Delta Force: Black Hawk Down - Team Sabre Review
developer: Ritual Entertainment
PIII 800, 256MB RAM, 32MB video card, Delta Force: BHD game
|ESRB rating: T
release date: Jan 20, 04 (released)
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After releasing Delta Force: Black Hawk Down to a mixed reception from the game media and relatively strong sales, NovaLogic followed the only logical course of action they could to extend their franchise. Encouraged by the sales numbers, they released an expansion pack, Delta Force: Black Hawk Down - Team Sabre. This time around, however, instead of limiting the action to the locales featured in Ridley Scott's movie and Mark Bowden's amazing Book, they've made the game bigger by adding fresh world hotspots: Columbia and Iran. This was an opportunity for the designers to expand the gameplay both in terms of mission design and its visual appearance. Replacing the barren terrain of Somalia, the jungles of Columbia feature dense foliage, lots of water and tall grass to hinder your movement, but also provide new opportunities for tactical warfare. You should know that this sort of approach to expansions is nothing new. Ubi Soft has done this with the Ghost Recon series. They've successfully reshuffled locations to achieve the impression of varied gameplay.
In Nova's defense, from playing the Team Sabre expansion, it becomes apparent after a while that the programmers tried their best to make the missions seem less linear and lengthier than the ones in Black Hawk Down. The core gameplay still seems fairly arcadish, but that's the kind of stuff we've come to expect from the Delta Force franchise. The novelties are evident in the size of the maps and the number of dynamically evolving mission objectives which are supposed to heighten the tension and make the game more immersive. Increasing the size of the maps has definitely added a greater sense of immersion to the game as you'll feel like you're more a part of consistent environment. Unfortunately, once you actually start exploring the terrain, you'll realize that the missions are just as linear and the maps just as limited as in Black Hawk Down. To their credit, at least the programmers have managed to fool me for a little while. After one or two missions, however, I realized that taking any kind of detour will get you booted out of the mission with an explanation that you've gone AWOL. Even if my indirect route is only 40 or so feet off the main road and by taking it, I'm able to gain tactical advantage over the enemy as I've secured a good vantage point for my Barrett sniper to do its magic.
The idea of this expansion pack was to create a series of carefully organized scripted events that are supposed to create the same type of sensation you'd get from playing Call of Duty. Though ultimately linear and relatively constrictive, the maps did provide for some tense jungle prowling that I enjoyed quite a bit. Also, when they work right, the scripted sequences further perpetuate the in game ambience and create quite an entertaining and intense experience for the player. Consequently, this means that the add-on is slightly more difficult than the original, which is a good thing in my book. You and your DF squad-mates will be taking over heavily fortified airfields from nefarious druglords while dodging .50 cal bullets and even artillery fire. Then you'll try to keep the area secure as swarms of bad guys attack you from all sides riding in their technicals or trying to blow you away with RPG's.
When it works, the game works pretty well. The engine, of course, hasn't been changed all that much from the original game. Although the jungle foliage will be there mainly for cosmetic purposes, it will help players fool themselves into thinking they're making their way through the hostile and humid climate of the tropical forest. The Iran missions are, naturally, more similar to what we've seen in Black Hawk Down, but that's understandable given the loose climatic similarities of Somalia and Iran. The engine is distinctly DirectX 8 based (that's my impression anyway) and it shows in the game. The game character; both your Delta teammates and the baddies; look simplistic, blocky and dated. Even the character animation is not nearly as fluid as today's standards dictate. Still, the 3D code is sufficient to set the right tone for the action. The water effects look pretty cool - shining, shimmering and rippling - and the explosions feature good use of particle effects and physics.
As I said, when it works, the game works quite nicely. The only problem is that it doesn't work all the time! One major issue I had with Team Sabre is the brain dead AI code; especially that of your enemies. Their behavior is completely unnatural and at times erratic to the point of becoming laughable. I just couldn't figure out the intricate logic behind the Artificial Intelligence (This is just terminology). Sometimes the Columbian sentry will see you from half a mile away even though you're crouching in tall grass. Other times, however, it will be completely oblivious to your company even though you're running behind him and firing rounds from your M60 heavy machine gun. I may not know much about combat, but I do know that M60 is, essentially, NOT a silent stealthy weapon. And that's really just half of the story. The bad guys have very little awareness of their surroundings so they'll often try to cap you through trees, concrete walls, etc. (Who knows, maybe all that coke sniffing has finally gotten to their brains.) Your teammates will now and then go missing in action for no good reason only to reappear on later sections of the map.
The other major drawback in Team Sabre, are some of the rather poorly executed scripted events. This didn't happen too often; thankfully; so it didn't take away too much from the game. Nonetheless, it's never too pleasant to realize bad guys are appearing out of thin air, and it's even less pleasant to realize that any kind of variation from the predetermined sequence of events can lead to total confusion on the battlefield. Let me give you an example; in one of the missions my goal was to rescue a captured pilot that was conveniently left tied up next to his downed Black Hawk helicopter. The idea was obviously to lure the Delta Force team into an ambush and then have numerous bad guys pop out of the woodwork to put some AK-47 ammo in their chest. This was naturally supposed to develop through a series of scripted events - you get near the pilot, pilot is rescued, bad guys start popping out from behind the bushes. The first time I tried rescuing the fly boy, the ambush caught me by surprised. I was quickly flanked from both sides, outmaneuvered and ultimately gunned down. So the next time I tried a slightly different approach. I freed the pilot and instead of trying to fend off the attack, I gracefully retreated to the top of a nearby watchtower where I mounted a .50 cal gun in hopes of mowing down as many Columbian villains as possible. Much to my surprise, this shrewd tactic caught my assailants completely by surprise.
6.8 Above Average
New locales, larger maps, can get pretty damn immersive and intense if it works right;
Artificial numbness, some poorly executed scripted events, fairly short.