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Sunday, December 4, 2011

Looks like Raven Squad had it's wings clipped

Raven Squad: Operation Hidden Dagger
Game Category: Action - First Person, Shooter, Tactical, RTS
Developer / Distributor: Atomic Motion / Evolved Games and Southpeak Games
Release Date: 25 Aug 2009
Rating: ESRB - Teen

The year is 2011, and the latest battleground lies within the largest jungle in the world - the hot and humid Amazon. You are part of Raven Squad, a mercenary team of six rugged men comprising two teams - an assault and an infiltrator squad. Their mission to rescue air crash survivors and important data has gotten into a little fix.

A blend of both a first person shooter and real-time strategy game, Raven Squad, from Hungarian developers Atomic Motion, is supposed to be a one of a kind innovation that hopefully will attract fans of both genres. Unfortunately, you won't find much bliss in this game thanks to game play design as well as quality issues. Raven Squad is also too short and too easy for the typical AAA player, that we were tempted to slap it with the label of Casual game; this makes us wonder whether more thought and play testing could have gone into it.

Anyway, we still think Raven Squad serves as an interesting alternative for a round of quick play. If you get to see the game in the bargain bin (and you will), grab it. Here's why...

Welcome to Raven Squad
What You Get
Raven Squad sports single- and multi- player menu options. The former is a twelve mission campaign which I'll explain later. As for the latter... well, that's another story altogether; you'll probably have a tough time finding someone else sane enough to want to play with you in the two player cooperative multiplayer mode. This mode allows you to pick from eleven maps, which feature the single player maps for play all over again.

There is also an Extras menu option which is a strange mix - there are about 20 plus pieces of artwork, a video on first aid, plus two full articles for you to read. We were truly flabbergasted that you could get to read some fiction about Mayan-like ruins found in the northern Amazon, and to learn about something called MUZRO - a high-tech satellite imaging system that serves as the eyes for Raven Squad.

The available extras
Game Play
The meat of the game is obviously the single player campaign. You'll watch a lengthy (but quite impressive) introduction cut scene before you are dropped off for the prologue mission.

This first mission is sort of an introductory tutorial. You'll only get to control half of Raven Squad here. The three member assault team, together with O.C - some guy who is directing you from a safe hidey-hole. The chatter between these two groups continue incessantly during the mission, and you will just have to put up with it (in fact throughout most of the game you'll hear lots of chatter).

To give you a better idea of what to expect in the game play, here's a more thorough dissection of the tutorial as well as an elaboration of the unique features of Raven Squad.

Taking aim in first person shooter mode
You will start off the tutorial in FPS mode. After wiping out a group of tangos, you will pick up some skill ammunition from a large crate. The contents from this ammo pack is meant to replenish the special ability of each mercenary. For example, Thor employs a rocket launcher, while Oso can lob grenades.

To proceed from your beach landing, you will have to press the space bar to enter RTS mode. This brings you to a top down view of the battleground. After conducting reconnaissance of the area in this mode, you will be required to clear some crates in the way with a grenade; you'll pick up one from another skill ammo cache. After that, you can either seamlessly return to FPS mode with the space bar, or remain in RTS mode to wipe out your enemies; the choice is up to you.

Trying out the top down zoomable RTS view
There are three things in Raven Squad that we would like to mention about the FPS / RTS game play mechanic:
  • Fog of war - you become near omniscient in RTS mode. That's because you can see everything your enemies are doing; whether they are flanking your position, or retreating like little children crying for their mommies. Where's the fog of war concept? Hmm... seem like there just isn't any.
  • Firing opportunities - In RTS mode, there are lots of opportunities to hide your squad behind some boxes or crates and comfortably fire away from that position.
  • Headshots - after that, it's a trivial exercise to switch over to FPS mode and to start taking out enemies. It seems pretty easy to kill the enemies in Raven Squad, it's almost like downing flies... just aim for the head... or maybe we're just too good? Or maybe it's because FPS mode seems to chug along at a slow pace. 
As you can see, you'll know whatever's coming your way by just switching to RTS mode, then all you have to do is enter FPS mode and take out the enemies with well-placed shots. Where's the fun when a game is this easy? 

