maps in total, which may not seem like many, but at 500mx500m each they are massive. 7fx also assures us that a mod featuring rain and snow plus at least three more maps will be released fairly soon after the game comes out.
The actual mission objectives are straightforward and generally revolve around the fate of some hapless VIP. Typically you’ll have one team trying to protect the VIP, another trying to kidnap him and the third trying to kill him. The emphasis is totally on team play and 'fairplay'. Players are discouraged from repeatedly shooting rookies because they won’t be rewarded with as many skill points. In fact, if you keep killing inexperienced players your own skills eventually deteriorate.
Tick Tock, Tick Tock
TF has the potential to challenge the multiplayer big guns, but with an April release looming there’s still a lot to do. At the time of writing only one third of the 43 weapons have been implemented and the sound is a bit sparse. Character animation is also something that’s yet to be finished, and in the absence of motion-capture technology that could take some time.
But hey, what’s the worst that could happen? Even releasing an unfinished game wouldn’t be the end of the world. It certainly didn't harm Hidden & Dangerous. Never underestimate the power of Czech development -because they will surprise you.
Download US Special Forces: Team Factor
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP
It’s no use pretending. No matter how much developers - of Global Ops as much as of this - keep telling us that they’re not trying to take the Counter-Strike crown, that they’re in fact doing something very different, much more tactical and much more realistic, it’s against Counter-Strike that such games must be judged.
There’s no point arguing that a slower-type of gameplay, a few different options and a greater emphasis on strategy will make all the difference. It won't. Quake III deathmatch or Wolfenstein's multiplayer mode provide a very different experience for online gamers who don’t want to play CS. Games such as Global Ops or Team Factor all have CS-style maps, teams going after an objective, realistic modern weapons and a stealthy sort of gameplay. They’re not going to compete with Counter-Strike -the most popular online shooter by a vast margin - by doing things a little bit different. They need to do them a bit better too.
As you may have guessed, Team Factor falls way short of that target. The reason for Counter-Strike's incredibly enduring popularity is that anyone can play it. It feels realistic while actually being quite arcadey. You move at a reasonable speed, you can jump from crates to the roof of buildings and you generally hit where your crosshairs are aiming. What all the games that proudly claim more realism - and Team Factor is certainly one of them - really do is put you in control of a slow and awkward soldier who can’t jump much higher than a pavement and struggles to turn around. In CS the controls and movement might not be realistic, but they feel just right. You forget you’re using a keyboard and mouse and just play as if you were running with an AK-47 in your own hands.
In Team Factor you are always painfully aware of being stuck in a shabbily designed game. It simply doesn’t feel finished. Doing the simplest things becomes a hardship and hitting anything is a random and not entirely perceivable experience. That may be what war is like, but not what a game should be like. To see if you’ve killed somebody you need to hit the TAB key to check your score, partly because of the lack of feedback and partly because enemy soldiers just melt into the scenery.
This is made all the worse by the sound and feel of your weapons. They look the business and there’s certainly an excellent selection of them, but when you fire one you’re greeted by a pathetic pt-pt-pt-pt. Like a very small car trying to start on a cold morning. It’s not so much like firing a pellet gun as it is spitting chewed-up paper balls through an empty biro. What should be the horrifying sound of warfare, with shrapnel whistling through the air, loud explosions rocking the walls and gunfire ripping your eardrums, turns out to be more like an airfarting competition.
It wouldn’t be so bad if it all looked like an Unreal II rival, but instead Czech developer 7FX has spent almost two years producing a game that looks worse than CS, which is more than two years old. It’s like a stripped down version of the Operation Flashpoint engine (another Czech game and no looker itself). This doesn’t work too badly in the wilderness levels, even if it is something of a mess trying to sort out the scenery from anything else. But on the CS-type levels it’s a cardboard eyesore. Still, at least you can have a laugh watching other people run, their camp legs hopping about independently from the rest of their bodies.
You might be wondering then why it needs such a monster of a machine to run on (a P4 1,3GHz at least). This, we’re told, is because the Al is very power-hungry, so the more bots you have the higher the specs you need. So they must be good right? Wrong. Rushing around is about all they’re good for, rendering the single-player game as much of a waste of space as it was in Global Ops. This is strictly a maplearning mode. The bots are also supposed to fill up teams in online matches, which is rather pointless unless no one expects many people to be playing. What’s the point of going online if you’re fighting some dumb bots?
You Mean It’s Not Free?
Still, there are some options to mess around with. Arcade mode is supposed to be a CS sort of game while Realistic removes your crosshair, disables respawns, enables friendly fire and doesn’t show you who is friend or foe (as well as adding the RPG bits - see y the You Wanna Roleplay panel). Although this makes the game even harder, realism fanatics should enjoy playing this way. However, dying in realistic mode can happen within seconds of starting a level. Mostly thanks to a further novelty, which is that there are three teams competing for an objective instead of the usual two. This throws up some balance issues (the black team has the best weapons) and means rounds can be over without you even knowing what’s going on.
To actually ask for money for something so below the standard of dozens of free mods is plainly ludicrous. The game is in serious need of patching, and if any decent ones appear, we’ll let you know how the game fares in our Updates section. Until then, we’d advise taking a gander at our coverdiscs instead.
No Beards, But A Few Stamina Points...
If you play the game with no bots online on the realistic setting, the game introduces some intriguing RPG elements. Depending on how you perform you get to spend points on strength, stamina, stealth, awareness, marksmanship and breath control. The last has nothing to do with evading drink driving offences but means the weapon remains steady after the heavy breathing provoked by running. Since you choose a class at the beginning of the game, it makes sense to develop the skills relevant to that class (marksmanship for snipers, for instance). But the question is whether these RPG elements have any place in this type of game. After all, in CS it’s your own skill that counts, not some artificially imposed restrictions on your movements and accuracy. Still it’s a nice touch if that’s the sort of thing you’re after.