It’s funny how some people look at all first-person shooters as mindless reflex-twitching entertainment that anyone with the possession of a brain should avoid. That really is too bad, because they’ve missed out on a lot of fun. Games like Serious Sam may not have much of a strategic element, but it sure was fun. Secondly, people who like to plan ahead and always do something for a reason should still have plenty of challenges in tactical shooters. Today I’ll tell you about what might be the king of this particular sub-genre.
The Rainbow 6 series have pioneered the tactical shooter genre, but we’ve also seen games like Ghost Recon, Police Quest: SWAT 3, and a certain Half-Life mod by the name of Counter-Strike. Games with the whole terrorist vs. counter terrorist scenario are very popular, but the hardcore Counter-Strike fans have lacked a new respectable tactical shooter, and as a result the several year old mod is still very popular. The Raven Shield demos have received a lot of positive feedback, so does the game offer a strong single player mode? Or more importantly, is it an alternative to Counter-Strike when played in a LAN or over the Internet?
The intro begins with a look at a bank under siege in 1945. Before “ze evil Germans” fled the scene they left some secrets documents behind, and before you know it, the cut scene fades to 2005. The bank still exists. A German militant group has secretly been established, and they obviously want world dominance. As a start they kill the civilians in the bank, burn the super secret papers, and decide to wait for orders from HQ. Only one group of people can stop these guys, the Rainbow soldiers! Yee haw!
The Rainbow soldiers are the best group of operatives that the world has to offer in the fight against terrorism, and over the course of many interesting missions you’ll plan and execute daring schemes in order to neutralize villains and rescue the good-guys. The missions take you around the globe, and you’ll visit many more or less exotic locations like a palace, snowy villages, an airport, an oil refinery, and much more. Upon briefing you’ll get plenty of information about the mission, where to go, who to kill, and who to rescue. After the briefing you go to the team selection screen where you naturally decide what people you want on which teams (up to three teams and a total of eight operatives). You decide what weapons you want your men to use, choosing between a long list of rifles, explosives, shotguns, accessories, Kevlar, headgear, etc.
When done here you continue to the planning screen. Here you have a 2d map of the area, and the ability to set waypoints that will direct your men over the course of the mission. When setting these waypoints you also have a small view of the level in 3D, so you’ll get a good impression of what terrain you’ll be fighting in and what you can expect when opening doors etc. This can be a fairly lengthy process, but luckily you can load pre-made plans that’ll choose operatives, gear, and appropriate waypoints. Those who want more depth from Raven Shield will definitely want to set their own waypoints, but with a very user-unfriendly interface, it might not be easy for everyone.
These waypoints are crucial in the game because you, being the commander, can decide when the other teams will continue onto the next area. For instance, let’s say you have two teams that start at the same place. The first team has a special route that goes through a number of small archways and buildings, ultimately leading up to the front of a large warehouse. The second team has a different route that ultimately takes them to the back of the warehouse. The second team’s route passes the extraction point, so by the time the second team reaches the warehouse the first time gets support when breaching the warehouse while neutralizing the enemies and when rescuing the good-guys. Extraction is now very easy, because hopefully all that’s left of the enemies will be their bodies.
One of the things that let you time when the various teams do specific actions is by using the Go-codes. When teams reach a specific waypoint they’ll start waiting for a go-code. At the beginning of a mission your team may be the first to reach the first main waypoint. You wait for the two other teams to reach their destinations, and when the time is right you hit the J-key, and continue the mission.
As with the majority of tactical shooters, you can’t withstand many gunshots, and most of the time when you’re hit, you’ll fall to the ground like a sack of potatoes. Being able to move slowly but firmly and think very quickly are skills required to succeed in the game. If you’re a perfectionist like me and don’t like to see any of your team-mates die, then you’ll need to execute things just right. You do however have a number of advantages over the baddies, including weapons that are optimal for the missions, namely claymore mines and heartbeat detector goggles that show you the whereabouts of both nearby team members and villains. You also have the element of surprise, tactical planning, and by default, auto-aim.
