When most other shooters had you locked indoors, hunting for power-ups as you fought fantasy creatures, Delta Force helped usher in the hard-core tactical shooter. Delta Force and its sequel focused on relatively realistic Special Forces actions. Single shots could kill, stealth mattered, and you could engage targets outdoors from extreme distances. While marred by weak enemy artificial intelligence, the new third installment, Delta Force: Land Warrior, builds on this formula. It introduces a new graphics engine, some of the latest military firearms, and 30 colorful single-player missions.
In real life, Delta Force is the US Special Forces unit that carries out the most difficult and sensitive counterterrorist and commando operations. In Delta Force: Land Warrior, you can play as five different Delta Force operatives, each with his or her own specialties. Characters have detailed backgrounds, and they're pretty interesting; for instance, heavy gunner Pitbull was a heavyweight fighter from the Bronx, while Gas Can, the resident demolitions expert, is a good ol' boy from Texas. These characterizations have little bearing on gameplay, but each character's special abilities do: One is a swift swimmer, another can hold heavy weapons steadier, another is a superb knife fighter, and so on.
You'll want to pick a character for each mission who has abilities suited to the task at hand and who can most effectively use your favorite game weapons. One of the biggest strengths of Land Warrior is the inclusion of more than 20 different firearms. You get to lug quite an arsenal around, including a sidearm, primary and secondary weapons, explosives, and grenades. For pistols, you can choose 9mm and .45 caliber models from Glock and Heckler & Koch, as well as a dart pistol for underwater combat. There are submachine guns with different effective ranges, magazine capacities, and options like silencers. You can snipe with the Barrett .50 caliber rifle or a silenced PSG-1, among others. When you need to break out the big guns, you can use the M249 SAW (squad automatic weapon), the Jackhammer automatic shotgun, the MM-1 automatic grenade launcher, and even the AT-4 anti-armor rocket launcher. You can rig explosives, set booby traps, throw grenades, and paint targets for artillery strikes. You can wield famous assault rifles like the AK-47, the Steyr AUG, the Heckler & Koch G11, and the futuristic OICW of the US Army's Land Warrior program.
The real-life version of Land Warrior is the US military's attempt to create high-tech soldiers who will use an integrated electronics system to increase their combat effectiveness. Currently under development, the system will likely include advanced radio equipment, night vision, a global positioning satellite unit, a laser range finder, and a portable computer that jacks into the soldier's helmet. The system also includes advanced "interceptor" body armor to protect against high-caliber rifle rounds. Much of this is modeled (if loosely) in the game in the form of heads-up displays with dynamic map readouts, friend-or-foe indicators, a night vision view, and so forth.
In game terms, one of the most interesting features of the Land Warrior system is the OICW, or objective individual combat weapon. It fires both 5.56mm rounds and 20mm air-bursting high-explosive grenades. The air bursts allow shrapnel to hit targets hidden behind cover, and the OICW has a farther effective range than most current assault rifles, which increases your chance of engaging the enemy before coming under fire.
The Delta Force series is known for providing huge outdoor combat environments in which to use such long-range weapons, but in the previous two games, NovaLogic's voxel terrain technology had drawbacks, like sluggish frame rates, pixelated graphics, and compatibility issues with certain video cards. Land Warrior's new 3D-accelerated graphics engine now renders both expansive outdoor areas and tight building interiors quite effectively. Areas vary widely from high, snowy hills, to deserts spotted with huge cacti, to tropical lakeshores. So you may need to snipe at a guard hundreds of meters away from a stand of pine trees on a mountainside, or you may need to swim below a lake's surface, knife in hand, to silently infiltrate a base on the far shore. While the graphics - particularly the skies - are good, don't expect the same quality from Land Warrior as from games based on the Quake III Arena, Unreal Tournament, or even LithTech engines. Grass textures in Land Warrior look muted and monotonous, trees are sparse, and textures on hills shimmer as you run. Indoor areas tend to lack textural and architectural imagination, though there are some notable exceptions such as the pyramids and Sphinx of Egypt - yes, you get to fight in them! Also, the character models in Land Warrior are a bit blocky, and the animations look stilted, while the weapon graphics tend to look slightly blurred in first-person view. Still, there are many nice visual effects in the game, such as birds soaring overhead, little plumes when bullets strike water, and flashes from ricocheting rounds. The graphics may not be gorgeous, but they involve you in the gameplay, which is ultimately more important.
