Special Forces: Team X
Microsoft Xbox 360Also available on PC
Attention soldiers! Strap on your panties and listen up! Special Forces: Team X is a third person cover-based multiplayer game. You will work together to shoot the enemy. You will blow him to pieces with grenades. If you ask nicely you might get to chainsaw him into barbecue-ready chunks. Got it? Good. YOU THINK YOU GOT IT? YOU DON'T GOT IT. Give me fifty push-ups! You are nothing, soldier! You are no more than a sack of spit and phlegm, made for a single purpose. AND NO THAT IS NOT PAINTING WATERCOLOURS. YOU WERE MADE FOR WAR, SOLDIER. You knew you were made for war the moment you jumped out of your mother's womb and knocked the doctor out cold. Now get out there and do yourself proud!
Like the stereotypical Drill Sergeant in every American war movie since the Vietnam classics SF:TX is violent, unforgiving but at heart a simple soul. Unlike the films, however, in SF:TX you will not find anything like narrative; it is enough to know there is an enemy and they must be defeated. It's full on running and gunning from the moment you press start and though this has been done a hundred times before in a number of similar ways this game manages to feel fresh. SF:TX is team multiplayer only – there is no single player – and the modes on offer are the standard ones including deathmatch, king of the hill and capture the flag.
Your Special Forces dude is customisable from the get-go. He carries a primary weapon (machine gun or a rifle) a secondary weapon (a pistol or a knife) and has two slots that you can use for grenades and other things, such as a trained attack dog (who acts as a bitey homing missile!). You can also choose your soldier's appearance, beardedness (all games should have a beard on/off toggle), camouflage type and other things to make him look mean enough to make vegetables rot with a single glance. The options are limited at first but as you level up through winning games and achieving awards (think multikills, kills with specific weapons and so forth) you will unlock a wider range of gear with which you can deliver death and look beefy.
The combat is almost entirely lag-free, fast and satisfying, with most machine guns able to take down an enemy with a few well-timed death rattles of fire: that's why the cover is so important. The different weapons sound and feel individual and when you're deciding which you want to carry into battle you can compare their kick-back, spread, power and other attributes to match the tool to the job. Though you have to unlock certain guns before you can start a round or respawn with them you can pick up better guns that higher-level enemies have dropped. Plus, there are one or two power weapons to be nabbed in each level, rocket propelled grenades, grenade launchers and the like.
SF:TX is an online team game, with most matches being six vs. six. The challenges of this genre are managed smartly, which is no mean feat. One of the most annoying things about team modes on games such as Halo is that strangers in matchmaking will, more often than not, work poorly together. Many people think they are capable of killing all of the other team by themselves which tends to result in the other team getting an easy kill - they will be able to outmanoeuvre or outnumber the hapless hero if they work as a unit. On traditional team modes if your side is full of freelancers and the other side works together, your gang will quickly be pinned down and defeated. SF:TX's solution has a couple of elements to it. First of all you can choose which of your teammates you spawn near to when you die so you can jump back into the thick of the action rather than being brought back to life at a pre-set point on the map. Second and more importantly there is an XP bonus for working as a team. If you stay near a colleague an experience point counter builds up and keeps going up as long as you work together, creating a clear incentive for collaborative behaviour. If you run away from your team the bonus is lost. This all works nicely. I am sure you have already noted this is a groovy example of Nudge theory as set out by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein in their famous book
The cover-based mechanic will feel familiar to anyone who has played Gears of War or the second two Mass Effect games. You tap A to throw yourself into cover and hold the aim trigger to pop up and take shots. Depending on the angle of the movement stick when you move out of cover you can either come round the corner to sprint forwards, leap to the side (and hopefully find something else to hide behind) or jump over whatever had been protecting you from incoming fire. This is now a common type of gameplay, but given the absence of any guide, the way it works it may not be obvious to newcomers. The mechanic, which is a major element of the game, works well but is not perfect as there are some surfaces and areas of maps where it looks like you should be able to take cover and you can't.
Elements of the control system are where SF:TX's rougher edges are revealed. If you dash at cover you will slide into it automatically but occasionally this happens when you don't want it to; additionally, when moving quickly you may end up taking cover by the side of narrow entrances to buildings which can be irritating and worse, can mean the difference between life and death. When you're not bumping into walls like a delusional who thinks he's a ghost, steering your character when you're sprinting simply feels cumbersome. Because getting around the map quickly is vital in the objective-based games this can be frustrating. Though obvious downsides these aspects aren't so great a problem that they detract from the fun but they are enough to be noticeable. Although you can change control sensitivity this only seemed to have a marginal effect, if any, on this issue.
SF:TX looks fine, a world populated by the same old identikit tough guys familiar to us all, cel-shaded in a style reminiscent of Borderlands. The combat areas are all of the abandoned-industrial sort. What turns this from utter meh to frankly awesome is the way you select maps. Each rectangular play area is divided into three strips and when you're voting you can select how you want the level to be built. A warehouse on the left strip, an admin block in the middle and a construction yard on the right? Or maybe a water pumping station on the left, the warehouse in the middle and a junkyard on the far side. Quickly, one gets a sense of how different areas interact with one another which makes building the maps an excellent part of the whole experience. Top marks for creativity here – I wouldn't be surprised if we see this sort of thing again. Hopefully more map segments will be brought out in expansions.
All in all, SF:TX is a decent, no-nonsense, piece of entertainment. At present the lobbies are full enough to give the option of playing any of the game modes without delay, and though these appear to be player hosted there is no lag for 99% of the time. The levelling system is fair and rapid, allowing you to get your well-muscled paws on some serious boom sticks fast. The game modes are tried and tested but that doesn't make them any less fun; the thought that has been put into level design is great to see. SF:TX is good without question; if the few kinks with the controls were ironed out it might just be great.