Looked at as a free mod, Tactical Ops is an achievement its developers can be proud of, but taken as a retail game, it still needs more work.
The recently released Global Operations has long been touted as a potential Counter-Strike rival, though its design owes at least as much to the legendary Team Fortress mod and its offspring as it does to Counter-Strike. In the shadow of Global Ops' big marketing push comes another "ops" game, Tactical Ops: Assault on Terror. In one sense, Tactical Ops is more of a true competitor with Counter-Strike than Global Ops is. That's because Tactical Ops is essentially just a clone of Counter-Strike, built around Unreal Tournament instead of Half-Life. The basic game design is strikingly similar in almost every important way, and while Tactical Ops has some strengths, it isn't nearly as well honed as its model.
Like Counter-Strike, Tactical Ops (originally called SWAT) began its life as a free fan-created mod. Now MicroProse has released this enhanced retail version of the mod with some exclusive new material, including new maps and skins. At the same time, the standard version of the mod is still available as a free download, and Infogrames promises that both the free and retail versions will be fully compatible. However, even with the latest patches, server rejections and dropped connections are common because of version mismatches and other problems.
Regardless of which version you play, don't expect to be wowed by innovation. Anyone who's played Counter-Strike before--and by now that would seem to include every gamer and his grandma--will be struck with a huge case of déjà vu. Gameplay is divided into rounds, with two teams, the Special Forces and terrorists, trying to complete opposing goals, in addition to simply killing the opposition. The Special Forces might need to rescue hostages, while the terrorists try to prevent that rescue. In another mode, the terrorists try to detonate a bomb at a specific target, while the Special Forces try to stop the attempt. Another mode has the terrorists trying to steal the OICW (the US military's advanced objective individual combat weapon), while the Special Forces try to guard it. Then there's a mode in which one team tries to escape from the other. Unfortunately, the maps aren't labeled according to game type, so you'll have to guess which map offers what mode when you start a new session. As in Counter-Strike, you only get one life per round, sitting out the rest of a round as an invisible spectator after you die.
You'll earn money for achievements such as killing enemies, finding evidence like bags of cocaine, and completing mission goals. At the beginning of each new round, you get to trade your cash for new gear. Tactical Ops offers a good selection of the tools of the trade. Helmets, bulletproof vests, and pads will afford some protection from all the bullets buzzing around. You'll get to buy high-explosive, smoke, flash-bang, and concussion grenades, though the latter aren't that different from the HE grenades. Everyone gets a default flashlight, but it's pretty dim. Happily, you can also buy night vision goggles, which are useful on the many dark map sections.
Tactical Ops is one of those shooters that puts the emphasis squarely on shooting over any sort of deep tactical thought or James Bond gadgetry, and the game features a big arsenal. In addition to a knife, you'll get around 20 firearms, including pistols, submachine guns, assault rifles, and sniper rifles. A number of the weapons are exclusive to one team or the other to help differentiate the two forces. Both sides' weapons seem decently balanced against each other overall, though arguably some weapons like the M60 are overpowered. Just as when Counter-Strike went retail, the names of the guns have been confusingly changed. A MAC-10 is falsely labeled an Uzi. And just what is a "9F2 Glorietta" or "Berg 509"? One can only assume a Beretta 92F pistol and a Mossberg shotgun, respectively.