Reviewed: December 1, 1999
Released: November 6, 1999
About this time last year I remember playing a really cool military sim called SpecOps: Rangers Lead the Way. At the time it was one of my favorite 3D strategy shooters (both first person and 3rd person). The premise of SpecOps was real soldiers in real situations using real military strategy. Stealth was preferred over Rambo-tactics plus you had the unique ability to control multiple men in your strike team.
SpecOps paved the way for a whole new line of strategic ops games. Rainbow Six released shortly after the original SpecOps and stole much of its thunder with the backing of the Tom Clancy/Red Storm name and innovative features such as the one-shot kill. Rainbow Six also shot to the top of the multiplayer favorites list and is still one of the most played multiplayer games on the Internet.
Zombie Studios released a mission pack for SpecOps a few month later that offered some more missions and multiplayer options, but it never really was able to overcome the dark shadow that Rainbow Six had cast over the entire genre.
Recently the next generation of strategic ops games has started to appear. Red Storm has just given us the amazing Rainbow Six sequel, Rogue Spear and Sierra has just released SWAT 3: Close Quarters Battle. Zombie Studios has also submitted its latest installment of SpecOps into the battlefield titled, SpecOps II: Green Berets.
I played a very early test copy of Green Berets at the E3 show earlier this year and at the time the game showed much promise. The engine was already heavily modified and Zombie was promising even more refinements before the release of the title. Plus, just the concept of playing as a Green Beret had a certain "coolness factor" about it. Sure Rangers are cool too, but Green Berets kick ass, or at least they do in the movies.
Green Berets eases you into the action through a series of boot camp training missions where you will learn weapons, tactics and everything else you need to travel across the globe, meet interesting people, and kill them. Zombie has taken extreme steps to ensure that this game is as real as possible. Real-life locations were scanned and used as reference for the 3D world you train and play in. Actual Green Berets were brought into the studio and scanned then mapped onto the 3D models of the characters. Even sound samples were taken from the actual military issue weapons. So with all this attention to detail, why does this game just not click?
You begin your campaign with a set of four training missions that take you through the firing range, obstacle course, tire house, and shoot house. You will need to master all of these courses and the skills they teach if you ever hope to succeed in the later missions.
There are a large number of missions to choose from and they are divided into campaigns (sort of). The only thing that ties the campaign missions together is the country you are in. Other than that, the missions are totally unrelated which gives the entire game an empty feel with no story to propel you through the long list of missions. Given the heavy emphasis on multiplayer these days, I can only assume that these missions are much like those in Unreal Tournament and the upcoming Quake 3 Arena, and only serve to prepare you for the multiplayer experience. The good side to this design is that you can play any mission in any country in any order you choose, unlike the first SpecOps where you had to unlock each campaign as you advanced through the game.
Game play is similar to the original SpecOps. You control two or four soldiers depending on the mission and you can play as any of them. Equipping your team is essential to the successful completion of your mission yet you almost never know what you need until you fail the mission a few times. This gets really repetitive really fast. SpecOps 2 allows you to search the bodies of enemies (and your own men) to add to your weapon and item inventory during the mission. This ability wasn't fully available in the original game and is a welcome (and realistic) update.
Realism starts to fall short when you get into the nuts and bolts of your mission. You can assign tasks to each of your soldiers, but if they aren't doing something you've specifically ordered them to do then they are wandering around on their own "AI" system, which is very bad. They will often wander right into enemy territory and give away your position or make other stupid mistakes to jeopardize the mission.
In some missions the man I was controlling was taken down by friendly fire from my own team! They were so stupid on other missions that I had to take manual control over the entire team and control all four members myself. This gets very confusing and tedious and I probably would have had an easier time completing the mission going in solo as a Lone Wolf. AI was a big problem in the first game and Zombie promised that it would get better in the sequel. Unfortunately it didn't and the AI pales in comparison to similar games such as SWAT 3 and Rogue Spear, which offer excellent team control.
The enemy soldiers clearly got more than their fair share of the AI engine along with what's lacking in your men. Even on the lowest difficulty levels you are in for some real tough times. Some of the missions are so hard they just get frustrating and you will soon lose interest.
Well first let's talk about incompatibilities. The game is heavily biased toward Voodoo cards. You will get much better visual effects using a Voodoo card but the drawback is that you are locked into 640x480. Zombie claims to be working on a Glide 3 patch that will support higher resolutions. If you are like most of the public you probably have a D3D card such as a NVidia TNT card, etc. The first thing you need to do is get the absolute latest drivers. In the case of the TNT2 Ultra card you would need the 3.53 Detonator drivers to even get graphics to appear on the screen. The first time I loaded up SpecOps 2 without these drivers; all I saw were bitmapped trees floating in space.
Even with the latest drivers there are several graphical glitches. All of the trees have white halos around the edges and the chain link fences get weird white patterns if you view them at certain angles. The game supports up to 1280x1024 at 32bit color if you are using D3D but I found that even on my hefty system 1024x768 was very jumpy and almost uncontrollable from a 1st-person view. It did get a bit better when I switched to the behind-the-shoulder-cam.
A major annoying factor is that for some unbeknownst reason you must choose the video resolution before EVERY mission. Granted, once you select the resolutions the first time it stays at that setting, but it's just one extra step before each mission. Even more confusing is that this selection box appears to be a normal Windows pop-up box yet the mouse does not function, so you must make your selections with the TAB and arrow keys.
Once you finally get into the game your first battle will be with the interface. The hardware options are there but are not complete. Menus for organizing your team and outfitting them with weapons are equally as confusing. The manual is short, plain and of little help. You will probably get more benefit from the reference card.
Aside from the previous glitches with the graphics, the new Viper Engine brings substantial improvements to the world of SpecOps. The terrain, objects, and soldiers are now much more defined using a much higher polygon count. Bushes and trees are still 2D bitmaps but they look much better and don't pixelate when you get close to them. The animation and moves of your soldiers is fluid and interesting to watch, which is a good reason to play from the 3rd-person view.
One area where SpecOps II really excels is in sound effects. All of the weapons sound just like their real-life counterparts and the ambient noises of the terrain your are exploring really add to the feeling of "being there". Sound plays a big part in the night missions where you have to rely on your ears rather than your eyes in many instances. Aside from the military march theme of the opening credits, there is no in-game music, which is appropriate for such a game.
Finally, the multiplayer portion of SpecOps II has certainly come a long way. The game is exponentially more fun when played online with human opponents and teammates since you are now bypassing the buggy AI of the solo play. SpecOps II features a built-in interface for locating and joining online sessions, so if you are looking for multiplayer action rather than a solo experience, SpecOps 2 may have something to offer you.
Ultimately, SpecOps II: Green Berets is certainly better than the original in many ways, but when you start comparing it to all the other strategic ops games that have come out recently, it is lacking in many crucial areas. A mission pack or future patch may fix some of the more glaring issues, but as a stand-alone retail release, SpecOps 2 is a poor solo experience and only an adequate online game. Unless you are a hard-core Green Beret fanatic, you won't find anything here that isn't done better by the competition, and you can certainly find a better game than this to satisfy your craving for a military action.