Delta Force Black Hawk Down is an arcade-style shooter set in contemporary Somalia. As the title suggests, the game's plot is based loosely around the United States' peacekeeping operations in the eastern African nation in the early 1990s. The most infamous incident of that operation involved the downing of an American transport helicopter. That helicopter crash and the subsequent rescue operations resulted in the deaths of 19 elite US soldiers, and all of it was followed by a pullout of US military personnel. The story of that operation has since been immortalized by a book and a Jerry Bruckheimer film. In Black Hawk Down the game, you take the role of an infantry squad leader in Somalia, doing many of the same types of missions that the real US Rangers and Delta Force had to do. This game was actually released on the PC two years ago, where it received mixed reviews. If you're familiar with that game, then the newly released versions on the Xbox and PlayStation 2 won't hold too many surprises. Unfortunately that means many of the same issues that plagued the original PC version remain, including a dull campaign and dated presentation.
Black Hawk Down offers a 16-mission campaign, which is alternately easy and frustrating as you play through it. However, it's also consistently dull. Most of the missions play out like nothing more than a glorified shooting gallery, as you gun down hundreds of Somali hostiles who mindlessly run at you. Some of the missions have you riding shotgun on a chopper or in a Humvee where you're manning a mounted machine gun. These missions are examples of what makes the game feel even more scripted and contrived, like a bad rail shooter. Sure there are objectives to achieve, but that usually just means running from point A to point B and shooting everything hostile in the area.
In some missions you have a squad that follows you, which you can command using a clunky interface. But for the most part you probably won't even bother with squad commands, because your teammates are good enough at following you around. However, you'd think that since they're badass Rangers and Delta Force operatives, they'd be much better shots than they are. They aren't; so the onus is on you to gun down most of the baddies that you encounter. The general simplicity of the single-player campaign in Black Hawk Down may appeal to those looking for an uncomplicated shooter to while away the time, but for the rest of us, it leaves a lot to be desired.
There's some salvation to be had in the multiplayer aspect, which offers support for 32 players online on the PS2 version, and 50 players online over Xbox Live. Split-screen cooperative and deathmatch modes are available for up to four players on each, but the game's primary draw should still be the team-based and competitive play offered online. Novalogic's network offers a wealth of statistics to peruse, and the action in the game can actually be somewhat fun, albeit simplistic and chaotic. When servers are full, the action gets fast and furious, with dozens of players running around and gunning each other down while they're trying to capture spawn points and achieve objectives at the same time. On the downside, the extreme power and blast radius of grenades leads to a lot of spamming and abuse of these weapons, particularly the underslung M203 grenade launcher on the M16 rifle. The more-open maps offer more rifle play, but the indoor maps with hallways and rooms can often degenerate into grenade duels.
There are character classes that you can choose from, which restrict the types of weapons you can use, and there is a medic class that can heal and revive downed teammates. Game modes range from regular and team deathmatch, different flavors of capture the flag, and tag. Some maps offer vehicles, but don't go thinking that they're the same as in a game like Battlefield or Star Wars Battlefront. The vehicle maps in Black Hawk Down merely have Humvees and choppers moving in a circle around the map. You can hop on or hop off of the Humvees at any point and man their machine guns, while the choppers land at designated landing pads. For some bizarre reason, though, the vehicles can't be destroyed or piloted. This implementation of vehicles is rather strange, as if you're getting on a ride at Disneyland, and it's not as satisfying as other games that let you actually drive.
As far as the game's presentation goes, there's not a lot to get excited about. The character models and animation are bland and uninspired, as are the muddy-looking textures. And anyway, for much of the game you'll just find yourself squinting off into the horizon looking for moving specks of enemies to shoot at. On the Xbox, the game actually looks more or less as good as the original PC version, but given the amount of time that's passed since then, the graphics in Black Hawk Down now look pretty dated. The quality of sound effects and voice acting in the game ranges from passable to good, but the music does sometimes feel repetitive to the point that it's grating, especially during the quieter moments in gameplay.
The differences between the Xbox and PS2 versions are mostly superficial, with some variation in button layout on the controller, as well as on the heads-up display. The PS2 version, for example, doesn't use the D pad to let you crouch or go prone like on the Xbox version. The command is unintuitively mapped to one of the face buttons. However, the PS2 version does allow for quick grenades, while the Xbox version's weapon-switching is much clunkier. The HUD on the Xbox version is also less informative than that on the PS2 version, which actually sports a health bar. Finally, when you're playing the campaign on the PS2 edition, an RPG-like element is available that lets you upgrade your character's stats and unlock new weapons as you beat missions. But for the most part, the changes you make aren't all that tangible. As to why all these differences exist between the two versions, we don't have any good explanations, although it should suffice to say that none of these differences really matter in what is a rather mediocre game.
Black Hawk Down's dated gameplay design and presentation just don't measure up compared to other modern combat shooters. Though the multiplayer can be fun for a while, the weapon balancing is out of whack, and the implementation of vehicles is contrived to the point of absurdity. The game may still appeal to hardcore military fanatics, but if you're in the market for one of the better contemporary shooters, you're better off avoiding this one.