“The Threat is Real”, or at least that is what Atari wants you to think. Luckily enough for us, we have this miraculous option to hit a simple escape key, or power button to stop this “real threat”. In reality, the only real threat you will want to eliminate is the threat of your mom wasting countless dollars on a re-hashed, non-intuitive first person shooter for your Christmas gift. Enter Shadow Ops: Red Mercury; or how you will wish Santa would have delivered your gift next door.
You play as Frank Hayden, an elite operative who is responsible for disarming and returning a highly destructible nuclear weapon back into the right hands. Laughable at best, the story of Shadow ops: Red Mercury is one of the few compelling reasons to play through the game. Narrated through Hollywood glamour cut-scenes, the story unfolds much like you would expect from a game like this. Through small plot twists, and action sequences, Frank is sent to a number of locales to continue the hunt for Red Mercury. You'll travel to the Congo jungles, war ridden city streets, and a plethora of other locations. Because of this variety, Shadow Ops capitalizes on one of the shortfalls of many like-minded games.
Shadow Ops was originally released on the Xbox a number of months ago, yet the new PC version fails to separate itself from its predecessor. Of course you are able to play the game at much higher resolutions, but the result is nothing more than a more pronounced display of the ugly textures and environments. Visually, the game is quite sub-par compared to some of the amazing PC shooters we have seen as of late. Enemies are fun to watch when the sparingly used rag-doll physics are at work, but the levels themselves are quite small, and the character models are blocky and unremarkable. One discerning effect is how enemy bodies disappear as soon as you turn your head; and by the time you look back, it's as though nothing ever happened. This raises the question whether or not the developers spent the time to take advantage of the PC's power over the Xbox. Included with the package was a patch to play the game with a 64-bit processor, but I was unable to test for any improvements because the application would not work under a 32-bit operating system.
Theoretically, a keyboard and mouse should be much more precise than the console version's gamepad controls, when in reality, only the opposite is true. The awful targeting system, and strange looking reticule make sharp shooting and sniping a mere impossibility. The added feature of “auto-lean” allows you to lean around corners instead of strafing when zoomed in with a weapon. The idea is intuitive, but since you're plagued with such an ugly reticule, you have to ask yourself if it is even worth being put to use. General movement is easy enough, and thankfully the standard control layout you would expect in a first person shooter is here. The action is fast paced, and you will have to keep on your heels to succeed in completing the missions, so a simplified control scheme is a godsend.
Regardless of your locale, and environment, the gameplay of Shadow Ops is completely linear. The only option you have is to push forward. Much like Doom 3 or Painkiller, Shadow Ops sends enemies your way in a series of waves. Right off the bat, you get a sense of cheapness and overly scripted artificial intelligence in your enemies. Often times, you will go through each level again and again trying to memorize the paths in which your enemies move. Occasionally, an enemy will show a small sign of intelligence by throwing your own grenades back at you, or running back and forth between cover spots, but these somewhat bright moments are few and far between. This trial-and-error gameplay often leaves you feeling frustrated, while taking away from the otherwise excitingly fast run and gun style of the missions. The campaign is fairly long, but I question if this is a result of my frustration in playing the game, or actual content to work with.
Outside of the single player campaign, a few multiplayer options are at your disposal. The standard Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, and capture the flag are all here, along with a somewhat unique V.I.P escort mode. This mode places two teams against each other, one of which who has a less than adequately equipped teammate. The objective is to escort the “V.I.P” to the other side of the map without he or she being killed in the process. This mode allows for some much needed strategy to an otherwise non-strategic game. Unfortunately, it was a bit tough to find anyone playing the game online, but the few sessions I did get in played lag free, and remained responsive.
The arsenal of weapons in Shadow Ops is rather slim and is unimpressive. Graphically, the weapons look great, but their looks only create a facade for their less than spectacular attack. You'll usually have several weapons--a pistol, a sniper rifle, and an assault rifle--in addition to a few grenades. Some missions offer weapons specific to that locale, but their effects are functionally the same as any of the other weapons in the game. One of the few reasons first person shooters have been so fun in the past is a result of the innovation put into developing realistic or unique weaponry for your character. While the weapons get the job done, you really don't feel a sense of accomplishment when killing an enemy, or completing a task. Many times, I felt much more excitement finding a health pack rather than a new weapon waiting for me.
One of the few shining edges Shadow Ops has is in the audio department. Taking full advantage of the now widely used THX sound scheme, the game convincingly places you in an aural war zone. Gunfire and grenade blasts sound incredibly realistic, and subtle effects such as empty shells hitting the ground after a few blasts from your rifle add to the authenticity. The voice acting in the game isn't stellar, but I never felt as if I wanted someone to shut their trap. The soundtrack to the game is very appropriate with its militaristic drumming and fanfare. Many times developers leave out soundtracks to first person shooters, but if done right, they can definitely add to the experience of the game; a feat Shadow Ops accomplishes.
At first glance, Shadow Ops: Red Mercury offers everything you could want from an action filled first person shooter, but it's shortcomings tend to hinder the overall experience. Shadow Ops isn't a horrible game, but I can't help but feel that the game could have been much better. The total package feels a bit slapped together, and overly derivative of titles that do the same thing better.
Reviewing games has somewhat hindered my ability to play a game from a non-critical point of view. With time, you begin to grow this ostentatious mindset in which you realize a majority of the gaming industry only wants your money and time, rather than your satisfaction. Playing through Shadow Ops: Red Mercury, it is apparent that the fine exec's of Atari are continuing to play their preferred role as puppet master of the gaming world. A little advertising here, a lot of hype there, and you can almost hear the cacophonous words of “ Dance Consumer, Dance!” coming through your PC speakers.