The infamous Unreal engine is used to power Raven Shield, and although it doesn’t look quite as good as Splinter Cell it still looks quite nice. The members of your squad look extremely good, and move around equally well (disregarding the artificial intelligence, but more on that later). The villains and kidnapped people also look over par, although not as detailed as the guys and gals on your team. The shadows are light map based, so you can forget about the real-time cast shadows of other recent games. When setting shadow quality to high, you do get nice shadows, but Sam Fisher’s still look better. However, Raven Shield’s gameplay doesn’t take shadows into account much, since you won’t be hiding in the shadows like you did in Thief and Splinter Cell. Instead you’ll move swiftly into enemy territories; killing every terrorist in sight. I do wish the missions had been more varied as most of the time you’re basically entering some town, palace etc and merely rescuing kidnapped people. Obviously, this is one of the main things that the real-life counterparts of Raven Shield do, but I’m sure more exciting missions could’ve been made without deviating too much from the game’s design. However, the environments for the missions are pretty neat. You have plenty of nice effects while playing, such as particle effects, being able to blow up doors, cover a room with tear-gas etc. I wish the levels were less static though, because interacting with anything other than doors and such just isn’t very worthwhile. You could perhaps use the environment to your advantage. Perhaps blowing up a car could be necessary to gain a tactical advantage. Trees could also fall down, causing confusion among the enemies, and so on. There are many features that could be dreamed up, but compared to other first-person shooters Raven Shield looks quite nice, although some textures could’ve been sharper.
One of the hardest things to manage when writing an A.I. routine is getting CPU controlled team members to act fully as a team. To act fully as a team means being alert at all times, seeing what you would’ve seen, covering each others’ backs, and not getting in each others’ way. Raven Shield’s implementation works well at times, but on occasions it can be annoying. You have a number of ways to interact with your team, which is a good thing indeed, but I still think it’ll take some time until A.I. matures enough to be respected as fully realistic. For example, when you shoot and kill a member of an enemy gang. The rest of them scatter for a little while, until they eventually walk back into the danger zone, which naturally gets them killed.
Much like in the single player mode you’ll have plenty to do in multiplayer. Hosting and joining works exactly as it does in similar games. You can host and join Internet and LAN servers. You can set up dedicated servers, or play while you host. When creating a game you have two main modes to choose from; adversarial and cooperative, and within both of these you have more modes to choose from. In the adversarial category you have survival (free for all), team survival (team vs. team), bomb (green team must prevent a bomb from exploding, while the red team tries to stop them), hostage (green team must recover the AI controlled hostages, and get them to the extraction zone. The red team obviously tries to prevent this), and pilot (green team escorts a downed pilot controlled by a human player, while the red team gets in their way). In cooperative you have missions with humans and optionally AI controlled bots on the team, terrorist hunt (neutralize the AI tangos), and hostage rescue, which is the same as in adversarial, only humans play against AI.
You have six multiplayer specific maps, and fifteen maps that are played in the single player mode, but which can also easily be used in multiplayer games. When creating a game you’ll have plenty of options to choose from: time per round, time between rounds, bomb timer, force first-person camera, third-person camera, free third-person camera, etc. You’ll also be able to restrict the use of various weapons, so if you feel people are spamming too much with whatever weapon then you can simply turn it off.
You could debate the political viewpoints of Raven Shield. You could debate the fact that this is another game of good guys vs. terrorists. You could also just play the game for what it is: a well-designed game with plenty of tension, great firefights, plenty of action, and nice females to rescue. Graphically Raven Shield could’ve looked better, but compared to the now very outdated looking Counter-Strike it looks really, really good. Very few games can claim to have sound-effects as authentic as Raven Shield. Combine the sounds and effects with a nice musical score, all wrapped up in a Dolby Digital encoded package, and you end up with nirvana for gun fanatics with a solid audio setup. After having played Raven Shield for some time, I really see no point in playing multiplayer Counter-Strike anymore. Raven Shield is to me superior in most ever way. Although it probably needs to mature a bit with regards to balance, UnrealEd is naturally included, so those who wish to make content of their own have a great editor to materialize their ideas.
If you like tactical action then you'll definitely want to add this title to your library. If you’re considering buying it, our pricewatch service should be visible on the right or top of the screen.
If you’d like to give it a shot before you decide, you’ll find both the single player and multiplayer demos from our file servers.