Irrational has had a tough time lately with Tribes and SWAT being laid on to them to bring back the fans to the series. With Tribes they moderately succeeded, but the most important in our opinion was always going to be SWAT. They were tasked with keeping the existing fanbase i.e. those who want the ultimate in realism, while bring in new players with an easier to play and understand game. Last week we interviewed the guys about the game and what they have done, this week we actually get our mitts on the single player version of the game and came away not only impressed but stunned as to how well Irrational has kept the hardcore gameplay while making it easier to play.
The big issue some people are going to have with this game is a lack of on-going storyline. If this is stopping you wanting the game, forget it. Irrational have worked with SWAT and produced some of the finest missions you will see in a game of its type. The big thing here is REALISM. This is not a game where SWAT is called upon once a year and trains the rest of the time, this is a game which replicates exactly what SWAT goes through week in week out. The storyline is not entirely left out. Each mission briefing is highly detailed, so much so that some missions have the 911 call made to get SWAT there in the first place. This is also not pointless because the 911 call can give you hints as to where to go in the level.
As expected the game is played from a first person format and is very much like Rainbow Six, but with a lot more depth. The game is context sensitive in that wherever you put your mouse, determines which commands you can give to your team mates and this is also affected by how healthy your team mates are. You can't flashbang a room, if the rest of them are laying incapacitated. The game is extremely balanced; you begin to lose guys and it will make the game about one hundred times harder for yourself and in some cases, mission over. You can control your team mates somewhat by choosing their loadout but they really can look after themselves.
The AI of the team mates is impressive in the build as well. If you give them a command and they sense danger, they will turn around and take the threat out before continuing. SWAT 4 is not the babysitters club and this is a huge positive to the game. In a nod to Rainbow you can also divide the teams into elements, red and blue to move into rooms from two sides. You can view the team's location by cameras in their helmet which is updated in real time, and you can also get updates and give commands to a number of snipers positioned. It really does offer the most fully fledged SWAT experience thus far. Via the mouse you can command them to charge into rooms, throw gas, look under doors, set charges etc. The process is right click on object, select from list and watch. Irrational has also included the SWAT 3 HUD for those who wish to use commands that SWAT teams use such as 343 etc.
The game is not easy and there is a heavy focus on police combat. Four difficulty levels are on offer and each one has a different level of points required to continue. The points are given for acting properly as an officer such as yelling 'PUT THE GUN DOWN' before firing via the F key, reporting hostages and criminals and generally not going gun ho around the level. There is a level where 0 points is required but this is not the way to play the game, the most intriguing battles come when you know you're under police rules and you have to use tactics to ambush enemies rather then gun them down.
We've played through about three quarters of the game so far and had combat in many different buildings. Petrol stations, corporate buildings, night clubs - it's all here and offers completely different problems for the SWAT team. You will run into hostages that won't co-operate (until a nice bit of gas), enemies that scarper when you appear and try to ambush you, not to mention you're generally outnumbered each mission. You have to continuously be aware of your surroundings because the AI enemies are. In the game if you're up high, and an enemy is below, they will see you and shoot.
SWAT 4 single player is shaping up really well. In our next preview look for Multiplayer, and yes it has changed since the beta!
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