E3 2008: Raven Squad First Impressions

We check out a jungle conflict where first-person shooter action meets real-time strategy and generates some intriguing hybrid gameplay.


Raven Squad: Operation Hidden Dagger

Two squads of hired mercenaries parachute into the jungle to rescue a kidnapped VIP from guerrilla forces. It sounds like a cliched setting for another run-of-the-mill first-person shooter, but developer Atomic Motion is adding one key twist that it hopes will help Raven Squad stand out from the crowd. In addition to running and gunning in first-person view, you will be able to pull back to an overhead satellite view and issue orders to your squads as if they were units in a real-time strategy game. We checked out publisher SouthPeak Interactive's booth at E3 2008 and got a look at this interesting new hybrid game in action.

At the outset, things feel pretty familiar. There's a dense, green jungle crisscrossed by dirt roads and occasional clearings filled with tin roof structures and construction debris. Two four-man squads enter this environment, and you can control each of them. Every soldier has an assault rifle with unlimited ammunition as his primary weapon and a unique secondary weapon that is more tactically significant yet has limited ammunition. Squad A's secondary weapons are primarily assault-oriented: machine gun, rocket launcher, grenades, and land mines. Squad B has a more support-oriented arsenal: sniper rifle, flashbang, smoke grenade, and sonic decoy. You can switch among any of the eight soldiers on the fly, which comes in handy when it's time to reload. Maneuvering in first-person mode seemed pretty standard, but that can change with the press of a button.

Satellite view is easily toggled on, and with it on, we are treated to a top-down view of the battlefield. In addition to seeing our squads, we can see nearby enemy soldiers and terrain elements. Our presenter showed us that what previously appeared to be a blank wooden wall is actually hiding an enemy machine gun post. When he quickly selects the grenadier and commands him to attack over the wall, the enemy is gone before he knows what hit him. We watch as both squads moved forward and automatically engaged the units alerted by the blast. Then our presenter finished off the remaining soldiers by ordering his two squads in a flanking maneuver around opposite sides of the building that his enemies were hiding behind.

Some levels in Raven Squad will be fairly linear affairs that task you with getting from point A to point B. Others will be a bit more complicated and challenge you to defend two separate points simultaneously or defend a choke point with one squad while you assault an encampment with the other. Along the way, you'll meet friendly non-player characters that will help you and even fight alongside your squads, though you won't control them directly. Raven Squad will also feature drivable four-wheel vehicles, such as jeeps and trucks, as well as an online cooperative mode that will allow each player to take charge of one squad.

The idea of combining first-person action with an overhead tactical element is an interesting one, and hopefully, Raven Squad will be able to deliver on its promise. We're looking forward to seeing how the various missions incorporate these two elements. Raven Squad is slated for a winter 2008 release on the PC and Xbox 360, so keep an eye here for more in the intervening months.

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