“There aren’t enough shooters” Said no one ever.
Of all the gaming genres we have to choose from these days, few are as overflowing with titles as the ever-popular shooter category. Zombie Studios, the folks behind the free to play Blacklight: Retribution, have once again charged into the brimming market, this time with Special Forces: Team X for Steam and XBLA. Focusing solely on multiplayer action, this cell-shaded shooter puts a promising new spin on map-selection and throws killer dobermans around like it’s nobody’s business; yet even with all its attempts at variety, can it really differentiate itself as something special or is it just another cover-based gun game trying to find space behind an already-crowded concrete barrier?
Platform: XBLA (Reviewed), Steam
Players: 2 -12 players on 360, 2-14 on PC
Genre: Action Adventure, Shooter
Release: February 6, 2013
Price: 1,200 Microsoft Points, or $14.99 USD
Special Forces: Team X is a reboot of the ‘Special Forces’ game by Microprose that was originally released in the early 90’s; while the IP’s origins were as a top-down Stealth and Strategy game, this latest offering puts players amidst the gunfire with a 3rd person view of their own special little elite soldier. The addition of a multiplayer mode to any and all games may be one of the latest trends to take over our favourite pastime, but Zombie Studios have gone one step further by presenting online multiplayer front and center as the main (and only) focus of SFTX.
Team up for Multiplayer Action
As ‘Team’ is literally the name of the game, SFTX has been built 100% around group gameplay; there is no campaign, training/tutorial or offline modes to speak of, instead SFTX counts on your experience and throws you straight into the fray online. There are 5 multiplayer modes available, allowing for 2-12 players to duke it out on the 360, and up to 16 players on the PC. Alas, the team focus does mean there is a notable lack of any ‘Free for All’ style death matches, however it does contains just about every other group-based mode you would expect:
- Team Death Match (2-4 Teams)
The standard mode of every shooter; kill the other team/s more than they kill you before the time runs out or the score cap is reached.
- High Value Target (2-4 Teams)
Akin to Team Death Match, however the game also includes one ‘HVT’ who scores 5 points for every enemy they kill, while members of their team
gain 2 points for their kills (as opposed to the standard of 1 kill = 1 point). The player who slays the High Value Target will immediately become the next HVT, with all the bonuses (and associated fear-for-one’s-life) that comes with it.
- Control Points (2 Teams)
A domination multiplayer mode, whereby teams compete to capture and control three points across the map. Points are generated over time for each CP held, with the game ending at the score cap or when time runs out.
- Capture the Flag (2 Teams)
Another multiplayer staple; Each team has a flag and points are gained by stealing your opponent’s flag and returning it to your base.
- Hot Zone (2-4 Teams)
A King of the Hill mode where points are earned for each team member within the ‘hot zone’. The pool of available points per hot zone is limited, so once it runs dry the hot zone moves and everyone dashes madly to the next area.
As a means of further encouraging team work, SFTX have brought special ‘Team Bonuses’ into the mix, which reward players for both traveling and fighting alongside other members of their group. Smart players can level up faster using these bonuses, which are triggered by participating in mission objectives together (such as getting kills, capturing points etc) and increase the longer you stay with your team. It also appears that an individual’s assigned ‘abilities’ may go towards assisting the team by helping them live longer or fight harder (more on that soon). Unfortunately these bonuses are poorly explained, with little information beyond ‘stay together for as long as possible’, meaning this potentially game-changing aspect acts as little more than a footnotes to players.
Customize ALL the things
In addition to pushing teamwork, SFTX is keen to give players as many options as possible when it comes to characters, weapons, perks and even maps. As far as the physical attributes go, you can unlock characters skins, clothing styles and camo colours. The option to create your own unique character is a cool feature, however the hyped-up gamma and cell-shaded style of the game does not do well to show off the differences; as such it mostly comes down to dark vs light clothes, beard vs creepy face, and backwards cap or floppy hat.