Like the graphics, the sound effects in Land Warrior are good but not great. Weapons effects are vivid, and the heavier guns sound weighty and powerful. The sounds of footsteps, while too quiet overall, vary from softly padding across grass to crunching through snow. Unfortunately, environmental sounds are very limited in Land Warrior, which makes most areas seem lifeless - yet you'll hear enemies shout or cry out in pain from extreme distances. The menu music is nondescript and doesn't add much to the game.
Delta Force: Land Warrior offers 30 missions, including a training course to familiarize you with game conventions, ten quick missions, and 19 linked campaign missions. There's also a mission editor. Missions take place in exotic locales across the world, including Africa, Indonesia, and South America. You'll have to destroy the power plant of a mercenary group, eliminate an assassin about to join forces with a major drug cartel, and rescue VIPs from a fortified compound. Night missions create lots of tension: Shots ring out, but you can't place the shooter, and enemies can appear right next to you before you can react.
Before missions begin, you get a briefing and a chance to select appropriate gear. However, you don't create any detailed plans like in the Rainbow Six games. Missions often open with you being inserted by helicopter or even parachute, which really immerses you in the scene. You'll then use your HUD to navigate to preset waypoints that you can edit while in the mission. For practical purposes, most missions are solo adventures, though you may have a computer-controlled teammate or two accompany you. The interface makes issuing orders to them awkward, however.
As you close on your objectives, you'll discover that most maps are a sniper's dream, as there's plenty of natural cover from hillcrests. This is important, since success in many missions benefits from long-range sniping. Weapons physics realistically add to the fun. Higher-caliber rounds can penetrate thicker walls. Recoil, firing stance, and movement all affect your aim, though jumping doesn't seem to affect your shot placement in close combat.
The artificial intelligence for your allies is quite good. Your Delta Force teammates have decent situational awareness and know to crouch for steadier aim or duck for cover, though they follow mission waypoints too strictly. On the other hand, enemy artificial intelligence is painfully weak. Enemy placement and actions seem to be largely scripted, which limits the replay value of each mission. The terrorists universally have poor aim and even worse reaction time, even on the hard setting. They don't effectively work in groups to flank you, nor do they make much use of cover. They often don't react intelligently to their buddies getting shot or to combat sounds. So, many missions seem like shooting galleries. You just go prone at a distance, look through your scope, and light into the bad guys. Indoors, enemies basically just wait for you to come to them, and when you do, they rarely stand a chance against you. This poor artificial intelligence is a real shame, since the missions themselves are so interesting.
Fortunately, Land Warrior has a full multiplayer suite. There's a cooperative mode that lets up to four players take on the computer in the standard missions. Up to 50 players per server can join in old standbys like deathmatch, team deathmatch, king of the hill, and capture the flag. Then there are search-and-destroy and attack-and-defend modes that require teams to infiltrate enemy territory and take out specific targets. The flagball mode lets up to four teams try to grab a single flag in the center of the map and then rush it back to their base. Setting traps and ambushes is great fun, and the huge assortment of weapons keeps play exciting. However, there isn't much to Land Warrior's multiplayer gameplay that hasn't been done before, and the available multiplayer modes don't take strong-enough advantage of the more realistic military setting of the single-player game. Land Warrior's multiplayer mode is lots of fun if you want massive and wild firefights, but it doesn't particularly encourage realistic infantry tactics or teamwork.
Delta Force: Land Warrior is a compromise between the complexities of tactical shooters like Rainbow Six: Rogue Spear and the more basic designs of traditional shooters. Land Warrior is easy to learn, but there's enough subtlety and diversity to the weapons to maintain your interest. In fact, the huge arsenal is half the fun, the other half being long-distance engagements and sniping. The vivid settings of the single-player missions are immersive, though the missions generally aren't challenging enough. Multiplayer is frantic and fun, though not as sophisticated as it could be. If you want subtlety and complexity, Delta Force probably isn't for you, but if you want to mow down terrorists using the latest firearms in a variety of colorful settings, then this is your game.