SWAT 4 Updated Impressions

We get a look at the near-final version of the game, and it looks as sharp as ever.

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Vivendi Universal Games is busy showing off its slate of games at the Game Developers Conference this week in San Francisco, and the big news concerning SWAT 4 is that the game is essentially done at this point. Developer Irrational Games is now busy working on localizing the game for foreign markets, but after that, SWAT 4 should ship to stores sometime during the first week of April.

We've been playing with an early version of SWAT 4 for some time now, so we were curious to see how it would compare to the near-final version of the game at GDC. The answer: Not much. The gameplay looks and plays just as polished as ever, and this time we had a chance to explore new environments, including the crumbling interiors of a rundown tenement building along with a library set in an old converted warehouse. The detail in some of these environments is really eye-catching; the tenement building has scaffolding and construction areas to battle it out in, and the library has a giant server room where stray bullets will set off sparks among the equipment.

We did learn a few more details and some useful tactics that will come in handy. Each time you start a level, the game randomly places each hostage and suspect. That fact, combined with the dynamic artificial intelligence, should mean that no two games will play the same, as not only will the bad guys be in different places, but the different situations also mean that they will react differently. John Abercrombie, the lead AI designer for the game, told us that when confronted, each suspect will gauge his or her options. Suspects may surrender if their morale is low, may take a hostage or threaten a hostage if there is one nearby, or may sense that discretion is the better part of valor and try to flee the room. To prevent this, you can use wedges to jam doors shut. Wedges are just one of the many pieces of equipment that you can bring along on missions; other useful devices include gas masks to protect against tear gas and a special helmet that protects against the blinding and deafening effects of a flashbang grenade.

One interesting tidbit that Abercrombie did note was that they had tweaked the morale rules to adjust to an exploitation that testers and demo players had discovered. Since your job as a police officer is to use force only as a last resort, the ideal resolution is to arrest suspects rather than kill them. This is done by making them surrender, which is a result of their morale being decayed to the point where they realize that resistance is futile. What testers and demo players had discovered is that if you wound suspects first and then demanded that they surrender, their morale would plummet, making it easier to arrest them. But since this tactic is completely against police procedure, it went against the grain of the game. So that exploitation has now been fixed, and you will now have to try to get suspects to comply in other ways.

Multiplayer will support up to 16 players in a player-versus-player game or up to five players in cooperative mode. The game will ship with 14 single-player levels, all playable in multiplayer, along with three multiplayer-only maps. The game modes include a SWAT-versus-suspects game mode; a bomb mode, where a bomb is randomly placed on the level and must be defused by one team; and a VIP mode, where one team must protect a player playing as a VIP, while the other team must kill him. The SWAT twist on the VIP mode is that the VIP is lightly armed for defense, and the attacking team must capture and hold the VIP for two minutes before it can kill him or her.

From what we've seen of the game thus far, it's clear that SWAT 4 will be a fitting successor to SWAT 3, as it takes much of the tense and exciting gameplay found in SWAT 3 and mates it with the latest graphics and a user-friendly interface. And the good news is that we don't have to wait much longer for the game to ship.

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