Another feature players can level up towards are individual character abilities. These abilities can be passive (on all the time) or active (requiring you to trigger them), and can be used to keep you playing longer (such as toughness and health regeneration) or kill the enemy that little bit faster (such as improved accuracy or increased speed). According to a number of online sources, these individual abilities may also factor in on the bonuses acquired by the rest of your team; however as previously mentioned the bonuses aren’t thoroughly explained in the game, and we have yet to note any in-game notifications on said bonuses, so we cannot confirm whether this is actually the case.
As far as the game’s weapon cache goes you can work your way towards a variety of fan favourites guns, including the AK-47, Famas, Colt, Kalashnikov and the SigSauer 556; plus each gun has a range of components that can be unlocked as you progress, namely the usual suspects of silencers, extended mags and sights. There’s more to the armory than just guns however, as players have a range of extra killing options up their sleeves. Level up and there’s the attack (and assault) dogs that can be sent off to tear out the throats of your unaware enemies; or if you are willing to mix it up on the battlefield, you could always grab one of the three specialty weapons located on a map. Will you submit to the close-quarters power of a chainsaw at the risk of being shot from afar, or perhaps you have your eye on the airstrike markers, and will forgo a main weapon in favour of a chance to decimate the playing field?
While there is a certain excitement to maiming enemies with dogs and chainsaws, the game’s gift of variety is unfortunately plagued with enough little problems to make the experience unpleasant. If the dogs are not directed straight to an enemy they just stand around aimlessly (or vibrating) as your foes run past. Issues with lag* on XBLA also means dogs may flicker around randomly, while attempting to throw grenades is slow and potentially self-injurious. The leveling system as far as unlocking guns, components and characters aspects is also poorly managed; upon leveling up there are no notifications on what has been unlocked, and you are forced to flick through ALL the character and weapon areas to find out what (if anything) has been earned. It also doesn’t help that players are not particularly involved in unlocking extras until around level 20 (there are some unlocks before then, but they are few and far between, not to mention unexciting).
Mixing up the Maps
Customizable characters and component are not the only areas in which SFTX are mixing things up. One of the key features that will intrigue even the most hardened shooter veteran is undoubtably the map selection screen. At the beginning of each round players will vote on the three tile sections of environment that will make up the complete game map. Players can shape a map to suit their skills; be it close quarters in the Warehouse, open air sniping in the Junkyard, or sneaking from cover to cover on the Barge Inlet. Overall there are 9 segmented map archetypes with 3 different selections per environment, purportedly adding up to “over 100 level configurations”.
Despite the potential for a significant number of tile combinations to play across, inevitability certain tiles become favored by the masses, meaning the novelty of the system wears off quite quickly. Furthermore the map aesthetics are all very similar (industrial area after industrial area) so you quickly end up feeling like you’ve done it all before. These problems with predictability could perhaps be fixed by having more tiles options and a more dynamic range of environments (jungle? arctic? underground? something not industrial?); so hopefully more options arrive in the future in the form of a DLC player rescue pack.
Not so Special Forces
There are many aspects of SFTX that are entertaining, from sending attack dogs off to do your bidding to flailing around the map with a chainsaw; yet even with these moments the game doesn’t seem to hook you in and make you want more. Despite all its customizable features, the gameplay boils down to ‘average’ and the lack of any training, offline or bot modes significantly limits the game’s potential. Add to this issues with lag*, limited players, unexciting leveling and uneven teams and it simply comes across as just another shooter, neither amazing nor terrible. Gamers who already have a large number of friends to connect with online will likely enjoy it just as much as any other gun game, but with increasing numbers of free to play titles available, SFTX has still yet to prove that it’s a good value game at $15 (or 1,200 microsoft points).
*[Lag issues occurred in the XBLA version reviewed by Esperino, however it is worth nothing that STFX on Steam has dedicated servers]
5.5 – Average. While it does nothing exceptionally bad, it does nothing exceptionally good either. It may be fun for a while but it will struggle to maintain any interest.
Special Forces: Team X is available of XBLA (reviewed) and Steam. For more information on the game, why not check out their official facebook and twitter pages. It may also be handy to head on over to the official steam forums for SFTX, to keep an eye out for updates.
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