Just hearing the name “Special Forces: Team X”, I somewhat expected a mediocre title, and sadly my lowest expectations were met. Playing like an abandoned love-child of Gears of War, Call of Duty, and Team Fortress 2, the game seems as if it’s not sure what it wants to be; a third-person cover shooter or an over-the-top chaotic class-based shooter. Mix this with a poor attempt at creating an interesting visual style and you’ve got the latest ‘online multiplayer only’ Xbox LIVE Arcade title.
Lacking any real character, the purely multiplayer game dishes out the usual competitive modes; Deathmatch, Control Point, and its own version of Call of Duty’s Hardpoint mode, titled Hot Zone. These gametypes offer no real innovation to online shooters and what they do offer are executed poorly when compared to most other titles. The game does allow for class customisation, but after levelling up five levels, all I “unlocked” was the ability to turn the hat you’re already equipped with around to wear it backwards. The customisation is a chore to say the least, and with the very limited adaptation options the game lacks a sense of individuality, which is the entire point of character modifications.
The visual design of the game would fall into what I consider a missed opportunity. Scrapping the photorealistic look most shooters aim for, Zombie Studios’ Special Forces: Team X went the route of cartoony. Going with the cel-shaded look, some areas and effects look very nice, interesting, and fresh, while others are ugly and bland. It appears as if the style was chosen due to budget, rather than artistic vision. Lacking the vibrant colors and thick borders seen in a beautiful cel-shaded title such as Jet Set Radio, the game just makes you imagine how much better it could look if cleaned up and tweaked just a tad.
Sadly, the gameplay is what I had the biggest problem with. Fast-paced, chaos-fuelled gameplay is not necessarily a bad thing, but when the damage inconsistency is all over the place, and spawn points often place you within five feet of the enemy team, things can get old fast. More times than I can count I started the game with a bullet implanted in my brain. This happens less often once the game gets going, but it’s hard to have fun when the first split second involves gun fire from nearly all angles.
Cover and teamwork is the key to victory, or so they say. Snapping to cover works well enough; having my life saved by chest-high walls seems to be the norm in games these days. However, the norm also includes the ability to swap between cover and move around or towards enemies with relative ease. Sadly, this is not the case for this title. Forcing me to stand up to move between cover defeats the purpose, and it turns into a game of ‘who can wait the longest’, more than out-manoeuvring or out-aiming the other players.
The gunplay is the basic third-person affair; although a tad loose and floaty, it works. Even though it’s nothing special, and I can’t see anyone choosing this over the hundreds of other shooters out there, the game does offer a feel of satisfaction when you are able to dominate. What doesn’t work as well, are the weapons. I found most weapons, apart from grenade launchers and sniper rifles, to feel nearly identical. That’s not to say they deal the same damage, quite the contrary, some guns are vastly over-powered when compared to others. This, when blended with the game’s iffy latency, presents a big cup of frustration for the player.
The game’s maps, or should I say, map, is a puzzle all of its own. Each map is split up into thirds, allowing players to vote on different ‘sections’. While this idea seemed novel to me at first, I soon realised it only hurt the overall experience. With all sections looking nearly identical, not only did it feel like what sections were chosen didn’t matter, it also makes it near impossible to learn the ins and outs of the different maps, which is key to multiplayer games.
While scoring points and kills, if teammates remain in close proximity to each other the game will reward all players a “team multiplier”, which consists of bonus points and experience. It seems like a great way to boost teamwork, but when mixed with the unpredictable map layouts, and run-and-gun style, it becomes more of a hassle than a goal.
The game tries to mix it up with attack dogs that deploy like grenades and power weapons such as chainsaws and mini-guns, but they all feel flat. Not to mention the attack dogs at times just refused to attack the opposing team, as if they were all sneaking them doggie treats when I wasn’t looking, and are more content to stand and stare at walls rather than rip them to shreds.
In the end Special Forces: Team X presents us with a shallow multiplayer-only experience that falls short in areas that should be business as usual, and with all the other shooters available for consoles, it’s hard to recommend.