FOREIGN POLICY CAN BE FUN!
The Delta Force series of games, much loved by players of the FPS strategy game, has come a long way since its first debut in the late 1990’s. It introduced itself as a war-based shoot-em-up with cunning AI, and although the fundamentals of the series haven’t changed in the slightest, Black Hawk Down demonstrates brilliantly how much the series has improved over the years, both visually and technically. Two years is a pretty long time for PS2 and Xbox owners to wait for a conversion by anyone’s standards, but Black Hawk Down appears to be one of those rare instances where it’s been worth the wait.
Rather than just lovelessly shovel a straight-up conversion onto each system with all the compromises that go with that, NovaLogic has employed two separate UK studios to produce versions tailored specifically to each platform - both significantly different in approach from the PC original, it turns out. The chart-topping FPS bases itself on the infamous conflict in Mogadishu, Somalia in 1993 - a brutal encounter where 100 elite Delta Force Operatives found themselves in a hostile environment under siege by thousands of militia. With almost a fifth of their unit wiped out by dawn, it was an encounter that was eventually to be immortalised by the Mark Bowden book and the Ridley Scott movie, also called Black Hawk Down. As with the PC version, the PS2 and Xbox campaigns focus on Operation Restore Hope and Task Force Ranger campaigns, with a series of “daring raids” against the “oppressive Somali warlords”.
On the visual side Rebellion has done a fantastic job of creating an oppressive feeling of being in a baking hot desert environment, with some neat blurring effects creating the illusion of a heat and dust haze, which solves those thorny draw distance issues that PS2 developers often have such a hard time dealing with. Buzzing around the urban environments in a chopper, it was also evident that the streaming technology allows Rebellion to create vast play areas, giving it the opportunity to recreate the PC environments without compromise or any perceivable load delays. On the ground, the game certainly looks the part, with detailed hostile environments full of dense, narrow alleyways and intricate layouts providing plenty of rooftop and window-based hiding places for the enemy. Although the story elements should follow the PC version relatively closely, Rebellion has taken the opportunity to remodel certain areas: for example, the Olympic Hotel is discernibly different to the one featured in the movie; but then when you consider the movie was shot in Morocco, it’s actually fair to say the game is actually truer to how Mogadishu looks in real life.
Elsewhere, the game comes to life with reasonably detailed, well animated character models, not to mention 28 accurately modelled real-life weapons from the campaign (three of which will be exclusive to the PS2 version, we’re told - the H&K G3A3, H&K G36E, and H&K PSG1 Sniper Rifle in case you’re curious). But the most significant change comes with the stats and commands system. The former splits each soldier’s abilities into two distinct categories: Attributes and Weapons. Attributes takes care of Marksmanship, Dexterity, Endurance and Leadership, while the self-explanatory Weapons breaks down into Power, Accuracy, Range of Fire and Rate of Fire. Needless to say, the better your abilities, the better your all-round usefulness on the battlefield, with, for example, Leadership proving useful in getting your squad to respond to orders quickly and so on. New bonus skills unlock as you go through the game, and players also get to unlock and assign weapons related to character class.
Although the all-new command interface is slick and intuitive, the Voice Command support lets you quickly and efficiently bark orders such as ‘Cover Me’, ‘Need Ammo’ or quirky hidden commands like ‘Do Your Exercises!’ which makes your men do star jumps in front of you. If that doesn’t appeal, the command interface via the joypad is easy to manage, with triangle bringing up a Team Command interface, with further use of the D-pad required to select, health, ammo/hold fire and so on. Encounters with the enemies result in the squad reacting swiftly with skill and intelligence, taking up sensible cover as well as pulling off flanking manoeuvres with ease.
The XBox version differs slightly, with the visual style being much ‘cleaner’, and less ‘tricks’ have been utilised to cope with the areas where the PS2 struggles. It looked sharper, without doubt, but we preferred the rough, dirty feel of the PS2, which is unusual. One key difference is the Xbox’s ability to save anywhere - albeit a limited number of times (while the PS2 uses a checkpoint system). But the key enhancement NovaLogic is really pushing on the Xbox is the incredible 50 player Live support (as opposed to the 32 player support for the PS2) NovaLogic will deliver multiplayer diversity including team support, stats, matchmaking, eight game types, not to mention offline four-player split-screen support (including co-op in “seven or eight” of the 16 single-player missions).