Dropship: United Peace Force Preview
Get the latest info on Dropship, based off our impressions of the European version.
Dropship is a game that had numerous showings at several events, from E3 to ECTS and back to E3. The improvements in every version were immediately obvious, and it was apparent that development was progressing nicely. However, the game's complexity didn't really allow for a "quick go" at the trade shows, because the controls alone are so complex that you can't learn how to play the game in ten minutes. You need time, and it's worth it. And we had plenty of time recently to do just that.
The story of Dropship might leave a bad taste in your mouth because a lot of the fictional conflicts in the game are very much in tune with the current political climate, even though the story is set 50 years in the future. You're a member of the United Peace Force, which is being called to different crisis zones throughout the world to wipe out drug cartels, terrorists, and dubious organizations. The UPF has risen out of the ashes of the United Nations and NATO and is supported by many countries worldwide. When you start out, you're going to need to learn how to fly a dropship--an army ship employed to transport ground troops over long distances. Therefore it's best to head directly to the training mode, in which you'll come to grips with the complex controls.
The dropship basically has two main modes of flight: the actual flight mode and the hover mode. The hover mode is mostly used when you approach a target point where you need to land, deploy troops, or refill your weapon arsenal. Pushing the L1 and R1 buttons at the same time will make the ship gain height, while pushing R2 and L2 lets it descend vertically. With the X button, you control the thrust of the ship, whereas the square button decelerates. Pushing the X button twice will give the ship a boost, and if it's hovering, it'll switch into flight mode and go forward at incredible speed. Pushing the square button twice will then immediately activate the air brakes, which will shift the ship into hover mode. These two main controls--the X button and the square button--are essential, and using them perfectly can have quite an impact on your mission being a failure or a success.
During actual missions, you'll hear constant radio chatter updating you on your progress and keeping you in the loop as to any changes in the mission. For example, in the first mission, you're asked to bring a ground vehicle to a target point, and while you're on the way to that point, another dropship in your unit begins to experience engine problems, so you're then asked to pick up the ground vehicle there as well. Things like that happen constantly during missions, which makes it a bit hard to predict what is about to happen next. This definitely is a good thing.
The game's title is both accurate and misleading at the same time, because you're in fact not only flying a dropship. You're also in charge of fighter jets and ground vehicles like tanks and armed jeeps, depending on which mission you're on. The controls for the ground vehicles are fairly standard. In some missions, you're the driver, and a computer-controlled character is taking care of the board cannon. One of the most heated missions in the early half of the game puts you behind the seat of an armored ground vehicle and has you infiltrating a base to pick up some of your guys who are stuck inside. Once you're inside, your guys will board the armored personnel carrier (APC), when all of a sudden you're put in charge of the board cannon and must shoot down several enemies in a first-person view. Shortly after that, you'll receive information that your air-strike team is early and that they think you've left the base already. A race against the clock ensues, and you must exit the base as quickly as possible, driving through the base while early air bombs are laying waste all around you. Explosions to the left and right are hindering your sight, but if you're fast enough, you'll get out of the camp at the last minute. Sequences like this are very intense and are executed quite well, which adds a lot to the game's atmosphere.
The mission designs vary a lot and have pretty much everything to offer that you can imagine. In one mission you'll have a straight dogfight with enemy jets, while in another mission you'll have to scan trucks with a special tool to check whether or not they're carrying explosives. You have to save troops, transport them, escort dropship squadrons to your base, deploy special units to infiltrate enemy camps, and destroy the air defense of enemy bases to facilitate air strikes, and in one mission in particular, you'll have to mark air-defense targets from a ground vehicle because the sky is too cloudy for UPF jets to locate them. In this mission, you'll drive with a vehicle to the enemy base, zoom in with a laser to lock onto the targets, after which the targets' coordinates are transmitted to the air-strike team, which then fires missiles from long distance to eliminate the targets, as you watch it happen from a hill.
Visually, the game has its shiny and dull moments. Truly outstanding is the movement of countless troops at once, as well as the incredible draw distance. You can see miles into the distance without fogging or clipping of any sort. The maps are huge, but the draw distance comes at a price, meaning that the landscapes are pretty sparse, with only bushes or trees scattered throughout and occasional buildings and camps. This might appear to some as pretty dull, but it's ultimately a matter of taste. There's not much in the way of texture detail either, since there are so many units moving around, but it still all looks pretty good. Some of the mission replays in particular look top-notch. Most of the cutscenes are being displayed with the in-game engine and look pretty decent, whereas the rendered sequences could have been a lot better. The music, however, has been done professionally and offers dramatic orchestral scores like in a movie. The mission briefings are always very detailed and give you a lot of information to evaluate about the territory, the enemies, and the weapons you'll encounter.
All in all, the final version of Dropship: United Peace Force offers a sense of being "right there," and you feel like you're really flying dropships, transporting goods, escorting troops, and the like. The complex artificial intelligence required for such a game does a pretty good job as well, and the later missions become enormously challenging, even to the point where they become almost unfair. As it currently stands, Sony Computer Entertainment America hasn't made any announcements regarding bringing the game to the US. We'll definitely keep you posted. Dropship: United Peace Force is currently out in Europe.
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