Barking Dog Studios and Electronic Arts are hoping that Global Operations, their long-awaited first-person shooter, will have the right mix of action and realism to dethrone Counter-Strike, the longtime champ of online team-based first-person shooting. We've spent countless hours playing the first beta release of Global Operations and have a hands-on report of what the experience has been like so far.
Currently, there are only a handful of servers available to play on, but once you have selected a server and have been connected, you have to make two choices. The first choice is to decide which of the two teams to play on---you can select between a law enforcement team and criminal force team. Each map has a different branch of law enforcement and criminal force; for instance, when playing on the Mexico map, you can choose to be a part of the Mexican army or the local drug cartel. Even though the team may have a different name, each team on every map is the same aside from appearance. The next choice is to decide which of the seven character classes (only six actually participate in combat) you'd like to play as. The first six positions on the team are recon officer, heavy gunner, sniper, commando, medic, and demolitions expert. Each character class has specific abilities, weapons, and items. For instance, the recon officer comes equipped with a global positioning system that shows where teammates and nearby enemy forces are. The demolition expert has the ability to purchase a range of explosives--including C4--which he can use to blow open passages and doors that open up alternate access routes. Using the special abilities of these character classes correctly and in concert with the other abilities of your teammates greatly increases your team's chance for success in completing objectives.
Once you've chosen a team and character class, all that's left to do is buy your weapons and items and begin play. The weapons and items, as well as the limit of each that you can carry, are once again dependent on the character class you choose. For instance, the commando can carry up to three weapons--primary, secondary, and a sidearm. The recon and medical officers can carry only a primary and sidearm. In addition to buying weapons, you can buy weapon upgrades such as scopes, larger magazines, and suppressors.
The mechanics of the gameplay in Global Operations are naturally very similar to that of Counter-Strike. However, there are some very subtle and key differences between the two games. The first and most obvious is that although the game is team based, it does allow players who have been killed to respawn during the same mission. If a player's health percentage falls to zero, he falls to the ground, where he can either alert a medic of his condition and hope he arrives before he dies or simply choose his fate and head back to the weapon-select screen and wait to be respawned. This system is very similar to the one in Return to Castle Wolfenstein in that it has a respawning time cycle. Sometimes you'll catch the cycle near its end and get right back in, and other times you'll have to wait up to 25 seconds. In any case, no matter how similar Global Operations may seem to Counter-Strike in appearance or setup, its respawning system does put you in play for greater lengths of time, no matter how good you are at CS. Global Operations' respawning system and the fact that all primary weapons that hit the ground stay there unless picked up by other players remove the consequence of dying in the game, since you can usually respawn and go and pick up your gun where you dropped it when you died. Dying in general at this time in Global Operations is harder to do than in Counter-Strike. The damage system is much more forgiving: A single round to the chest from a submachine gun at close range while you're wearing light armor takes off just a few percentage points from your health. Headshots from a submachine gun also are weaker and require multiple shots to kill. Pistols other than the Desert Eagle and 44. mag also require a great number of well-placed shots to cause serious damage.
The feel of the guns is very similar to Counter-Strike's. Firing more than a few shots from a full automatic weapon in Global Operations makes your crosshairs spread further apart the longer you fire, which indicates its ineffectiveness at any distance. Once you stop firing, the crosshairs return to a tight group. For fans of sniping in Counter-Strike, another key difference in how Global Operations plays is that you can't move while looking through a scope of any kind. Any movement other than aiming returns the view to normal. Also, another difference that will undoubtedly please many Counter-Strike players is that Global Operations tracks assisted kills.
In the current build of the game, only two maps, Quebec and Mexico, are available for play. The story for the Quebec level is about a Turkish national who has ties to the Turkish defense league, and he has broken out of an armored car in a daring daylight attack while being transferred to a high-security detention facility. Originally arrested in Quebec City on charges of fundraising for the TDL, he is actually a high-level TDL commander who has been eagerly sought by Turkish authorities on numerous charges. The mission--playing as the good guys or the bad guys--is to lead the Turkish national to a designated location. The terrorists have the upper hand, however, since they have control of their comrade at the beginning of the mission, and although there are alternate routes for both sides to take, they all lead to one drop zone per team, creating a bottleneck for both sides to try to deal with. On top of the bottleneck, each team's drop point is right next to its opposition's spawn position, which very often leads to last-minute saves for each team. Depending on the number of players on a server, the mission can go the entire 15-minute duration without either side ever reaching its goal. Or the terrorist side can make a quick delivery within a couple of minutes if it's able to sneak the nonplayer-controlled prisoner undetected past the Canadian forces. The map design of Quebec offers a lot of variety for different styles of play. The main bottleneck area for the terrorists to get through is a train yard, which has several sniper positions on both sides. The level also has a few underground passages and other areas for heavy gunners to lead the way through.
The Mexico level is a lot more straightforward, since it's a simple demolition level for the good guys. The gist of the story is that a drug cartel is posed to move a particular product, and it's up to the Mexican army to get in there and destroy either the truck that will move the goods or the product itself. The setting is almost identical to that of the final scene from the film Way of the Gun. The map centers on a large, rundown two-story building that has a courtyard in the center. The Mexican army team must get past the courtyard to plant the explosives on either the truck or the drug stash. Since the building is two stories, there are lots of open windows overlooking the courtyard, where the majority of the action takes place--this is perfect for snipers on either team. The drug cartel team simply has to keep the Mexican army from planting the explosives, and if the army does plant them, the team must defuse the explosives before they blow up. As in Counter-Strike, a specific bomb must be placed to accomplish this goal. If the bomb carrier is taken out, it falls to the ground until another member of the team picks it up.
In the graphics and sound department, Global Operations in its current state already looks very solid. The game uses a heavily modified version of the LithTech 2.0 3D engine. The models, as well as the environments, are fairly detailed. Some of the most impressive visual and audio effects are displayed when your character is gassed, and his vision not only blurs but also fades in and out. The sound becomes muffled and indistinguishable when a grenade or flash bang lands near your character, making it truly effective. In addition, firing weapons in tunnels and other tight areas sounds very authentic.
So while we'll have to wait a few more months and see what the rest of the game will be like before commenting further, it's fair to say we're excited about the two levels we've gotten a chance to play. For further details on character classes and general info on the other real-world locations featured in the game, be sure to check out our previous preview. We'll be sure to bring you more information on the game as it becomes available.