Reviewed: June 29, 2002
Released: May 31, 2002
Red Storm Entertainment put a realistic spin on the FPS genre back in the 90’s with their ground breaking Rainbow Six series. It introduced close-quarters battle (CQB) and a damage model that could kill an enemy (or our hero) with a single bullet – quite a shock to Quake and Unreal veterans who were used to taking a rocket in the chest and laughing about it.
Following close on the heels of Ghost Recon and Desert Siege comes yet another great FPS-strategy game from Red Storm Entertainment. When I previewed The Sum Of All Fears back in May I wasn’t all that impressed. The game didn’t really seem to offer anything new to the genre, but after playing the final release I realized that a game doesn’t have to break new ground to be entertaining. Here are some of the features found in this game:
Once you have proven yourself, you get recruited by the CIA and start tracking down the devious terrorists behind the nuke that blew up the Super Bowl. Missions start off gradually and increase in difficulty as you travel all over the world visiting all sorts of cool and exciting places.
As with all of the previous Red Storm games, the story is only in place to serve the missions and is easily forgettable. I still find it ironic that a game studio founded by a best selling author has yet to create a game with a substantial story. The lack of an overall driving plot is compensated with some strong story elements during the missions that move the game along.
You will find yourself in charge of a three-man hostage rescue unit as you progress through a series of eleven missions. The difficulty has been toned down considerably from previous Rainbow Six offerings making this game more accessible to the average gamer. While this will benefit newcomers to the CQB genre, veterans of previous games will probably whip through this title in just a few hours then laugh about it later.
The first thing experienced players will notice is the lack of any mission planning phase. Again, this can be a blessing or a curse depending on how you approach these games. If you are like me and want to jump into the action then you are probably used to picking default mission parameters and equipment. If you are a hands-on kinda guy then you might find this lack of control disturbing.
While you can pick a mission kit for your squad, you have no control of individual team member weapons. This got somewhat annoying when the character you are playing is forced to carry a weapon you don’t really care for.
As previously mentioned, you lead a three-man team (you and two others) and while other teams may be assisting you on each mission they are strictly under the computer’s control. You may bump into each other throughout the mission but they have their own agenda. Again, this lack of control may annoy seasoned veterans, but I found it refreshingly simple and was able to get into the game that much faster.
The first time through most of the missions I found myself being overly cautious, which naturally had me peaking around corners and moving slower than my more confident AI-controlled teams. This, more often than not resulted in the computer reaching areas of “conflict” before me and having all the fun. I would arrive in time to count the bodies and move on. On future replays of a level I would become more comfortable with the maps and enemy placement and could keep up with the other teams.
I was pleasantly surprised to see some new innovations from the upcoming Raven Shield game being introduced in The Sum Of All Fears. The new squad command interface is loosely implement. This allows you to assign context-sensitive orders to your team by merely clicking on an object or area in the game. Click on a door and you are given options for that door such as open, open and toss a grenade, or open, enter, and clear it out.
The team AI has been tweaked to reflect these new moves and you will see your guys crouching and flanking the entryway before entering a new area. The pathfinding and collision detection are all very well implemented and I never had anyone get snagged on an object or stuck in a door.
This game even features some stealth missions that you may or may not enjoy. I was pleased to see how these were implemented. Normally in a stealth level once you are detected it is time to restart; however this game penalizes your carelessness by putting a timer on the remainder of your mission. To some this may be a penalty worse than restarting, but I found it an element of suspense and intensity not found in the other missions.
If you have played Ghost Recon then you already have an idea of just how good this game looks. The powerful graphics engine is now being used to render interiors rather than vast outdoor levels. There are some expansive areas outside of these structures but your missions are almost always indoors.
The interiors range from huge detailed areas to smaller areas with hardly any detail whatsoever and everything in between. Textures are crisp and detailed and this game hummed along at 1600x1200 on my 1.4Ghz Athalon with a Ti500 GeForce 3 card.
The special effects are all well implemented including explosions, smoke, fire, and environmental effects such as rain. The lighting effects are excellent and the player models are all realistically rendered with plenty of polys and great textures; both clothing and faces. The weapons all look great although there is still the disturbing lack of a weapon in your hand while playing.
The interface is styled after the setup found in Ghost Recond with a few minor changes such as a mini-map that replaces the original threat indicator. Veterans of previous games will find using this new indicator may take some getting used to. Your location and your route is still represented with the rubber band-like line that snaps to each waypoint.
The sound is just as good as any of the previous offerings with great implementation of EAX if you have a supported card and the extra CPU juice to run it. The weapons all sound very authentic and their sounds are dynamically adjusted for the area in which you are firing them. Rip off a few rounds in a large open building and the resulting hollow echo seems totally realistic.
The music is a step up from previous Red Storm games, not so much in quality but just for the fact that you seem to notice it more and it lends to the overall tension of the missions.
There isn’t a lot of talking in the game, but what little speech there is during the briefings and during the missions is all very good and quite convincing. You won’t find any cheesy one-liners in this game.
With only eleven levels this game may seem more like an expansion pack than a stand-alone product, but it is being offered at a mission-pack price of only $29, and you will find more than enough gameplay inside to get your value’s worth. Multiple difficulty levels allow you to replay the game and experience greater challenges.
As always, there is plenty of multiplayer action to be had with this title including six new multiplayer levels (two are inside the Red Storm offices) with cooperative and competitive gameplay modes. Using the Ubi.com service, hooking up with fellow anti-terrorist fire teams has never been easier.
The Sum Of All Fears offers more of what we have come to expect from a Tom Clancy and Red Storm game. There are a few interesting additions that almost make me wonder if this game was more of an experiment for the designers to try out some of their ideas before implementing them in future products. I’m guessing this is the last game we see of this “type” before Red Storm unleashes entirely new and ground breaking design changes in the genre – things that are only hinted at in this game.
The release of The Sum Of All Fears ties in nicely with the movie, but I wish the story had more closely meshed with the film or even the book for that matter. Regardless, the excellent gameplay, graphics, and sound effects all combine to create yet another excellent FPS-strategy game that will keep you busy for many hours and have you anxiously awaiting the upcoming Raven Shield.