As easy as pie... there are four groups of enemies here
In this manner, Raven Squad becomes way too easy - even at the third setting of difficulty, Veteran. If you ever find it too frustrating in Veteran mode, just switch to FPS mode and make full use of the skill abilities to inflict more damage on your enemies. And, remember to seek out crates of skill ammo and replenish your mercenary's skill abilities - they will then be able to inflict lots of carnage on your enemies.

Here's what the each of the six men can do:

Assault Squad (Blue team)
  • Martin Blackwell (callsign Paladin): This bull-headed and arrogant gambler is the leader of Raven Squad. He is the heavy gunner in the group having 3 magazines of 200 rounds each. Yummy!
  • Eduardo Martinez (Oso): This proud and impulsive grenadier is an excellent fighter who does a great job of lobbing grenades at enemies. He can carry a maximum of only 3 grenades. The only thing to remember is, you need to press F2 to lob a grenade.
  • Ivan Sergeyevich Leonid (Thor): Thor is a rash and impulsive guy who likes to rush into battles. He's the anti-tank rocket launcher expert, carrying 3 deadly rockets with him. 
A Paladin's weapon of war
Infiltrator Squad (Yellow team)
  • Joshua Raider (Shadow): A good friend of Martin from Operation Iraqi Freedom, Shadow is able to handle his sniper rifle with grim and stoic determination. He employs 10 sniper bullets with cool and calm efficiency - one shot, one kill... always.
  • Sam Anderson (Flash): It's obvious how Sam got his callsign. Flash is none other than the flash grenade expert; he carries around with him 3 of these.
  • Kyoshi Sato (Zombie): This arrogant and sour Japanese-American soldier has 3 smoke cannisters to throw at enemies. A thick blanket of smoke helps to confuse your enemies and often, yourself. So use your smoke cannisters wisely.
One other thing that makes this game so simple is the revival skill. Whenever any team member goes down, get another member to run up to the incapacitated guy and hold down the Q key to revive him (although he will be revived at half hit points). 

Thanks to this feature, the developers have set up the game to become a "monty haul" style of FPS / RTS hybrid. It's way too easy to play if all you need to do is revive downed comrades.

Use the tab key to take control of either trio
The AI in Raven Squad is a bit of a let-down. 

First, enemies either tend to stand out like sitting ducks or they'll rush at you blindly, setting themselves up to get caught in the crossfire from your two teams. There are also scripted events that just throw a pointless onslaught of enemies at you. And boy, do these guys love throwing grenades at you. We've even seen the odd smoke grenade or two in action. It this a dodge 'em style game?

Next, the good guys - we wish that other members of the team were much better shots... they continue to miss enemies and you'll get so frustrated that it's better if you take things into your own hands. As for friendlies that join Raven Squad much later in the game, well they aren't always smart and tend to get in the way during a firefight.

ET's brother is on the left
The 3D models of the six Raven Squad members as well as other people in the game are ugly; there's just something about their faces that look so unrealistic. To make it worse, you will see them doing nothing but swatting at flies on their necks, or staring down their weapon like it's needs nothing but that coat of oil to de-rust it. Sad to say, there could have been more better animations and the game developers could benefit from learning a bit more about facial construction.

The level designs are quite large with large swathes of jungle to see. There are exceptions of course, like the hacienda, villages, and towns you come to. Otherwise, you'd better get used to seeing nothing but greenery, greenery, and more greenery. RTS mode provides a simple top-down view with icons all over the map clearly indicating locations of med kits, skill ammo packs (for the blue and yellow teams), weapon emplacements, and cutscene triggers.

Nothing beats a helicopter view during battles
The voice acting is the WORST that we've ever heard in gaming history. If there were a Razzie award for games, then we would gladly love to award it to the actors who portrayed O.C. and Xian. Their attempts at faking poor English accents became so unnecessarily absurd, that we quickly sought to mute all sound. If you've seen the British comedy Mind Your Language before, you'll know what we mean.

