Reviewed: August 30, 2005
Released: July 26, 2005
NovaLogic has been pumping out its military-related games for years, focusing mainly on its prodigious number of Delta Force episodes. In all of that time, it stands to reason that they would become quite adept at creating a feeling of authentic scenarios involving some of our nation’s finest fighting men and women in hotspots around the globe. For the most part, they’ve done that through their many iterations.
The Delta Force series showcases the famous Special Forces team of the United States Army that we’ve seen in many action movies. Armed to the teeth, these highly trained men and women fearlessly go into parts unknown for the sake of restoring order for those that have need of them. NovaLogic has put these soldiers in many first person shooters that have been well received by owners of the PlayStation as well as XBox and the PC.
Military first person shooters are nothing new – certainly they are enjoying more popularity than ever – for those fans of the genre. Thanks to these games, people like you and me can get at least some idea of what it’s like to be in the shoes of these heroes and the fights they fight for our sake. Ergo, the key to a good MFPS (military first person shooter) is all in the authenticity of the experience.
Delta Force: Black Hawk Down is an episode in the ongoing Delta Force series that focuses on the much-ballyhooed mission in Mogadishu, Somalia wherein Delta Force was deployed for the purpose of capturing local warlords and restoring order to the oppressed nation of Somalia. But, as many of us now know, the Blackhawk helicopter in which they were being transported was shot down, leaving 12 dead U.S. soldiers before it was all said and done.
My particular taste runs towards the Tom Clancy version of these types of games for the very reason aforementioned: authenticity. You have to believe that this is what a Delta Force soldier does, these situations are what they deal with, these weapons are what they would use and this is how they interact and communicate with each other in the field. That field, by the way, must also be as authentic as possible, recreating the details of whatever region of the world the story entails with all of the appropriate, indigenous sights and sounds.
NovaLogic has been around long enough to understand that part of the immersive quality of a good MFPS lies in an efficient HUD that tells the player what they want to know when they want to know it, and otherwise is invisible. To that end, they keep a minimalist interface that is informative without being distracting. At a glance, players can tell where they are in relation to the current objective as well as the usual ammo and health situation.
Most MFPS games involve the pursuit of a variety of objectives while challenging you to use effective teamwork. This is where some shooters shine with their team AI by making it possible to coordinate seemingly complex goals with a few quick button sequences. While Black Hawk Down does offer the ability to command your teammates (even with voice commands) to a certain extent, you never really get the feeling that they are specially trained, autonomous members of the famous Delta Force group. At any given moment of the game (when you’re not under fire), you can find them staring blankly at you as if waiting for you to drop a box of toothpicks on the ground for them to count.
At least NovaLogic tried to add a little to the standard shooter by introducing some light RPG elements. As objectives are successfully achieved, a point system accrues from which to enhance your soldier’s abilities. Oddly enough, you have no control over the look of your character which would have also gone a long way to personalizing the persona you’ve adopted. But that’s a small issue. What needs help is the game play itself.
One of the biggest issues with Black Hawk Down is that it wants you to play the part of a Special Forces team in one of the most harrowing missions in recent memory for our United States’ soldiers and yet does nothing to create an atmosphere of camaraderie amongst your team. As you trot from one mission area to the next, you rarely ever see your team around you. They always seem to be standing behind you blithely awaiting your orders despite the fact that each of them should be highly trained and disciplined in the art of war.
And when you do realize that you can control what they do to an extent, it doesn’t really even satisfy the pretense of being their leader. Your orders are limited to a handful of common objectives such as “run there” or “cover that area”. In short the AI is weak and unexciting and not what you’d expect from a game that’s been in development as long as this one.
There’s a nod towards the variety of weapons at our Army’s disposal by giving you the choice to select not only different primary but secondary weapons as well as a compliment of explosives for your destructive pleasure.
Thankfully, load times are reasonable for a game with such large areas. Of course, those areas are relatively sparse when it comes to buildings, flora and fauna, people.
By now, the PlayStation 2’s graphic capabilities - or more accurately, limitations – are well known. And yet, many PC games lauded for their graphical panache manage to make it to the platform with a reasonable amount of fidelity. Black Hawk Down for the PC was rated highly for its graphics and intense game play. But the PS2 version retains next to nothing of its PC cousin’s impressive displays.
Vegetation is practically nonexistent for a country right on the African coast. Granted, it’s a hot, desert climate, but that’s hardly an excuse for seemingly endless, rolling dunes. And thanks to the sketchy resolution, it’s frustrating trying to pick out who’s an enemy and who isn’t - especially during night missions. The night vision merely looks like a green version of everything around you. All too often I would fail a mission because I ended up shooting friendly forces or civilians.
The sound of Black Hawk Down isn’t anything to write home about either. Ambient sounds are decent enough, and obviously NovaLogic took the time to approximate the authentic sounds of each particular weapon, though perhaps not to the extent of the anal-retentive guys who were involved in the Call of Duty and Medal of Honor series. The thing is that while the sounds are appropriate, they do tend to be kind of muddy despite the level of production involved.
Music is something that can really set the mood as part of the overall experience, and Black Hawk Down opts for a sound track that resembles the made for TV version of the story as opposed to the big time “Hollywood” version of the PC. Ranging from rock style anthems to more authentic African flavored tunes, the music is a little more dated than it would’ve been with a fully orchestrated soundtrack.
When it comes to replay value, there’s practically no reason to ever play this game through the single player campaign multiple times - thankfully, there’s no original concept art or other such doodads to “unlock” as a means of artificially extending the game play.
It’s the online play that intrigues, as this game is one of the few games that allows for up to 32 players trying to kill each other. This sounds a lot better than it plays out in practice, I’m afraid, as the PlayStation 2 online community is largely populated with spoiled teenagers who are staunchly avoiding homework (I weep for the future). But the standard modes (King of the Hill, Team Deathmatch, etc.) are all in play here and it’s not too difficult to find people to start trouble with.
When you intend to bring a PC hit to the console, you have to retain what made the PC game a hit in the first place. If you have to, go over the reviews. If you consistently read about “stunning graphics”, “intense action” and “immersive environments”, you better make sure those are included in the console version too or you’re starting all over again.
You can’t expect to receive the success of the original game by changing or leaving out everything that made it good. Black Hawk Down’s main problem is that it purports to offer the experience of being the leader of Delta Force operatives in war torn Somalia. But hamstrung game play with shoddy graphics doesn’t cut it.
If there’s a reason to get this game, it’s for the online play. There are far too few multiplayer games for the PS2 that allow for 32 simultaneous players. While the experience might not run as smooth as the PC version (mostly due to immature punks), it’s about as good as it’s gonna get for us Sony fans. Otherwise, hold out for SOCOM 3 and form a clan. Over and out.