This morning I met a kid named Steven--met is probably the wrong word; I was walking
across the cul-de-sac in the direction of the mailbox when he popped up from behind a
bush, jerked around and rolled into me in a way that Im convinced actually defied
gravity and several other physical constants. I had seen seizures before, and I was pretty
sure that what I was looking at was something different entirely. After I had force fed
him a few cups of coffee, a Valium and some Kava root, he managed to piece together enough
coherent English to explain that the problem was his birthday. He had begged for a
Playstation for years, and this year his carefully planned platform of whining had finally
paid off. Except that--typical of parents who resort to the bottom line when they have no
operating paradigm--his "loving" folks had decided that the $10 "Spec
Ops" game was a bargain, and probably violent enough to satisfy little Steve. Well, I
found out later from his mother that within minutes of playing this game, the once
balanced child had become the drooling kamikaze attack beast that had tried to roll me
over in the street. Sad really. I sent him home with a beat-up old copy of Twisted Metal
II, and word is that he is improving--slowly, but surely.
It had taken what I have to admit is a more than reasonable amount of time to get around to writing this review. It isnt that Ive been overly busy of late, its just that I have a pathological fear of reliving the game enough to talk about it. But, after several counseling sessions, a pint of Wild Turkey, and a week and a half of guilt debt, I still would rather do anything else. My counselor, however, advises that the only way to get over this is to face it. Plus, Shawn said I had to. So here goes:
We all remember George Bushs 1988 Republican Convention line about "No New Taxes" shortly before he ushered in the biggest Republican tax hikes of the 80s; a lot of us probably remember when Menudo was billed as the "next big thing" months before they disappeared into thrift store obscurity alongside H. R. Puff n Stuff records and live Styx 8-tracks; and probably most of us have seen nuclear arms proliferation referred to in print as "peace insurance". The point is, self-promotion is notoriously unreliable, and in the case of "Special Ops: Covert Patrol" it is probably illegal. The press release starts off by explaining that "all the intense 3-D action, time pressure, and realistic combat will keep you beggin' for more!" and continues on the same self-deluded strain of fantasy for half a page. The only legitimate pieces of info on the sheet are the realease date (May) and the fact that it is Dual Shock compatible. Otherwise, its claims of "realism", "depth", "variety" etc. must have been mixed up at shipping with some completely different game. Somewhere there is a good game with a sheet explaining how whatever game it ended up in is just a miserable excuse to trick kids and parents into forking out a seemingly sure $10 for an unreturnable CD.
Anyway, before I get too off-track I guess I might as well talk about the "game" itself. Shudder...
You take control of a pair of Army Rangers (you can choose between five fairly similar options--Machine Gunner, Grenadier, Sniper, Close Combat, and Rifleman), and drop them into a series of roughly drawn environments (jungle, desert, forest, and arctic) where their ungainly movements will get them killed in a matter of seconds. On the drop ship you have the ability to select between a variety of weapons and items, although the lack of an on-line info system makes the decision more whimsical and arbitrary than one would hope actual Rangers employ. Besides which, it really makes no difference what weapons you take, since the AI refuses to make logical distinctions between them anyway. As soon as the red targeting box lights on one of nearly impossible to see enemies, any machine gun can bring them down from hundreds of yards away--try to get close to them however, and youll need to empty two clips before a bullet magically makes that five foot trip into their stomach. You might think this has something to do with a stealth algorithm or some advanced tactical interface--but no...rolling and crouching have never looked less natural and been less effective. You cant hide behind trees because the AI refuses to map them as obstacles to enemy fire. Night vision goggles help a little bit, but by the time you locate all the enemies around you (remember trees offer no protection) some invisible enemy from miles away has drilled you full of holes. Some of the other items are sort of neat--trip wires and land mines particularly, but rarely seem to work in any way that can be considered predictable.
Perhaps the only really interesting part of this mess of a game is the two-player feature, which lets you switch between two different Rangers in order to have them working on different objectives. However, since the objectives are often vague and overly wacky, its hard to know what to do with even one of your guys. Usually the other Ranger just ends up taking over when the first one dies, only to be shot down seconds later.
Have I mentioned that the game is ugly? Everything about it screams first generation, or PC Freeware from ten years ago. The characters are blocky, ugly, stitled and several times better than the backgrounds. The selectable map is probably the best looking thing on here. Or else the cover art.
Im not going to bother going into any more detail than that because my advice is "DONT BUY THIS GAME, EVEN FOR FREE". It really will drive you insane, or at least piss you off. Its one thing to play a rough looking, mildly enjoyable "cheapie"; its an entirely different thing to play a piece of software with laws of causality that would stupify a soap-opera writer or a veteran lab hamster. In fact, randomly cruel animal testing is the best analogy I can think of for playing this game--if Pavlov had lost all short-term memory and operant consistency, but retained his basic sadistic streak he may well have programmed this game. Dont do it. Just dont. If Take 2 wants to make their $10 line of games marketable, they are going to have to provide at least ten dollars worth of game, especially considering that scores of certifiably good games are available at twice the price.
As for Steven, lets just hope that Take 2 gets it together before the next gift-giving holiday...