Command & Conquer Meets Call of Duty
For a decade, mainly in Tom Clancy’s various series, many first-person shooters have worked in an element of strategy. Sometimes you have to plan your missions before riddling enemies with bullets. Other times you can direct your squad-mates to various positions to outwit the enemy. In still others, stealth is key.
For Raven Squad, developer Atomic Motion had a great idea in this vein: combine first-person action with real-time strategy, and allow players to switch freely between the two gameplay modes. The company even implemented this well; with the push of a button, you can go from directing avatars around on a map to pumping lead into opposition forces by hand. At the end of each level, the game tells you how long you spent using each system.
Both modes boast simple, effective mechanics. The first-person shooter controls work essentially like those in a Call of Duty title, and the RTS system is simple enough that you don’t have to learn more than a few commands. You control two squads, containing a total of six people with two weapons apiece. When you need a particular weapon, you can switch to that character (FPS) or direct him to use it (RTS), and if you need help in first-person mode, you can call the other squad over to you.
All of this amounts to a template for a great game, but Atomic Motion filled said template with an awful one. The fatal flaw is in the level design. It’s all pretty much linear, complete with indicators telling you what direction your next objective lies in. There’s rarely an opportunity, much less a need, for extensive planning as to how you’ll invade a given area. In fact, you’ll rarely need to employ even the most basic maneuvers, like directing the other squad to attack from a different direction than you are.
As such, the RTS mechanic feels superfluous, useful mainly for traversing long distances with one button press rather than by hand. It’s also good for seeing where the enemies are hiding, making it basically a way to cheat while using the first-person setup rather than an independent way to play.
That’s not the only problem, though, not by a long shot. Next up is the voice acting. This isn’t intentionally cheesy, so-bad-it’s-good, over-the-top enthusiasm. It’s not a mediocre performance from a decent cast. It’s not even the best effort the development team could coax out of non-actors hired due to a small budget. No, this is quite possibly the flattest, most awkward, and overall worst voice acting ever released on a video game – ever . The writing is terrible. The actors sound like they’re thinking about something else while they’re talking. The accents sound fake even to people not familiar with them. These performances are so bad that, if the level design hadn’t already done the job, they’d go a long way toward ruining the game on their own.
Aside from the basic mechanics, engaging in FPS combat doesn’t work as well as it should, either. Everything the developers couldn’t steal from Call of Duty is mediocre at best. There is no animation to show that you’ve hit an enemy without killing him, so until your foe bites the dust, it’s hard to tell whether you’re even causing damage. Your opponents will take cover and move a little bit to avoid getting shot, but that’s about the most sophisticated behavior they’re capable of. If you manage to sneak up to them and shoot them from the side, half the time they won’t notice you standing there.
Difficulty is another sticking point. Even at the higher levels, this is a rather easy game. In a way this is good, however; at the few points where it’s challenging, it’s more annoying than anything else. When your teammates start collapsing, you spend more time reviving them than anything else, and if you have to stand in the open to do it, the morons just follow you and get gunned down too. There’s apparently no limit to the revivals, either, so unless all six of your guys die, you can go on sticking needles into downed bodies ad infinitum.
The graphics are a mixed bag. It’s certainly no Gears of War, and the facial animations are truly terrible (perhaps to complement the voice acting?), but some of the environments, vehicles, and visual effects are fairly impressive. It seems a decent amount of time went into creating this game world, which is a bit of a shame given how unplayable the title is.
The story here, involving mercenaries sent into the Amazonian jungle to do, um, mercenary stuff, is more an excuse to shoot things than anything. Given the tale’s presentation by lifeless drones, it probably wouldn’t have mattered if Shakespeare had written the plot, so it’s just as well that no one bothered to come up with any elaborate twists and turns.
Unfortunately, there’s no Vs. multiplayer mode; the RTS-FPS blend could have been really interesting against multiple live opponents. There is an online and system link co-op mode in which each player controls a squad. We didn’t manage to match up with anyone (we can’t imagine why), but we presume this takes away what little strategy there was. Without the need to direct the other squad, both of you can probably just run around in FPS mode shooting stuff.
Those who buy the game instead of renting it will be irritated that there’s only four or five hours’ worth of campaigning to do here, and no real reason save a few lame unlockables to replay anything. Maybe the powers that be thought a $10 break (Raven Squad costs $50 instead of the usual $60) was a real favor to consumers, but that still goes far beyond what four hours of even a good game are worth.
When it comes right down to it, Raven Squad starts with a brilliant concept and doesn’t bother to flesh it out into a fun or compelling game. It’s practically a gift to competing developers. In that regard all it lacks is a note reading, “Here’s a template for a hybrid FPS-RTS; do something useful with it, because we don’t feel like it.”
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.2 Graphics
Not bad, though the facial animations aren’t good. 4.8 Control
Probably the game’s best attribute; it’s a snap to switch between the gameplay modes and execute maneuvers. 1.0 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
If the level design weren’t so bad, it would be the voice acting that destroyed this game. 1.2 Play Value
It’s a short game that’s not very much fun to play. 2.4 Overall Rating – Poor
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.