It’s Sunday, folks. Retroplayer here.
Have a game in mind you think I should review? Retro or modern, I’m open to just about anything. Feel free to mention it in the comments. Now, onto this weeks review…
Before Irrational Games brought us Bioshock, they made what I believe is possibly the best tactical shooter ever made. SWAT 4 is a wonderful, nuanced, and pulse racing recreation of the missions an elite SWAT team undertake. It’s unforgiving, extremely challenging, yet one of the best games I’ve played in quite awhile. Let’s do this.
Developed by Irrational Games and published Vivendi Universal Games in 2005, SWAT 4 puts the player in command of a five man SWAT team, as it tries to accurately depict a realistic SWAT team experience. Over the course of 13 unique missions, SWAT 4 is an impressive FPS that manages to create an experience that is incredibly exhilarating.
The main hook of SWAT 4 is realism. If you’re looking for a quick, casual FPS experience here, you best go elsewhere. If you go running through levels in SWAT 4, not only will your erratic body motion completely ruin your accuracy, but you’ll often find instant death. This is a game where every bullet counts, especially the bullets of your enemies. Blindly walking into rooms might lead to a single gunshot to the back of the head, while making too much noise will spook the enemies throughout the level; if one enemy sees you, they will often try and spread the word. Furthermore, not utilizing your team correctly will often cripple a mission. Each team member is there for a reason, so leaving them behind and going solo is never a proper option.
By holding down the right mouse button, a simple, yet effective menu will open that is used to control your team on the go. For instance, you can tell them to cover or follow you, while aiming at certain objects and people open up new options. When pointing your reticule at a door you can choose for your team to open and advance into the room in a number of different ways. These range from blowing the door with C4 and chucking in a flash bang, to just running in with guns blazing. Also, by right clicking on hostages or captured enemies the player can instruct a team member to handcuff them. While the player can also perform all of these actions themselves if they wish, it keeps gameplay moving along smoothly if the team is used as effectively as possible.
Did you know?- There are various references to other games by Irrational Games throughout SWAT 4, including Freedom Force arcade machines and posters of Tribes: Vengeance.
The weapon choice in SWAT 4 is vast. You can choose between lethal and non-lethal weapons, and each one handles exceptionally well. The player will find that depending on the misson briefing that they will change their teams weapons accordingly. For instance, when going up against a bank robbery it’s best to bring the heaviest fire-power possible, while taking on a smaller scale hostage level might require you to pull back on the action a tad.
There’s plenty that can go wrong during any given mission in SWAT 4 if you don’t follow the basic parameters set before you. At the end of each level you are rated on different aspects of how well/bad you did- unauthorized use of force, player and team injuries, and taking enemies weapons as evidence, just to name a few. These parameters, and how well you adhere to them, determines your overall rating at the end of each mission. Depending on what difficulty level you choose, you will need to acquire a certain amount of points to progress on to the next mission. This leads to forcing the player to take missions as slowly as they do seriously. During levels the player must also only fire when provoked. Upon spotting an enemy the player must first call out “Get down!”, by pressing an assigned key. Only when the enemy points their gun and/or shoots at the player, can they be killed. Until then the player must really watch their trigger finger. Unauthorized kills can effectively knock off massive amounts of points at the end of a mission. While doing this for every foe may seem a little over the top, this strict formula of enemy approach the player must follow makes for an incredibly tense experience. There’s nothing quite as heart thumping as entering a room after a flash bang, only to literally get into a brief screaming match with the foes inside. Your entire team, including yourself, is screaming “Put down your weapons!” and “Get down!”. These moments are quite brief but either go one of two ways, which I’m sure you can imagine. These moments, much like any fire fight in SWAT 4, are hectic and the feeling of sheer confusion is layered so thick you could cut it with a knife. One stray bullet is all it takes. Considering you can’t save during a mission, that should put in perspective how much your entire teams life hangs in the balance.
Another aspect of SWAT 4 that keeps in line with realism is the fact that you need to call in every mission update. Enemy killed? You need to call it in to base. A hostage rescue and handcuffed? Same goes for that, as well as finding any evidence. This, along with the constant interactions with your team, makes SWAT 4 stand out against other tactical shooters.
One of SWAT 4′s strongest points is the absolutely impeccable level design. While levels aren’t necessarily small, they’re not particularly massive by any stretch of the imagination. Still, each level is perfectly designed, which each of their locations being quite interesting. From raiding a simple Chinese restaurant, an ongoing bank robbery by enemies clad in kelvar, and even to a convinced murders suburban hellish hide-out, SWAT 4 reminds me of Hitman: Contracts when it comes to impressive, ballsy, standalone levels. Each one has its own flavour, tone, and feel. There’s also great re-playabilty for each mission due to the fact that upon starting a level the enemy and hostage layouts are randomly generated. In fact, I never re-played a level that felt too similar. Each time I played them they felt new and exciting. Visually, SWAT 4 also shines. Levels and characters are nicely rendered, while the colour scheme and textures used throughout change and are different from level to level. Rats scurry along trash cans, SWAT helicopters can be heard in the distant, light rays stream through windows, and your team, when not in danger, share some enjoyable banter. Whether it’s in the overall presentation or in its small details, SWAT 4 looks, plays, and sounds show stopping.
If you’re looking for a FPS akin to Modern Warfare 3 or Battlefield 3, stay well away. This isn’t the game you’re looking for. However, if you’re looking for an intense tactical shooter that demands patience, time, and a steady nerve, be sure to check out SWAT 4. It’s one of those games that is literally moments away from perfection. Play it.