SWAT 4, a proper write-up

SWAT 4 is hard. Proper hard. Difficult. Not easy.

Each level is a situation where the normal Police can’t get in. You and your men have to get in, subdue all the criminals, subdue all the civilians, and generally make it all safe. You’re given a variety of tools and guns and grenades, you choose the ones you think will suit the situation best, and then you go through the level room by room, deploying ordinance and “bringing order to chaos”, as the game calls it.

The game’s difficulty comes in when it cleverly introduces the typical videogame crutch, a score. You are marked on how strictly you adhere to the code of conduct that (I presume) real life SWAT teams have to use. So you can’t burst into a room and shoot anyone with a gun; you have to burst in, announce that you are Police, and watch what they do with their gun. If they drop the gun, you can’t fire, cos they’re unarmed and shooting unarmed people is called “murder”. If they point the gun at you or your men or a hostage, then you can shoot them. You get about a quarter of a nanosecond to determine what they’re about to do, which I’d assume matches the real life SWAT situations. If you manage to finish the level without dying (or shooting a hostage), then you get your score. If your score is too low, you have to do it again until you get it right.

There’s no saves. Sure, it’ll save the current mission, but it doesn’t save mid-level. You have to do it all in one go. Also, the crims and civs are randomly distributed at the start of each level, so you never know where the danger is until you’re going through the level.

Up to now, this sounds frustrating as fuck. In practice, it really isn’t. As you experiment with the tactics and equipment at your disposal, you’ll learn how to combat certain scenarios. The most important tool you can get is the optiwand, which is a camera you can stick under a doorframe to see what’s in the room you’re about to go into. Once you know what you’re about to come up against, you can tell your team to act accordingly. Crims behind the door with gas masks? CS canisters won’t work; try a flashbang grenade instead. Crims with kevlar vests on? Stick armour-piercing rounds in your guns, or aim for limbs or heads. Crims not facing the door? Flashbangs won’t work, try a Stinger grenade (which shoots a billion rubber balls around the place and generally concusses everyone in the room for a few seconds).

As you play through, you will learn how the game wants you to play. You’ll learn to get into a room and prime both index fingers; one over the “pop a cap” mouse button, one over the “shout really loudly at people” use button. You’ll learn to not turn away from a crim until his gun is definitely on the ground and his hands are in the air, cos sometimes they act like they’ll drop it until the very last second before shooting you in the face. You’ll learn to check those corners, to maim rather than headshot wherever possible. You’ll learn to make accurate split-second decisions and considered tactical decisions, just like a real SWAT team has to. When this clicks into place, the difficulty lessens considerably.

And when this happens, you’ll realise just why you’ve so willingly been lead down the path of taking the game seriously. The script and voice acting is generally excellent. You’ll come across hardened murderers that start apologising as soon as they’re arrested. You’ll come across civilians that whinge about being handcuffed. Generally, the characters in the game act like real people. It’s a neat trick.

Bolstering all this are the graphics. The level design is fucking inspired. They’re packed with incidental detail that really immerses you into the fiction. From the computer product posters in the corporate offices to the shattered mirrors in the tenements, from the shafts of light coming through the curtains in the hotel rooms to the “Happy birthday!” balloons in the hospital wards; it’s amazing that Irrational managed to pack in so much into so many varied levels.

However, where the game goes from awesome to fucking awesome is where it allows you to not take it so seriously. The opportunities for abusing the non-lethal toys are rife, and as stated elsewhere within this here site, you’ll never tire of playing with pepper spray. The fact that Irrational have carefully crafted a simulation, and also allowed you to play around with it, is a step that few other simulations let you take (not without a failure condition being met, anyways).

And what’s funnier than repeatedly pepper spraying an in-game character? Pepper spraying a human. The game has multiplayer and co-op, and both modes are highly recommended. They’re ripe for general fuckery (“of course you can go into this room first” *waits for the door to open* *pepper sprays his colleague so they can’t fire back* *helpless colleague gets shot by criminal* “hahaha” etc), and they’re just as entertaining when taken seriously.

What Irrational have ultimately done is remarkable. They’ve made a focussed simulation within a FPS, and given it a distinct flavour which you won’t find anywhere else. And they’ve allowed you to fuck with your friends in it, if you choose to.

Fourteen flashbangs out of ten.

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