Reviewed: June 3, 2004
Released: March 9, 2004
In a not so distant future, the Mob has the country in a strangle hold, civilized society is in danger of imminent collapse, and it is up to you, as the leader of a group of elite paramilitary operatives (surprise, surprise) to thwart the Mobís plans to annihilate the nationís capital. This is the State of affairs in Beyond the Law: The Third Wave, a squad-based RTS title from Magnum Games that certainly does nothing to improve the genre, as it plays like a massively inferior Commandos clone.
The game has 20 missions with poorly explained objectives to complete, a muddled stealth and line of sight system and teams of crack commandos armed only with knives, all presented through a graphics engine thatís locked at a not so crispy 800x600 resolution. Letís look at this train wreck and see what went wrong.
Perhaps the only strong suit that Beyond the Law possesses is that itís relatively bug free, it never crashed on me and will run on a relatively lean system with no performance hitches. Despite the fact that it plays smoothly whether you will want to play it is doubtful. It starts with selecting your team for the first mission, where you can choose from a multitude of operatives armed mostly with knives. When you encounter this you say to yourself ĎWell Iím sure they can find better equipment in the field.í This isnít the case however as the weapons of your adversaries seem to vanish into the ether after you slay their owners, so yes Virginia, you did just hire an elite paramilitary type for about $10,000 dollars, and he showed up for the mission with, a knife. Terrific.
Not that the operatives who actually know how to use firearms are that much better. Pistols are only effective within about spitting distance and SMGs and Rifles are good out to only a bit farther. Assuming that you can actually kill one of the mob goons, you donít want his friends stumbling onto his rapidly cooling corpse, so you need to conceal the body. And how do you do this? By dragging it in to the shadows? By stuffing it into a locker Solid Snake style? Maybe use some U.N.I.T.Y. Body Remover? No. You donít need any of that, just spread a grass-green tarp over the poor bum and call it good. The other guards will walk right over him without breaking stride and apparently never notice that Angelo is missing.
All that though, assumes that you are actually able to get close enough to take out the opposing force. Determining which objects provide good visual cover and which will leave you exposed is nearly impossible from just a visual inspection. Because of this, playing Beyond the Law requires a lot of trial and error to discover the safer routes through each level. Take the need to replay some levels over and over and combine it with a wonky performance scoring system that you can only learn about once again by trial and error; figure those in with a lot of anti-climactic missions and you just have a really aggravating, unenjoyable experience.
The story isnít something that I usually get hung up on in reviews because for most types of games, it doesnít have all that big of an impact on your play experience one way or the other. I really donít need a compelling reason to say, turn Nazis into torches with a flamethrower, but Beyond the Law really stretches my patience with its premise. The idea that somehow the Mob is the looming threat facing the country and that they are bent on destroying the capital is a little out there for me. Granted, this game is a European import, but man alive, a little localization of the story wouldnít have killed them.
I do want to reiterate though, that most if not all of the gameplay issues in Beyond the Law: The Third Wave are design and concept related, not the result of sloppy coding or a lack of QA testing. It may not seem like a big thing, but quite honestly I canít remember the last game I played before this that didnít have some kind of technical glitch in it, so I really have to give Magnum Games some credit for a bug-free release.
As I mentioned, Beyond the Lawís Graphics are presented in a fixed 800x600 resolution, which while it may cause some to wax nostalgic, was just irritating to me. Itís interesting, because despite the environments having a decent amount of detail, you can barely tell your troopers form one another visually.
There are a very limited number of animations, run, walk, crouch, crouch walk, shoot/stab and cover body with tarp are pretty much the extent of things, and in additions to being few, the movements in the game are pretty stiff. In between missions there are some roughly edited FMV cut scenes that sort of set up the action for each level that are voiced over by melodramatic narrator who sounds to my ear a lot more like a cheesy game show host than a news caster or story teller.
Aside from the cheesy narrator, who I suppose some people might find entertaining in the Resident Evil terrible voice acting way, the rest of the audio in Beyond the Law runs the gamut from unremarkable to ďSweet baby Jesus, make it stop!Ē The troopers under your command feel it necessary to respond with a snappy phrase every time you select their pixilated asses. If I hear ďFaster than you can say organized crimeĒ one more time; Iím going to have some kind of episode. Fortunately, one of the good design decisions the developers made was the inclusion of an option setting to turn down the in game voices, so you can render your special operatives mute before they drive you insane.
Even at its bargain basement price point, I canít see too many people playing through the first few levels of Beyond the Law: The Third Wave, let alone the whole game. You can find a copy of Jagged Alliance or Commandos 1 and 2 in the same box for $20 if you look around, and with values like that thereís just no reason to blow your cash on a sub par title like this.
The seemingly total lack of bugs in this game is impressive, but you wonít care because itís not all that fun to begin with. I was pretty much willing to play along with the very limited arsenals and the irritating vocal acknowledgements from the troopers right till one whipped out their green tarp to hide a body. Consistently poor design decisions were what seem to have drained all the fun from this title, a pity because itís not like the market is saturated with Squad-RTS titles.