Operation Shadow Hands-On Impressions

Do you like the smell of napalm in the morning? We do too, after a quick E3 session with Operation Shadow.

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Operation Shadow looks like another whale of a shoot-'em-up for the N-Gage from Ashen's Torus Games. The Australian development house has come up with a compulsively playable formula for this cartoony third-person wargame, combining simple controls, lots of exploding ordinance, and a fully destructible environment into a pretty smooth action mix.

Operation Shadow, like many shooters of similar pedigree, doesn’t lend much effort to its back story. It’s your lantern-jawed commando’s job to resolve a burgeoning border war between two fictitious states and rescue American POWs along the way. And as a quick opening weapon-loading sequence makes clear, he’s not waiting on a congressional resolution to get down to business.

You are thrust more or less immediately into the thick of battle, with only an assault rifle and five grenades to your name. The gameplay will be immediately familiar to fans of third-person titles like MDK and Max Payne, only much simpler: You get a targeting reticle for your machine gun, hordes of enemy soldiers to shoot, an ammo meter, and not a whole lot else. All incoming enemy fire is depicted by white tracer streaks, making it pretty easy to dodge. The first playable level is set in a desert filled with enemy sentries, guard towers, and armor. Basic soldiers usually succumb to a single rifle shot, while towers and armored cars usually require grenades. Unfortunately, the grenade-tossing mechanics are pretty counterintuitive, at least in the version we played. Operation Shadow uses a standard semicircular meter to gauge how far you will throw an explosive, but you must hold down the button for a very long time to get any appreciable distance on your throw. If you don’t hit your target spot-on, you’ll just waste a valuable grenade. Though Operation Shadow purportedly features a range of usable vehicles, we were unable to test them in the short time we played the game.

Operation Shadow is played from a slightly elevated over-the-shoulder viewpoint, so the action is always squarely in front of you; no camera controls were enabled for the preview build. Although the graphics appeared a little on the blocky side, the game runs at a brisk 15 frames per second. We appreciated the in-game rendering of explosions and smoke effects, too. As you damage large structures, they will increasingly billow smoke until they finally collapse with a nicely animated bang.

The final version of Operation Shadow will hit stores in Q3 2004.

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