Back in the yesteryear, fast paced arena combat games (Quake, Unreal Tournament, etc.) were actually a beloved odd little genre. But as time has passed, so has that style of game. It’s crystal clear that games such as Battlefield and Call of Duty have established the new standard in multiplayer shooters, spawning off way too many carbon copies that attempt to suck the multiplayer focused game nipple dry. Insert Zombie Studios and their newest creation, Special Forces: Team X. Special Forces is a multiplayer based third person shooter that has speed and nonsense similar to Unreal Tournament, but the upgrade system of a Call of Duty. That was the pitch, at least, but could they pull this feat off?
It all begins with the combat, there’s no arguing with that fact. This is also when you begin to realize that Special Forces may not be able to achieve that lofty goal previously stated as the combat never feels “right.” It begins with the weak sound design on the weapons and doesn’t stop there by any means. It’s a hard nuisance to explain but the slippery feel of every sprinting movement you make really begins to become tiresome after a while. It helps speed up the gameplay, for sure, but it makes the cover system feel very misplaced. The combat isn’t awful however, as the speed of the game can lead to some intense firefights while the cover system can result in certain areas becoming a hotbed for action. The issue is when the two attempt to work together, those are two LEGO pieces that do not fit together.
Speaking of the weapons, the upgrade system is arguably the biggest issue within the game. On its face, it’s a simple upgrade system; you achieve a red dot sight, new grenades, etc. The issue is how slowly the nicer weapons are rolled out, with it taking up to ten hours to finally achieve a customized class with all unlocked content. The upgrades themselves aren’t a lot to brag about either as one of the better upgrades you get is simply the ability to throw a smoke grenade.
In a game with a leveling system, it always has to be a priority that you consistently dangle a delicious carrot in front of the players face that will encourage them to continue progressing. Instead, Zombie Studios decided to dangle a Brussels sprout on a stick, and while some people may be into that sort of thing, I’m not down. In all seriousness, if you can stand for some rather mediocre upgrades, there are a lot of them and leveling to the cap could take 30+ hours.
Saying Special Forces: Team X is visually stimulating would be a drastic understatement, for better or worse. The cell shaded look works for plenty of games but in Special Forces case, it’s a bit of a turn off at first. The bright visual contrast can really knock you back once you start playing but after a while, your eyes begin to adjust and you begin to realize that although the textures are grimy, there are some nice looking things to be found within Special Forces. Sadly, there are quite a bit of frame rate drops that hit particularly when firefights begin to heat up, which can obviously become a huge bummer if you’re in the final minutes of a match.
The randomly generated levels are arguably the most interesting thing to be found within this package. Before the match begins, you vote on three different sections of the map. Once those three sections are voted on, they form together in their own map. It never changes too much, mainly because people tend to choose the same combinations, but it’s definitely an interesting addition for which Zombie Studios deserves some acclaim.
If you follow my reviews on Gaming Irresponsibly, you know that I reviewed Guardians of Middle Earth a few weeks back, a game that was plagued with matchmaking issues. That has become an increasing trend in smaller, online focused games. Thankfully, Special Forces avoids that as getting into a game is possible within one minute of hitting play game on the Xbox 360 Dashboard. The only real issue with the matchmaking is the lack of a host migration feature that many have adopted to navigate around the issue of having a host leave mid match. It’s a problem you run into, but it isn’t a game breaking one by any means.
Last year was arguably the best year XBLA has had in its increasingly elderly lifetime. That being said, 2013 will need to do a lot if it wants to even compare to 2012 and Special Forces: Team X is not that “a lot.” It’s a decent game with its own share of annoying problems including lackluster combat, but the fast paced gameplay provides enough of a thrill that I still have the urge to go back. But in the end, that speed cannot fix every problem and those problems are the ultimate reason why Special Forces: Team X is just another forgettable third person XBLA shooter.
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