Spec Ops: Omega Squad Preview

Though the title may sound unique, the Dreamcast version will essentially be a straight port of the PC's Spec Ops 2: Green Berets.

Ultrarealistic tactical simulations have become all the rage in recent years. Gamers seem to be showing an increasing amount of disinterest in the endless parade of fantastical and nonsensical characters that have the ability to withstand 20 bullet wounds, a rocket to the chest, and extreme temperatures without losing a step. Enter Special Ops. Designed for the PC, released over two years ago, and popular enough to spawn several add-ons as well as a sequel, Special Ops was a trendsetter that established the squad-based strategic-action genre - one that's become oft imitated (Rainbow Six and the PC's Delta Force being prime examples) and very popular in the PC community.

Though the Spec Ops franchise has been the subject of criticism since its debut because of its poor gameplay and sloppy AI on the PC format, Ripcord (Spec Ops' PC producer) hopes it will find a more receptive audience for the series on the Dreamcast with the release of Special Ops: Omega Squad in mid-June. Though the title may sound unique, the Dreamcast version will essentially be a straight port of the PC's Spec Ops 2: Green Berets. Ripcord has handed the duties of actual translation from PC to console to UK developer Rune Craft.

Rune Craft announced that aside from the implementation of a linear campaign track and additional cutscenes, gameplay in Spec Ops will remain essentially unchanged. Graphics, on the other hand, will receive new special effects and the promise of a consistently smooth 60 frames per second. The developers are also addressing control issues on the Dreamcast, introducing an easier, more graphics-oriented interface that will optimize gameplay for the Dreamcast's controller pads. One gameplay feature that isn't making the Dreamcast translation is an Internet mode. Apparently Ripcord has elected to release two versions of Spec Ops. Omega Squad, which is due in June, will ship without Internet play, and Spec Ops Online, which is due in the fourth quarter of this year (after the Dreamcast Network has established itself), will feature Net play as well as a slew of new missions.

Graphically, the game has two distinct visual modes for you to choose from, alternating (as you see fit) between a third- and first-person perspective. Also, using scope-equipped weapons, you can zoom in certain distances to survey terrain and check for possible enemies. Night-vision goggles are also included in Spec Ops and prove to be vitally necessary in some missions. These graphical and gameplay additions are vital to making progress in the mission and are due to be enhanced for the Dreamcast. From a melee standpoint, Rune Craft promises enhanced and revamped depictions of grenade explosions and other large graphical effects, taking advantage of the system's ample 3D processing power.

Spec Ops: Omega Squad will feature the 25 missions from Spec Ops 2 and will take you and your team of four Green Berets to a wide variety of locations around the world. Specifically, missions in Spec Ops occur in modern-day hotspots like Pakistan and move to more exotic locales like Korea, Germany, and Thailand. Eventually, you and your elite cadre of Green Berets will even venture into the barren winterscape of Antarctica (apparently thrown in for variety's sake) to recover a downed satellite. Each excursion to these unique areas is divided into campaign-like segments that feature four to six sequential missions. Rune Craft opted to make a gameplay change by making the overall progression of the campaign linear. Instead of choosing which set of missions and country you want to try next, Spec Ops: Omega Squad forces you to progress from the easiest set of missions to the most challenging. Gameplay in Spec Ops follows the common squad-based FPS adage that maintains "if it's not the way it works in the real world, it's not the way things work in our game." Though it would be nice, and considerably easier, if your Green Berets were supermen that could withstand a couple of grenades to the chest without loss of life (much less limbs), life in Spec Ops isn't that easy. Like most squad-level simulations, Spec Ops is uncompromisingly realistic in terms of inflicting and taking damage. A well-placed sniper is capable of taking down the team with a few true bullets. You must concentrate on devising a plan of infiltration, engagement, and extraction that must be coordinated to prevent unnecessary loss of life. Unfortunately, this necessity for squad coordination did not stop the PC version of Spec Ops from being troubled with pathfinding errors in its squad AI (teammates would frequently be stopped by obstacles in their way). Errors like these can ruin an otherwise realistic tactical experience, and Rune Craft is reportedly working to correct these engine-related issues before the title ships in June.

In Spec Ops, you exercise total control of your team - extending from actual combat to in-depth pre-mission planning. As the leader of your capable squad of soldiers, it's your job to equip your team, as well as lead it into battle. Rune Craft plans to maintain all 19 weapons found in the PC version. Along with the standards like the Colt Carbine and MP5 Navy, you will be offered weapons like the still-prototype Objective Individual Combat Weapon (OICW) and the amazing Vektor 5.62 assault rifle. Naturally, squad members feature different abilities and preferences, so equipping these weapons to the right guys is a must for survival. Giving the high-powered sniper rifle to the towering grunt with an affinity for breaking things probably isn't the best allocation of resources. Careful gamers must check out their soldiers' statistics first, before making the decision on equipment.

Though lacking an Internet mode, Spec Ops: Omega Squad is coming to the Dreamcast with its variety of weapons, missions, and squad-based combat in tow. Spec Ops looks to be nearing completion for the Dreamcast, and Rune Craft has set the tentative release date for June 14.

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