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Thursday 20 March 2003

Raven Shield playtest [lurks]

I like my military sneak-em-up type games, I do. All of Red Storm's Tom Clancy franchise games have been excellent and virtually peerless in the genre of late. So the news that the latest in the Clancy franchise was going to do away with the old stinky engine and sport the spangly Unreal engine was welcomed in this house although with a note of caution. How many bad CS-like games have we seen attempted in the cartoon-looking Unreal engine? Too many.
I'm happy to report that on that front, my concerns were unfounded. Raven Shield does indeed look the bollocks but it also looks fairly 'real' as well which is a good thing in a genre where a single bullet kills and you don't bunny hop around the level like crack-addled superhero. Raven Shield is a first and foremost a tactical team-based sneak-em-up. One loads up a plan for each mission ahead of time and plots out the waypoints for the multiple teams going in.
The action is held up at key junctions where 'go codes' must be issued to make the teams progress. In such a way it's possible to coordinate a multi-front attack on the nasty terrorists simultaneously. This is what we like! Here's where I have to confess I'm a little too much of an action gamer to fancy buggering around with the planner other than to loading the pre-prepared plan.
Because the movements of squads are on rails to such a degree, any potentially crap AI is fairly hidden to the player. Successfully completing a mission often involves learning which team has the hardest job and taking control of the leader of that squad to putting boot to bottom in the uniquely human way. I found I also tended to run ahead of the holding positions to run around and take out some of the targets once I found out exactly where they are. And there's plenty of opportunity for that as the game can be quite unforgiving, many failed missions or completed missions with too many casualties.
On the latter note, since you have a fixed amount of 'named' Rainbow squaddies - getting them killed isn't a good thing. That being because they end up being replaced with backups which are about as good as modemer at a LAN party. Your team mates that survive, on the other hand, get better through their experience which is logical enough.
There are a couple of minor innovations to the FPS genre which help make Raven Shield a worthy sequel. Namely being able to crack doors open fluidly with the use of the mouse wheel. A common tactic I employed was to do that and then let a terrorist discover it and go 'Hmm, odd!' and close the door - only to cop a noise suppressed 9mm wide lead injection to the head.
The rest of the things you'd expect are there; the strangely disconcerting lack of a 'jump' from the rest of the Clancy games, the nifty lean left/right keys and even a new 'fluid' version of that which allows precise maneuvering around corners by using a qualifier key and the mouse. Now there's a scientifically implausible set of goggles (eh?) which do the job of the heartbeat sensor. There's all manner of demolitions including breaching charges through to your bog standard flashbang. The latter really will mess you up good if you're too close to it, riiiiinnngggg!
The weapons are a bit of a missed opportunity here although it's easy to get disappointed after Counter-Strike's excellence in this area. They're mostly generic with and handle much the same with much the same sound effects only varying amounts of recoil being notable. Quite why a rifle should sound dramatically different fired semi-auto from firing off one round in full-auto mode is lost on me. The weapons also look a bit naff, distance distorted as they are from the rear. I'm also not quite enamored with the fairly paltry evidence that anyone has been shot, tiny splashes of red. I guess this is some sort of censorship appeasement but it doesn't sit well with a game trying so hard to be realistic.
Mission wise, things are odder still. I had expected a dramatically hard game given the first mission was very difficult indeed and required many attempts to come out with an acceptable casualty figure. Then onto the second mission and it was all over in a flash! Subsequent missions have also proven to be of a regular difficulty, assuming that one isn't a complete numpty and turns off the auto-aim facility.
Something that lessens the frustration of redoing missions is the almost complete lack of loading. Click OK, bingo into the mission. Blimey, how'd they do that on the Unreal engine then?
Of course we're all hanging out for the thing to be released so we can give it a bash online. It looks like it may very well be as much fun coop as Sum of All Fears was, because there's plenty of tasty indoors action to be had. Presumably the networking will be good too, with the Unreal engine powering the cogs. That'll be most welcome after previous Red Storm networking code abortions.
In conclusion, Raven Shield is a good game. It's got some new bits but it's also lacking some polish and a bit more game balancing. Not quite enough thought into the way missions are presented (they've got voice-overs for 3 NPCs for every mission and I bet you never click on them) and the planning phase looks uninspired to the point of tedious.
It's not a revitalisation of the genre, it's a small progression delivering up the same thrills for those that know they like to sneak around just for the chance to put a bullet in a terrorist. It delivers wholeheartedly here, it's a game to play on the edge of your seat, if only you could lift a hand from your mouse and wave your compatriots forward in military sign!
About time we had another decent game in the genre! Of course multiplayer will be the icing on the cake so by and large it's a good 'ol thumbs up from me.


  1. Fuck it's nice isn't it? I was a huge fan of Rogue Spear, played it over and over again, never tiring of the fucker, so this had a lot to live up to. I liked the Ghost games, but they didn't quite live up to Rogue Spears challenge and so lacked the tension and replayability. But this is just perfect, I lurve the thermal imaging they've added, fucking claymores, breeching chargers, gas grenades, even c5. Grenades and flashbangs that actually bounce off things rather than just flop around like in the early games. Ooh ooh, and you can do under and over arm grenade throws to suit your stance, at last you can duck behind something and overarm a grenade off the top. What else is new? Ah yes, there's a fluid door opener as lurk said, which works loverly, just open that door a tiny crack and snipe fuckers through it, yes. How about the nice fluid stance too, where you hold a key and your mouse makes your guy lean and duck to set a position aiming right through that tiny crack i!n your cover, nice. Enemy AI is a bit better too. The T's aren't tactical geniuses, but if they suss your aroudn they will take cover and ready weapons, making themselves quite a bit harder to take down. And amazingly all this and I've not mentioned the graphics, which are superb! Nice detailed indoors, sexy lighting, and still with that realistic feel of a Red Storm game. Particularly nice is the way the bodies react to the environment when dropped, slithering down stairs or sagging against a wall. It's fab, and I can't wait to do some shit online, woot!

  2. That's the amazing thing about it, normally when you retry missions over and over again - it gets quite tedious but I just don't seem to mind too much with this. I change my weapon loadout, maybe ignore the tactical waypoints and go in the back way. Oh and they sneakily have a lot of potential places the Ts can spawn but they're only randomly occupying those positions per mission start.
    And if you get jumped by some guy with an AK, cross off 3 members of your team.
    It's a great game. The graphics indeed are ace, a load of effort has gone into the actual level design. Lots and lots of geometry. You walk into a bathroom and there's loads of bathroom things about. Same goes for loads of other types of rooms. Heh, the best bit is when you storm in a room you often get Ts giving up. So, the moral dilemma. Do you cuff them or do you execute them? :)