Is there any thought more frightening to an American than the thought of another massive terrorist attack on US soil? Absolutely: the prospect of having to play through Patriots: A Nation Under Fire. This budget-priced first-person shooter creates a nightmare scenario of a massive, countrywide terrorist attack that leaves many major cities destroyed in a nuclear holocaust and the remaining populace under siege by masked guys with guns and unplaceable, threatening-sounding accents. It then piles on the nightmare by encumbering you with intensely clumsy cover mechanics, a level of challenge that borders on unfair, and absentminded artificial intelligent cohorts who make fantastic bullet shields but aren't useful for much else.
Patriots starts out with a lengthy narration sequence explaining how terrorists basically popped up out of nowhere and started blowing stuff up. Not that you'd necessarily expect taut, captivating fiction from a budget title, but that block of narration is about as much story as you'll ever get out of the game. Evidently you play as a blank-slate National Guardsman who's been called in to the local armory to suit up, only to find it overrun with terrorists. From there, you take on a series of almost totally unrelated missions until the terrorists have been bested or you've given up and uninstalled the game. For sanity's sake, the latter is probably the smarter option.
Even on the easiest difficulty level, it becomes clear early on in Patriots that a certain a certain amount of patience is required to survive. The number of terrorists the game starts throwing at you as soon as you exit the armory is insane. Apparently, every terrorist in the world got together and formed some kind of supergroup, because the numbers you'll end up killing over the course of the game are staggering. At the very least, you can't call these enemies dumb. Save for a few dummies who stand around vacantly just waiting for you to shoot them, the majority of these guys know how to grab cover and are crack shots, so unless you can find cover immediately, you're hosed.
And therein lies the comedy, as the game's cover mechanics are woefully inadequate. The game places plenty of abandoned vehicles and random crates around its stages for you to cower behind, but there are no covering mechanics beyond a cover toggle. You press it to duck, and press it again to stand back up. You can't look out from cover to shoot, blind fire, or do anything that might be considered, you know, tactical. Your best bet in most cases is to just wait until the AI soldiers on your side of the fight kill off as many of the nearby terrorists as they can before they're inevitably murdered (AI good guys know how to kill--just not how to avoid being killed), then quickly run to the next objective point. AI soldiers seem to endlessly respawn until you've completed each mission objective (in many cases, to rescue defenseless hostages who tend to get shot rather easily), so standing around and killing guys is less useful than just trying to run away and avoid getting shot while blasting any enemy that gets within five feet of you.
Adding to the frustration of it all is the obscenely limited amount of ammunition you're handed throughout the game. There's a decent variety of guns to play around with, but almost all of them are woefully lacking in bullets. It seems as though half of every mission consists of just running around, trying to dig up enough ammo to move to the next point. Over time the game slowly but surely gives you more and more ammunition, but it also throws more and more terrorists at you, which keeps the balance decidedly not in your favor. Even when you've got piles and piles of dead terrorists lying about the place, their weapons ripe for the picking, you rarely collect enough ammo to be useful for more than a few minutes. An even more ridiculous problem is that there's no automatic reload function, so every time a gun runs out of ammo, you have to stop to reload it manually. It just so happens that most times you'll run into this problem while you're being shot to death from all directions. Top it off with the fact that the level of aiming precision with pretty much any gun besides the sniper rifle exists somewhere around just aiming for the sky and hoping the bullets fall to the ground on a terrorist's head, and you're not going to have much fun at all with the game's shooting mechanics.
Patriots presents itself about as poorly as the average budget title tends to. The graphics are chunky and bland, with character models, animations, and environments that look as if they came out of a Counter-Strike knockoff circa 1999. The explosion and death effects are supercheesy, in the sort of way that causes rocket-launcher blasts to create tiny puffs of fire that somehow turn enemies into several badly textured chunks of meat. Occasionally the game does up its whole terrorists-in-Middle-America thing in an interesting way, sticking you in a suburban neighborhood or major city that's brimming with bad guys. But the environments themselves are tiny and ugly, and many of them seem to reuse a lot of the same basic design elements. Clipping problems also present constantly, with arms, guns, and dead bodies morphing into various pieces of the environment on a near-constant basis. The audio is markedly worse than the graphics, even. Terrorists shout such wonderfully original lines as "kill the infidels!" over and over again until the words have basically lost all meaning, and your guys barely ever speak, save to curse once in a while about nothing in particular. Gun effects are marginally decent, and the music is the sort of generic, supposed-to-be-exciting-but-isn't noise that you've probably already heard in dozens of other games.
The premise of Patriots: A Nation Under Fire is a bit silly in its over-the-top methodology, but it's not inherently a bad one. The problem is that nothing is done with it. The story is left for dead the moment the first mission pops up, and from there it's an onslaught of bad missions with worse combat that go on and on until the game finally gives up and ends. This one's a losing fight any way you look at it.