Game: Special Forces: Team X
Developer: Zombie Studios
Available on: PC, Xbox 360
Reviewed on: PC
I’ve always loved the concept of Gears of War‘s multiplayer. In my head every fight is a hectic volley of shots sent from dug-in cover spots as teams frantically discuss their next move. Should we flank round the left or make a run for the sniper? Perhaps fall back and lure them into a bottleneck?
“Too late!” we scream, as a grenade whistles in, scattering us and giving the enemy an opening to advance.
In reality it’s nothing like that. Glitchy cover slides and point blank shotguns rule the field. Less careful consideration, more confounding chaotic clutter. Why bring up Gears? Well you see, Special Forces: Team X is a cover based shooter that uses the Unreal Engine. And to say it strikes a resemblance to Gears of War is akin to saying “do Frosties remind you a bit of Corn Flakes?”
Coming from Zombie Studios, the chaps behind rather-good free-to-play shooter Blacklight Retribution, Special Forces: Team X is a terribly-named online third-person multiplayer shooter with an integral cover system. There’s no plot, no reason and little genuine drive other than the amusement of the man-shootin’ and head-‘splodin’ that tots up a steady stream of gun and gadget unlocks to facilitate the further perforation, occasional explod-ification and the odd spot of dog chow creation (seriously), of more men.
It’s a bit bare bones, is what I’m saying.
That’s not to dismiss the game however, because Special Forces is a title that does much in its limited capacity, and much of what it does is worthy of praise.
For starters, the look. A cel-shaded delight, Special Forces manages to conjure up head-nodding reflection of titles like 2003’s oft-overlooked XIII through its combination of comic-like visuals and blood-soaked ultra violence; the head shots are rather splat-tastic. It’s a clean game to look at, and a pleasing break from the gritty norm. That said, it’s easy to question whether Zombie took the style as far as they could go. The game lets players customise their avatars, which includes the colour of their duds, and this leaves team identification down to coloured head arrows – not ideal. It wouldn’t have had to step on Team Fortress’ toes but a more stylistic approach would have given the game a much-needed stuffing of personality.
The game frequently feels like it’s stuck in a no-man’s land between outrageous style and serious gun game. An early gadget is an attack dog, some voice samples are titter-ously under-enthusiastic (most audio in the game is purely serviceable), and the ‘mega’ weapons that spawn in the map include a big chaingun and a chainsaw, but these flashes of humour feel like a squirty clown flower attached to Lord Alan Sugar’s lapel – you’ll tend to just nod and let it have its moments.
Speaking of Mr. Sugar, Special Forces: Team X does have some innovative ideas when it’s not pulling a stern face and intermittently squeezing liquid in your confused face, such as how the game creates the maps for you to play on. The battleground for any match of Special Forces is created from three smaller map tiles; players vote on a left, middle and right chunk and the three winners are slotted together like a trio of LEGO playsets. It’s a fun concept at first, sure to get your head bobbing in approval as you offer a thumbs-up to your PC screen as if the devs can see you (they can’t, can they?), but the novelty soon wears off as the spontaneity that should come from this gives way to predictability – there aren’t enough level chunks available to ever truly surprise, and most of the individual blocks still have clear hot spots that most matches will centre around.
That does, however, bring me quite nicely to what Special Forces does so right that it might just encourage a third bout of approving head nodding. Gunfights in Special Forces are twitchy, cover-based tests of manliness and quick tactics, with smart spawning and tight maps that organically encourage team-versus-team standoffs, clever flanking and precise grenades. As a side note, the game’s wonderfully over the top explosion rag-dolls are a giggle-inducing joy.
You die quite easily, you see, which makes attaching your bum to a wall an important method of survival. Blind fire is arguably a tad too accurate, but then a few shots to your exposed arm are also enough to floor you so it’s more a game of taking pot shots and encouraging your opponent to expose their dome like some multiplayer whack-a-mole – it works well, gunfights are bewilderingly swift, and the shotgun certainly isn’t king. On a raw level of play Special Forces is simply a very well-designed cover-centric shooter that’s genuinely rather enjoyable.
There is one last quibble though. The modes present are Team Deathmatch, CTF and Capture Point (territories). Three modes isn’t much, and the lack of a smart one-life-per-round mode is a shame, especially as the slick pace of the game would be perfect for it and it might help endear Special Forces to more people. Hopefully in a patch, eh Zombie?
VERDICT: Special Forces’ cover based gameplay is worthy of much applause, literally taking the Gears of War template and arguably improving on it ten fold. It’s a shame, then, that the game comes up short in many other areas while being artistically conflicted. The result is a game that holds very specific appeal. For those that can simply enjoy its slick cover shoot-outs time and again Special Forces will offer hours upon days of enjoyment, but those that crave games with a bit of scope and focus will likely find the whole experience a bit too inconsequential and slight, even if there are many aspects here worthy of praise.