Join us for an exclusive look at the next SWAT tactical action game from Irrational.
Tactical shooters, which attempt to realistically model weapons and squad tactics, are only for those crazy military-weapons enthusiasts who subscribe to Soldier of Fortune magazine, right? Not at all. Thanks to new games on the PC and consoles, the tactical shooter has become more accessible and a lot more popular. And Irrational has every intention of keeping things that way with SWAT 4, the next game in Sierra's classic squad-based police action series. We recently had a chance to take an exclusive look at this promising game and have much to report.
Let's get this out of the way first: SWAT 4 won't be a story-driven game that follows the careers of a few doe-eyed rookies as they gradually get more hard-boiled and eventually become too old for this kind of thing. Yes, the game will have a career mode--its four primary play modes will be career, training, instant action, and quick missions--but it won't follow a story so much as put you through a series of varied and increasingly challenging missions. Like in the previous games, you'll receive a before-mission briefing and use an equipment screen to arm your squad and choose your points of entry (all missions will offer at least two points of entry, if not more). You'll also choose your team's weapons loadout from a selection of the finest modern-day firearms, including assault rifles, submachine guns, and many varieties of sidearm.
SWAT 4 will realistically simulate bullet ballistics, tracking each round as it emerges from the muzzle of a gun, travels outward, and strikes its target. The game will also use the Havok physics engine to model its objects, so you can expect to see environments where "cover" isn't really cover. The game will physically model the thickness and density of environmental objects, so glass bottles will shatter and office chairs will teeter and then collapse when shot, and hiding behind sheet metal when a perp has an AK-47 trained on you will be a good way to add some extra holes to your body. With this in mind, you may want to consider taking full-metal jacket ammo in favor of jacketed hollow-point ammo if you know you'll be up against armored opponents or in enclosed areas with hard surfaces. Fortunately, SWAT 4 currently doesn't model bullet ricochet. Irrational currently feels that realistically modeling ricochet in enclosed spaces would cause many players to accidentally injure their own characters and their teammates, or even accidentally take down enemies--and the developer would prefer that all kills be made with skill, rather than subject players to the frustrating possibility of losing a teammate, or a mission, as the result of a random glancing shot.
You'll also be able to carry a number of miscellaneous items with you, and different character classes will have certain equipment and abilities by default--for instance, demolitions experts will come equipped with charges for blowing open locked doors. You'll even be able to use wire and helmet cameras that have picture-in-picture displays in real time. Since you'll play as an officer in a four-man police squad (known as an "element"), you can actually split your element into two groups, hook both groups up with a helmet camera, and then direct the entire mission from a stationary spot, simply using the cameras to give orders.
If you like, you'll be able to adjust the game's difficulty settings to include more-stringent victory conditions, like being able to win only if no officers are wounded. But unlike in other tactical shooters, there won't be any focus on character abilities or advancement (so you won't be babysitting the one character who will just barely gain enough experience points or prestige to advance a rank, get access to better weapons, or whatever). You'll instead focus entirely on the missions at hand with the officers you're assigned, spending all your prep time getting your weapon loadouts and entry point right. Interestingly, though the game's career mode will have about 14 substantial missions, its quick mission mode will let you edit existing maps by placing additional enemies and hostages in them and changing the difficulty and victory settings. Irrational expects that these edited maps, along with the game's cooperative online multiplayer modes, will really help give the game longevity, especially since you'll be able to lay out a mission however you like and then save it and trade it with your friends.
Irrational is also adding an all-new, highly streamlined, and completely optional context-sensitive interface. This is in addition to the classic SWAT 3 interface, which was extremely flexible but was found to be overwhelming by many beginners. Newer players will be able to take advantage of the all-new interface, which automatically pulls up a context-sensitive command based on what you're pointing your weapon crosshairs at. For instance, if you point your weapon at a door, the default action "open door" will appear onscreen, and you can simply press the space bar to order your team to execute the command. You can also right-click any environmental objects to pull up a menu with even more options, so, for example, locked doors can be knocked down, blasted with charges, pried open with wedges, or worked on with a lock pick, among other things.