If you ask an average gamer to explain the focus of real-time strategy games you'll probably be told that the two most important elements are resource management and building a better combat force than your foe. With few exceptions, that's been the rule ever since Westwood's Dune II. What most people don't realize is that the real-time strategy game goes as far back as the original home computers. Combat Leader and NATO Commander were both golden age real-time games, focusing on managing troops in real time without concerning themselves with resource gathering. Real time creates a realistic situation where you must assess and react to threats instantaneously, a perfect setting for tactical simulations. It causes you to be proactive and to be constantly thinking, which is exactly what Sierra's SWAT 2 aims for, and, sometimes, it hits the mark. For the most part, though, SWAT 2 simply shoots itself in the foot.
Don't fret if you remember the first SWAT; SWAT 2 only shares the name of that horrid FMV affair. SWAT 2 is a 30-scenario real-time strategy game, which can be played either as SWAT or a terrorist organization. In addition to the scenarios, multiplayer is of course supported, and a multiplayer map editor has been included.
The 30 scenarios are divided into 15 scenarios for each side, and each scenario begins with a short animated video. The video is essentially your briefing for the upcoming scenario and gives you an idea of what your team will be facing. Scenarios for SWAT involve everything from riot control to snipers, while the terrorist side sees you starting the riots and ambushing the police. After that you can create your teams that will participate in the scenario. There is a large selection of officers and terrorists to choose from, and, thanks to the multiple means of filtering information, picking the right one is a snap. Finally you equip your teams. The SWAT player has it easier with equipment, thanks to unlimited acquisition, while the terrorist player must make do with a limited stockpile. Once that is done, the scenario proper begins, as do the problems.
The first glaring problem is that some scenarios will have your officers ill equipped to handle the situation. While perfect intelligence would not be realistic, you should be told if you'll need something special, such as repelling equipment, but some scenarios wait until you enter them before you find out that interesting tidbit. Time to restart and reequip.
If you have the right equipment, the scenario proceeds. The graphics are good, but the sound effects are only decent, and there's a decided lack of ambient sounds. The gameplay itself is a chaotic mess. Close Combat shows how much fun a tactical game can be in real time. By creating a player-hostile environment, SWAT 2 only shows you how much fun Close Combat can be.
Since SWAT 2 prides itself on creating a game in which violence is not the key, you simply can't go in and gun everyone down unless you're playing the terrorist side. But for some reason your officers rarely have a clue on following proper police procedure unless you nursemaid them. Making this more problematic is the fact that nonviolent actions are the hardest to accomplish in SWAT 2. Here's a prime example: An officer spots a suspect with a gun lowered. You start by challenging the suspect. You hit the hotkey and then move the cursor over the suspect. The suspect aims at the officer. Since this is all happening in real time you need to quickly switch to firing mode and shoot first. Since the computer doesn't have to fumble with hotkeys or icons, more than likely that officer is leaving in a body bag. All this could be avoided if your officer could do those actions immediately and automatically within sight of a suspect. One way it could have been handled is to assign stances to the officers that would dictate how they react to threats. Instead the game moves far too quickly while you're fumbling to issue orders.
SWAT 2 manages to drop a concussion grenade at its feet with the length of gameplay. The average scenario (not counting team selection time) takes anywhere from one minute to five, with a few possibly extending to eight or nine minutes. Sure it's realistic, but consider the fact that the entire game can be played out in under three hours. Even if you replay each one until you get it perfect, expect only about five to six hours of play. Compare that with any other real-time strategy game on the market. And no, multiplayer doesn't add that much life to it. Those scenarios are over just as quick and usually end up being nothing more than a laggy bloodbath.
SWAT 2 could have been filled with nail-biting intensity and adrenaline-pumping action; instead, it's composed of a frustrating command system and messy gameplay. The designers of SWAT 2 really missed the boat by choosing to use real time. As a turn-based game it could have been a winner. If nothing else, at least it would have lasted longer.