It sure has been a long time since SWAT 3 first came out. I can still remember playing that one cooperatively on a LAN with my flatmates â€“ It was great fun. SWAT 4 is a worthy sequel to that fine game, and offers more of the intense sweaty-palms missions the series has become known for. It might not be game of the year, but it's probably the best realistic tactical squad shooter available on the market today. If that is your kind of game, prepare to be knocked out by SWAT 4, a new high watermark for tactical first person shooters.
The main thing separating SWAT 4 from other tactical shooter games is the same thing that separated SWAT 3 from them: The entire objective of the game is to arrest suspects, not kill them, and the game will punish you for shooting people in the back, shooting them when they don't have a gun pointed at you, or just plain shooting those who aren't a direct threat to you. When I say direct threat, I mean it literally: If you aren't 1/10th of a second away from getting killed by someone the game doesn't consider them a lethal threat, and though for the most part this game is realistic, this is just absurd. In real life a SWAT unit is allowed to use lethal force if a hostile is a direct threat to anyone, not just a member of the SWAT unit. Example: In one of the missions you must go into a gas station convenience store and halt a robbery gone wrong. They've taken hostages, and there is at least 4 hostiles inside, so I prepared a quick entry from the back of the place. In the spirit of Raven Shield the missions have dynamic placement of characters, so each time you play will be a bit different, with bad guys and hostages different in number, placement, and attitude. The first time I took on the convenience store mission there was a guy standing guard with a submachine gun at the back door, and upon seeing me he turned to run inside and warn everyone. Of course, knowing that a warning to his buddies would result in dead hostages, I shot that fucker in the back of the head and splattered his brains all over the door before he could open it. Of course, SWAT 4 being the imperfect simulation of real world SWAT activities that it is, deducted points and claimed my actions were improper. Well excuse me, I guess saving innocent life is improper! These types of irritations show up quite often in the game, and drag it down a bit. Also, there is no storyline to speak of, just 14 standalone missions that are not connected in any way. I don't mind this at all, but those who are expecting an overall story to appear and tie everything together before the end will be disappointed. There are plenty of weapons and items to keep most people happy, including the universal MP5 and Glock, but I would have liked to see a better selection of assault rifles. I know most SWAT teams don't use them, as they're typically not suited for close quarters combat, but I just love assault rifles. The only other thing I really would have liked to see in regard to the single player is better characterization of the team members, as when these generic guys die I just replace them with new generic guys and continue playing. An opportunity missed.
The visuals of SWAT 4 are simply beautiful. Sporting plenty of modern shader effects and high polygon models, the graphics look fantastic when coupled with a powerful rig. The textures are good looking, but not as good as some other recent first person shooters like Half-life 2 or even Max Payne 2. Load times are also absurdly long, especially if you have less than a gig of ram, and the levels stutter quite a lot with 512mb as well. The worst part about this is that if you fail a mission or just want to replay it, you must reload the entire thing from scratch, and it isn't much faster to reload a mission the second time after loading it once. I hate long load times (I have 1.5gb of ram in my home PC), but there really is no way around them in SWAT 4. The audio is solid, with good voice acting all around and music which is passable and doesn't intrude on the experience. The guns in particular are well done, and disproportionately loud compared to everything else in the world, just like real guns.
The multiplayer aspect of SWAT 4 is one of its strongest features, and that really says something when you have the strong single player mode that the game has. Even the typical game modes here are just more fun because of the intense realism of the action. One shot kills are the rule, and as everyone moves extremely slowly there is a great deal of tension about moving through the various rooms. VIP Escort mode is particularly tasty, where the SWAT team tries to protect the VIP and the terrorist team tries to take him hostage for a certain amount of time (but not kill him). Cooperative mode, something ignored by most games to my great ire, is included here, but doesn't really get good until you have the full 4 or 5 person team to play it with. Any of the missions in the single player game can be played cooperatively, and with the somewhat troublesome team AI (and the fact you have to take so much time to manually issue them orders) human teammates are a great boon.
Overall, SWAT 4 is a great game that takes advantage of all the strengths of the PC as a gaming platform. It is a very difficult game that ramps up exponentially as you progress, but every completed mission leaves you with a satisfied feeling, a sense of accomplishment, like you've made a difference. It is an exhilarating game to play in the dark with surround sound â€“ Truly an immersive, frightfully real experience. If you're into fast paced fragfests like Quake 3 or Counterstrike however, you'll want to steer clear of this title, as it only rewards the patient, the skilled, and the intelligent. If you fit all three of these criteria, and you fancy games like Rainbow 6 : Raven Shield or the Splinter Cell series (the multiplayer aspect of it), then this game will be right up your alley. Sierra and Irrational (the developer behind System Shock 2 and the Freedom Force series) have really hit the nail on the head with SWAT 4, an absolutely stellar example of squad based tactical shooter action at its finest.
Click here for a great video on the reviewer playing the game.