Ever wondered what it would be like to have a job where you’re considered the best of the police force, where you’re called upon to diffuse the high profile cases, stop terrorists, and generally save the city from destruction? That is the life of a SWAT team member.
How well does this exciting life translate into a PC game, and is it worth your gaming cash? Based on the fact that this is game number four in the series, as well as the details given in the rest of this review, let’s just say that the answer is a resounding yes.
The developers have done a fantastic job in the creation of the ‘levels’ you wander through in SWAT IV. From creaky old homes, to a nightclub, a bank complex, convenience store, and even an under-construction hotel, you’ll never encounter the sense of déjà vu that plagues some first person shooters. Most locations look well lived in, with trash thrown into corners, spider-webs dotting the walls, and the occasional box of doughnuts on the tables.
The same level of detail is given to your teammates, your opponents, and the weapons you wield. Your police force looks just like they would in real life – a light strip on your back pointing out that you’re an officer of the law, grenades hanging off of your belt, a spare weapon on your back/holster, and covered with body armor.
Your opponents are given the same level of detail as well. From the many hostages you need to rescue to the drug-dealing maniacs, your targets seem alive and ready to take action on a moment’s notice.
The animation looks and feels spot-on. Your teammates are always looking around and making sure they don’t get blindsided, while the terrorists wearily watch all available exits, as they know you’re coming. Hostages will duck and cover as you burst into rooms, and those that meet an unfortunate end via multiple exit wounds crumple realistically.
The best part is when you use your accessories to your advantage. You can equip yourself with a miniature camera (complete with flickering screen) that you can poke under doors and around corners, your flash grenades will outright blind and deafen you if you forget to stay away from the blast, and your gas grenades will fill any room with their choking chemicals.
Could this game look any better? If your flashlight/normal light sources would create shadows like in Half-Life 2 or Doom 3, it would be perfect. As it is, the bloom effects seen when you approach a source of bright light (any window leading outside when you’re in a dark room) are good enough, but I hope to see this in SWAT V.
For the most part, the developers should be commended for their work in the sound department of SWAT IV. Floorboards will squeak under your feet, hostiles will argue with their hostages, and your teammates will talk up a storm during some of the more ‘intense’ moments.
The environmental effects are fantastic. You’ll hear different footsteps based on what you’re walking on, TVs and other pieces of electronics will beep and hiss as you pass them by, and glass will shatter from your missed shots. Being able to hear footsteps is actually a useful ability, as anybody who runs (mainly your opponents) is quite audible with those with the proper sound setup.
The voice work of your opponents and their hostages is well done. Injured suspects will moan in pain, while captured ones will bemoan over their situation. You’ll also be able to hear suspects bark orders to their hostages, and groups of terrorists will chat among each other if you creep up to where they are.
The chatter between your teammates is both serious and funny, and in all times realistic. The times when you encounter the utterly unexpected your teammates will be as stunned as you are, and other times they’ll attempt to lighten the mood when you stumble upon a box of doughnuts or other fattening edibles. Beyond that, you and your home base will keep in constant contact as you clear rooms and report what you see.
There are a few nagging issues though in the sound department. For starters, weapons like the pepper-ball gun can send people to near death as they sometimes start coughing constantly for 30 seconds, drowning out any other sounds. There’s also simply not enough voice diversity in the game from the non-storyline hostages/terrorists, as you’ll start hearing the same voices over and over only a few missions in.
Generally, SWAT IV plays like your standard FPS – W, A, S, and D to move, Q and E to lean, and the number keys to select your weapons and accessories. By default, the middle mouse button and space bar orders your team to do the default action (arrest suspects, open doors, etc), on wherever you have your cursor aimed, and pushing the right mouse button brings down a contextual menu of things to do based on what you’re looking at.
The default controls work very well and are customizable to a point. Unfortunately the weapon/accessory buttons are hard-coded into the game engine, so if you’d rather have your opti-wand (the miniature camera) and your main weapon on the side mouse buttons (instead of 9 and 1 respectively), you’re completely out of luck.
What’s it like to be a SWAT team member? To put it bluntly, it’s a very dangerous job, where your life is on the line every second you’re on a mission. It’s also a very tense one, as you never know who’s around the next corner. Is it a civilian just trying to get out of your way? Or is it a terrorist with a gun and the willingness to use it against you?
That unknown factor is what makes this game so much fun.
Here’s a short take of one of the earlier missions as an example: Your SWAT team is asked to investigate a residence where there’s a definite possibility that a person or persons inside has been kidnapping females from a nearby college campus. They then turn up dead a few days later.
Even before you enter the residence, you have many options available to you. How do you want to enter the building? Should you go lethal or non-lethal in weaponry? Which type of grenades and body armor should you have? Breaching Shotgun or C2 Explosives to open those doors you don’t want to lockpick open?
From there, you stealthily enter the house. The place is a mess, with trash and other litter piled up in the main living room. As you continue your advance, you stumble upon the elderly mother of the suspect. Even though you have guns pointed her way, she refuses to surrender. so you’re offered many ways to bring her to her knees, depending on what your team has equipped (and this isn’t the full list, either): A mouthful of pepper spray, a blast from your tazer, or if you don’t mind a penalty to your overall score for excessive force, you cap her in the knee.
With her out of the way, you search the rest of the upper floors, but find nothing. You then progress downstairs and find a closed door. Not wanting to take any chances, you break out your opti-wand and peek underneath it. Your thoughtful move reveals a man with a gun not far from the entrance.
You back up and order your team to Breach, Bang, and Clear. In short, one of your team will plant a charge on the door (or open it with the aforementioned shotgun), a second will toss in a flash grenade (to disable the suspect), and the others will charge in and make sure there isn’t any other threats in the room.
Everything goes as planned, and the suspect has given up. Then again, when blinded by a flash grenade and having multiple SWAT members ordering your surrender, most suspects will give up without a further fight. But not always.
Your team moves on and discovers something that sends chills up your spine – your mission target was not only kidnapping females and killing them, but he tortures them (and records the whole thing) before their untimely deaths. Only one problem – you still haven’t located your target.
You advance cautiously, and before long you encounter him. Unlike the other people in this house though, he raises his gun and fires back. At this point, you and your team are free to defend yourselves, and they do so admirably. Thus, this ends this mission.
The best part though is that on future replays, everything about the people inside this house is changed. People that look like civilians could be hiding a weapon, hostiles that defended themselves might give up instead, and your mission target could be anywhere in the house.
In another interesting decision, the multiple difficulty levels aren’t simply based upon accuracy and chances of people going hostile. Instead, you have to follow police procedures far more closely. Pick up every weapon that people drop, report in the status of everybody you find, and make sure that you kill (or even use a lethal weapon at all) only when fired upon first. Following the rules will become your way of life if you want to succeed.
SWAT IV’s 14 single player levels will keep any gamer occupied for a long time to come due to how the game randomizes everybody present in the level every time you play it. Remember that empty bathroom? It’s not empty anymore. What about that meat locker? Or that hall closet? No place is safe the second (or tenth) time around.
Combine that with multiple multiplayer modes, where not only can you tackle the single player missions in multiplayer, but also fight each other in deathmatch and escort the VIP mission subtypes, and you’ll have a game that’ll be sitting on your hard drive for some time to come.