Think of the glory of fighting the good fight in foreign lands as part of the Navy's well-trained SEAL (Sea, Air, Land) soldiers. It's up to you to destroy critical data in a crashed top-secret satellite, deactivate a nuclear warhead that's fallen into the wrong hands, and rescue prisoners held by foreign powers. But if you spent a minute daydreaming about such adventures, you'd probably find that more satisfying than playing ValuSoft's latest game, whose actual connection to the US Navy's most elite unit is unfathomable. While ValuSoft proved with the recent Desert Rats that it can publish enjoyable budget action games, Elite Forces: Navy SEALs falls back in line with its previous poor-quality military-themed shooters, Vietnam 2 and WWII Iwo Jima. The game doesn't even manage to match the production values of those previous efforts, compounding very minimalist game audio with some technical problems.
As a Navy SEAL, you might expect to exercise some special expertise, like diving or working in a tightly knit team. But after you discard the box and get past the title screen, there's next to nothing to let you know you're anything but an anonymous supersoldier. One of the short chunks of text that serves to brief you on your missions suggests that stealth is a valid option. But shortly after you run into an Iraqi soldier 10 feet into the first mission, it should become clear that running and gunning is the best policy. Moreover, while your US weapons, a SOCOM, MP5SD, and M4, are appropriately silenced or powerful, for most of the game, you're likely to wield the same AK-47 that your enemies wield--just because that's the only ammo to be found. The game's 10 levels are grouped into three missions, and the game's one nod to realism is to provide US ammo only on each initial deployment.
Considering recent international events, the appeal of the game could be assumed to be in combating troops from two of the three nations dubbed a part of the "axis of evil": Iraq and North Korea. The other mission takes place in Sarajevo. Clearly, your character is acting out the Navy's promise to take you to distant lands. But after you clear the first few uniformly sandy, rocky, brown levels, you really just have a series of unendingly dingy, dark nighttime maps to race through. If the game's night vision did more than just turn everything a shade of green, it might have been easier to see what's going on in the night maps. As it is, it's almost easier to locate enemies by the muzzle flash and falling brass than suffer the perpetual green of night vision.
Navy SEALs doesn't promise to be more than a pure shooter, which would be absolutely fine if the fighting were actually interesting. You usually encounter enemies one at a time in tight quarters and gradually work your way up to three enemies at a time. Perhaps to ensure that you have plenty of ammo, every enemy carries an AK-47. There are no hand grenades in the game, perhaps because the physics required to have a grenade bounce off a 3D wall couldn't be incorporated. The M4 does at least have its expected underbarrel grenade launcher, but there's little reason to use it since you never see more than three enemies at once. A three-person patrol might be threatening, except that the chance you'll be hit by enemy fire seems completely random--on normal difficulty, you can stand a few feet away as an enemy unloads a clip in your direction and come away unscathed. But to guarantee your safety while running through the levels, you can use the advanced SEAL tactic known as circle strafing.
Navy SEALs is extremely short. One level late in the game literally takes just a few minutes to run through, and the whole game can be completed in less than three hours. But that doesn't mean there aren't any real challenges on the way. The game's trickiest sequences occur in levels in which the game's designers have hidden enemies in the dark corners of a room or behind doors that are scripted to open. Fortunately, if you simply retreat into a hallway, the enemies will be obliging enough to follow you out in single file. Head shots are effective, but even endless sprays from the AK-47 work because of the endless supply of ammo that the game gives you.
There are about two different looks for enemies per mission locale, but since they all act the same, the game's only real variety comes when you face the occasional tank or helicopter. These serve as stationary gun turrets that can't be damaged and are best avoided, except at one point late in the game when you are forced to run a gauntlet surrounded by enemy vehicles that are delivering heavy fire, which--because there's no cover or tracers to make dodging more than a random affair--makes Medal of Honor: Allied Assault's Omaha Beach level seem like a cakewalk.
Before you can even try to enjoy Navy SEALs, you might have some technical hurdles to overcome. When the game works properly, the game's LithTech-powered graphics run smoothly on average systems, no doubt a positive effect of the extremely simple visuals. Although the game worked fine on the first Windows XP system we tried it on, when we had occasion to try it on another, it refused to run, freezing both at the game menu and in-game, and couldn't be coaxed to life even after some modest troubleshooting efforts. We also found that--despite explicit troubleshooting instructions in the readme file--the only way to get rid of major graphics glitches with ATI cards is to not use an ATI card. There are fewer troubles to be had with the game's sound, but there's little in the way of audio when things are working. Practically the only effects in the game are flat-sounding gunshots and the sound of enemies falling to the ground. The budget for the game apparently didn't allow for niceties like music or recorded speech for enemies.
ValuSoft's previous budget-priced shooters didn't set our expectations for Navy SEALs very high, but the game undercuts even those standards, due mostly to the incredibly short single-player missions. While the fact that it takes a quick evening's work to finish the game could give some a sense of accomplishment, even those most interested in the adventure of Navy SEAL missions might lose interest after the first door puzzle. The low production values and technical issues could be brushed off as a side effect of the game's budget status, but a few decent low-priced PC action titles have ruined that excuse. The area where the game does excel is its installer: It takes less than a minute to install, and better still, it takes a mere 10 seconds to uninstall this uninspired shooter.