When you think of urban angst, gangsta rap, and jive talkin' street thugs, you naturally think of armored combat, right? At least that's what Eidos Interactive is banking on with their latest arcade tank simulation, Shellshock.
Using a plot straight from The A-Team, a group of street-wise soldiers is declared expendable and left to die in Bosnia. Unhappy with the status quo, the five survivors decide to form their own mercenary unit and make the world safe for Truth, Justice, and Hip Hop Music. While the plot is certainly unusual (and more than a bit dumb), what really sets this game apart is its all-minority cast. This would be noteworthy if handled correctly, but CORE Design has cheapened the experience by catering to crude racial stereotypes. As a result, the characters in Shellshock look and sound more like Fat Albert's gang than professional soldiers.
Once you get past the moronic plot and insulting characters, the actual gameplay is fairly entertaining. With a simple arcade interface and plenty of enemy tanks to shoot, Shellshock plays more like a Doom on Wheels than a traditional tank sim. Unlike Doom, however, combat takes place in large open arenas, and various mission objectives must be completed before you can head to the extraction point. These objectives range from the traditional blow up everything that moves, to hostage rescues and surgical strikes. Along the way, the player tries to earn enough cash to purchase repairs and upgrades for the next mission. While none of this is in any way groundbreaking, it is a good time-killer. On the graphics front, Shellshock is somewhat disappointing. The blocky VGA graphics and bitmap tanks simply look dated by today's standards. In addition, an annoying haze effect obscures enemy tanks until you are already in range of their guns, and makes every encounter a virtual ambush. Fortunately, Shellshock manages to compensate for these deficiencies by maintaining a lightning fast framerate. As a result, combat is fast and furious - without a hint of slowdown.
In conclusion, Shellshock is a decent game based on an abysmal premise. If you can stomach the laughable plot and stereotypical characters, though, you might just have a good time.
SPECIAL NOTE: Shellshock is not compatible with CH Products' joysticks; owners of the Flightstick and Flightstick Pro may want to take that into consideration. In addition, the game crashes when you try to enter the simulator unless you are running a network game. Future patches to correct these problems will appear on GameSpot's download pages for Shellshock.