At least Paladin's acting was better; however his lines are marred by a rather boring story.

The sound effects were much better, with weapons sounding crashingly loud. You even get to hear a ringing-in-your-ears bit when a grenade impacts close or when an RPG is fired nearby. Then there's ambient sounds like insects buzzing, birds happily chirping (when they should be flying away at the first sound of gunshots?), and dogs barking in built-up areas. The adventurous music rouses itself only whenever there's a fight. It does an okay job of keeping us entertained. The main theme is not too bad - it sounds fast, riveting and exciting.

One of the better missions to play
  • It's real easy to switch between FPS and RTS modes... just hit the Tab key. This isn't always available though; there's a small handful of areas where RTS mode has been disabled.
  • If you love a jungle themed game, then we suggest Raven Squad, hands down. Lots of jungle to look at here.
  • The mission variety is quite good with some stand out missions - the hacienda and the fight for the ferry.
  • There are a couple of interesting cut scenes, that is if you watch them like you were watching a silent movie.
  • There were a couple of fun and intense firefights (that is if you don't cheat by toggling to the RTS mode to see where your enemies are).
Some intense firefights.
  • We'll say this up front, right here and now - some of the voice over parts were horribly atrocious! This only helped to worsen the overall likeability of the game.
  • There's nothing new and innovate in FPS mode, and game play felt a bit sluggish here. On the other hand, RTS mode was way too simplistic - with no building construction or fog of war.
  • Which leads us to this point - The marriage of FPS and RTS makes this game way too easy. 
  • The developers have made the game even simpler with the revival feature. Your team members can never die, as long as you manage to revive them with another member. If an entire three-member team goes down, you have only a minute to revive them with the other squad.
  • With regard to enemy AI, just position your two squads behind walls and see them take potshots at enemies who charge at you with nary a thought.
  • We would have preferred to see more styles like snow and desert terrain, but this was not to be thanks to the constraints of the story. You'll get a reprieve though when you finally meet up with General Sanchez, and escort him through a ramshackle town complete with cathedral.
Here, we easily skipped a nasty fight by running ahead
  • Friendly AI is not so polished; the aim of other squad members is pathetic and they seem to prefer  standing around doing nothing but swat at flies.
  • If things get too tough, you could trigger cutscenes by running to objective icons (ignoring all enemies firing at you). This will save you from fighting through some nasty situations.
  • Console conversions should take into account a PC user's needs; unfortunately, it's not a lesson learnt here. You will see icons for XBOX 360 buttons in the menu. 
  • You'd be lucky to find someone to play this game with you in multiplayer.
  • The key control configuration is not as intuitive - who would have thought you'd need to press the F2 button to lob grenades.
  • The extras were not worth unlocking. As we said earlier, we were so flabbergasted that our jaws actually dropped when we saw stories as an unlockable. If you want to share stories in a game, do them on the fan website or place them in the game manual. The medkit video was also pathetic.
At long last, civilization!
As you could see from the review, we were rather disappointed by Raven Squad. The game actually had a lot going for it... but it features game play that is way too easy, and then there's that atrociously horrendous voice acting. If you are the kind who don't like to cheat and can bear with the poor acting, then you will find yourself spending about four to six hours to complete the game - which can be said to be a decent alternative; especially if you have nothing else better to play on a lazy afternoon.

Here's a friendly tip (or two) on how to enjoy Raven Squad:
  • You must not enter RTS mode to see where enemies have run to. You must instead rely on the mission compass, and
  • You should turn the volume down if you cannot stand the voice overs. 
Remember though, Raven Squad is definitely a one-shot kind of experience; once you're done, there'll be nothing left to keep you attached to it. Our final recommendation is this - look for Raven Squad only when it's in the bargain bin.

Nearing the end at last
Daily PC Game Review Score: 4 / 10
Review Date: 4 Dec 2011


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