SWAT 4: The Stetchkov Syndicate Review
developer: Irrational Games
PIII 1000, 256MB RAM, 1GB HDD, 64MB video card
|ESRB rating: M
release date: Feb 28, 06
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I thought I wasn't going to be in the mood for this add-on after playing Rainbow Six: Lockdown. Still, the SWAT franchise is appealing in its own way. The previous game definitely deserves to be acknowledged by gamers. It's a solid action game that provides plenty of content and exciting missions to go through (both in single-player and multiplayer modes). What's more to the point, the game is certainly worthy of a decent expansion pack.
There's never enough time to enjoy the sunset, is there?
I order you to fix my kitchen faucet!
As you may already know, SWAT 4: The Stetchkov Syndicate has a fairly straightforward storyline. As a member of the city's number one police organization, you must intervene and put an end to various crime activities across various reported areas. Wherever you end up, it's down to you and your team to handle the situation quickly and professionally, even if it means yelling and hitting a few civilians along the way... hm, the ends justify the means, right? Anyhow, there are seven new single-player scenarios that come with the add-on. Although it may not seem like much, each mission has a variety of goals you need to complete and there's a significant amount of replayability, given that hostages and opponents spawn on different spots each time you load a particular map.
To those of you who prefer going through missions cautiously, step by step, this game has it all. You may take the time to plan out your attack before the mission begins and you are frequently obliged to think carefully before you go into action. Also, most crucial areas and buildings have more than one entrance, so it's up to you to adequately place each member of your squad. Before you enter the building, or a specific room, it's often a good idea to place squad members in front of each doorway. This is where the new 'held commands' feature falls into place. Players are now able to delay issued orders until all units are in the desired position. When everyone is in place, all you have to do is issue the 'GO' command and watch as your plan unfolds (in my case, it was usually a slaughterhouse). Anyways, once you're inside the lion's den, it's time to kick some butt. Remember, be on your guard. The enemies you're dealing with rarely spare civilians and they will gladly "ice" cops if they get a chance. You are allowed to use any means necessary to bring the bad guys down, but the main goal is to straighten the situation out before things get really hairy. Thankfully, there are numerous items to help you clear out the area and rescue any unarmed innocents in the vicinity. A cool new moment comes with the use of lightsticks that are used to mark any areas that have already been surveyed. There's a whole bunch of additional weapons you can choose from before you begin the mission.
By the way, the game allows you to, once again, bash a few civilians around if they refuse to comply. At times I found this to be pretty helpful when running into hostages with an attitude. You can simply shout at them, give them a good whack or threaten to shoot them if they disobey. This time you can even punch them a couple of times if they are being a royal pain in the ass (it's for their own good, after all). This system works fine. But eventually, I really got tired of pushing and punching people around during missions. I guess they could've come up with more ways to get hostages out of life-threatening situations. Hey, there's nothing I enjoy more than to smack someone in the nose, but sometimes it takes a lot of punching to make the hostages listen to reason and somehow that doesn't feel right... ya know (Oh boy, I think I might have a slight touch of JackThompsonitis).
The game is extremely challenging, which is probably why I enjoyed it so much. If you rush to meet your enemies head on, without any teammates to provide covering fire, it's likely that you'll be dead within 2 seconds. Enemies are usually very accurate and will fire when you least expect it. Plus, you there is no 'save game' option available, so you have to do your best and make each mission a successful one-time effort - which in turn requires patience, tactics and team coordination.
I noticed that the enemy AI is sometimes completely unaware of your presence. During a particular task, I opened the door and there was a baddie only a few feet away. He wasn't facing in my direction, but he was damn well near enough to notice someone was standing in the doorway with a grenade launcher aimed at his freakin' head. Then again, the game clearly features a few improvements in this respect. Civilian AI works better this time around, and your opponents are often quite smart... well, expect for the occasional slip-ups I mentioned just then.
The Smash & Grab mode is a fine addition to the multiplayer. Two teams are pinned against each other and the goal revolves around a single briefcase (I really hate that briefcase). The suspects must attempt to take the briefcase to a specific point on the map, while the opposing team has to grab the briefcase or simply eliminate all foes. Every time an objective is reached, a certain amount of time is taken away from the mission timer, which makes the gameplay all the more exciting. The developers have also introduced support for VOIP (Voice Over IP), which in turn allows for improved attack coordination and gives players an opportunity to complete their goals more easily. Missions in co-op are even more engaging, and can now be played with up to 10 players (that was immensely fun, I tell ya!).
Ah, that's one of my favorites.
I'm starting to see things... Maybe it's the tear gas.
I was particularly impressed with the audio in SWAT 4: The Stetchkov Syndicate. Every voiceover throughout the single-player missions appears to be authentic. When players enter a room crammed with hostages, suspects and SWAT members, all hell breaks loose, and you can hear everything from gunfire and explosions, women screaming, people choking on tear gas and so on. At that point, you get the impression like you're actually participating in a hostage situation or a robbery. It's pretty exciting altogether.
The game doesn't appear to suffer from any major technical mishaps. Fair enough, I did experience infrequent lag issues during crowded multiplayer online matches. The frame-rate tends to slow down a bit when you're playing on medium-range rigs, but that's about it.
Despite the relatively short single-player campaign, SWAT 4: The Stetchkov Syndicate makes a good purchase. It's entertaining enough for your average gamer, and it will surely please SWAT fans. Single-player missions are dynamic and exciting, and the multiplayer is excellent, especially when you're playing the co-op.
8.1 Very Good
It's good clean SWAT fun, new weapons and items, cool music and sound, engaging multiplayer, replayable single-player campaign...
... which is relatively short, frame rate gets choppy on mid-range rigs, infrequent AI quirks.
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