SWAT 4 Final Hands-On

SWAT 4 is shipping in two weeks, but we got our hands on the final version to get one last look at the game before the review.

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The good news for tactical shooter fans is that SWAT 4 is done. The bad news is that the game won't actually ship to stores until early April...basically two weeks from now. But we've been playing around with the final version of the game, and so far we can say that SWAT 4 is in every way a faithful follow-up to SWAT 3, which itself was a great tactical shooter. Work on our review is underway, but we wanted to share a few early thoughts.

Stop, or my SWAT team will shoot!
Stop, or my SWAT team will shoot!

SWAT 4 is a realistic tactical shooter in which you lead an elite five-man Special Weapons and Tactics police team into a variety of missions, all inspired by the real-world SWAT missions that take place every day. These include hostage rescue, high-risk warrant service, high-risk arrest, and more. The game is set in a generic American city, and missions take place in a variety of locations, such as hospitals, tenement buildings, a diamond wholesaler, and warehouses. At your disposal are a variety of real-world weapons, including AR-15 carbines, submachine guns, shotguns, flashbang and CS gas grenades, and more.

In addition to a training level and a career mode, the game ships with an instant action mode as well as the ability to create and play custom missions. The custom mission builder is very easy to use, as you simply choose a map, and then pick the types and numbers of hostages and suspects that you want on the level. The game also ships with multiplayer support, and you can have up to five players in a cooperative game or 16 players in a SWAT-versus-suspects mode, a bomb mode, and VIP mode.

If you've never played a SWAT game before, the pace will definitely surprise you. This is by no means a traditional run-and-gun-style shooter. SWAT teams move at a very deliberate pace, which means they never move so fast that it ruins their ability to get an accurate shot off. As a result, this is a shooter that moves at a much slower rate than what you're probably used to. However, the slow pace helps to build up the tension in the game. Since SWAT 4 randomizes the placement of hostages and suspects every time you start a mission, there's no easy way of knowing what's behind the next door other than to simply open it and find out.

The game's control scheme is practically identical to every other shooter out there, and it does feature a simple squad-control system that allows you to issue commands to the entire team as a whole, or to each of the two-man elements. Simply tap the Tab key to alternate between which group you're issuing orders to, then place the cursor on a location, and hit the right mouse button to call up a context-sensitive list of commands, such as cover, enter and clear, pick lock, and more. The artificial intelligence so far is showing mixed results, as it can follow your instructions easily, but there are moments where your teammates do some dumb things, like get cut down by a single suspect.

A cardinal rule for cops: Don't ever talk about retirement being just two days away.
A cardinal rule for cops: Don't ever talk about retirement being just two days away.

On a whole, the game remains virtually unchanged since the last time we saw it, which was earlier this month at the Game Developers Conference. We should mention that one of the nifty new features is the context-sensitive aiming cursor. Previously, when we encountered a locked door, we had to fumble around with the number keys to select the lock-picking tool, but often we would tap the wrong button and call up the grenades instead. Now, all you do is simply place the cursor on the doorknob and the cursor changes to either the lock-picking tool (if it's resting on the knob itself) or the breaching charge (if you rest it above the knob). Simply hit the left mouse button and your character will automatically pick the lock or set the breaching charge, and then switch back to the main weapon. It's a nice little feature, and it's something so obvious you wonder why it wasn't thought of earlier.

We've been impressed with SWAT 4 for a while now, even with the beta versions of the game that we played with. Like some of Irrational's other recent games, SWAT 4 seems very promising right out of the box. And once again, Irrational is looking like it's one of the most versatile development studios in the industry with its ability to develop games in so many different genres. SWAT 4 will ship to stores on April 5.

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