I recently spent a weekend without internet and decided to take a trip down memory lane with one of my favourite FPS series, Delta Force. I couldn’t get DF2 running, but managed to get Black Hawk Down up and running. For around five or six years this was my favourite online game so I thought I’d revisit at least the single player to try and get a feel for what made me love the game so much.
When released back in 2003, Black Hawk Down was hardly exactly wowing anyone so now by today’s standards, it looks rather crummy. However you can still differentiate between objects, identify everything and unlike a certain popular FPS series, it is not saturated with brown, green or grey. In fact you can differentiate objects. I miss this from modern games. It seems like such a small, simple thing but the push to create a stunning scenario has put actual usability on the back foot.
Apologies for a second while I moan some more… I’ve spoke to a few friends and there is very much split opinions. Some love games like Kane & Lynch and your high end graphical games where the art direction takes precedent to create a really lush environemnt. However personally I prefer to be able to identify objects and not be presented with a blur of colours. Some argue that the post processing effects make it more realistic, in which case there must be something wrong with my eyes. When I walk down the street I can quite clearly make out objects. There’s different colours (unless you live in Aberdeen) and it isn’t blinding to transition between them.
The first mission starts up on a humvee and basically involves lots of intense yelling as you shoot pretty static bad guys as the convoy rushes by. Whilst you don’t require much aiming skill, it is unforgiving. Don’t spot the guy with the RPG? He will get you. As such it provides a stimulating start. You then get some on foot action, which again tries to make it easy on you but is quite fun, especially with a M21. Finally it is wrapped up flying about in a helicopter, blowing up numerous vehicles with some rock guitar music in the background. It really has a “fuck yeah!” attitude.
To be honest, that pretty much sets a precedent for the entire game. You will be trying to shoot every enemy in sight, either on foot, in a heli or manning the 50 on a humvee because they can drop you pretty ruthlessly. What is also important is to blow things up. Novalogic’s research obviously shows that Somalia was full of explosive barrels on every street plus cars can blow up from a few MP5 hits.
There is a range of combat environments. Sometimes you are in tight and twisty tunnels, sometimes approaching from range. This is nothing new, but missions do have their own traits and replay value.
Enemies are very static and to be honest, pretty dumb. It is a little like taking out zombies who happen to be armed. There’s no real challenge in taking them down once you’ve spotted them However my enjoyment comes from pushing forward, trying to hit enemies at range with a quick burst or just one shot, then going all action junky at close range. The 203 grenade launcher is great fun in the game and so are the pistols.
The major challenge is not getting hit. Stepping out infront of an emplaced weapon is an insta-death plus if you forget to check you sides and behind you, a few hits can put you on red health or maybe kill you. This leads to what I feel is an interesting point to do with health not just in BHD but in many older action / FPS titles.
Unlike trash such as the modern Call of Duty games, you don’t get strawberry sauce all over your screen while you sit down and wait for your health to magically regenerate. Instead you get feedback and your health is then permanently low until you find a medpack.
Personally I prefer this to the strawberry approach. It creates more tension as one stray bullet can bring you down. Left4Dead has a similar but much stronger implementation and low health there really adds to the excitement. It’s the “Can I make it? I WILL make it! Come on!” effect and it works for me.
My main criticism of the health effect (or lack of) is that being on low health doesn’t affect your character in any way. A reduction in speed would have improved the feeling of being near death somewhat, especially for the missions relating to “Irene” and the events that followed with downed Black Hawk helicopters.
There’s a quick save system in DF:BHD. In some games, this can be too much of a scapegoat but given that you can get taken down if you don’t spot a guy with an RPG or a chap in a window behind you, it is essential. However there is a limit to the amount of quick saves you can make, which is a great idea. You can’t just spam the save key every 5 seconds so you have to think things through and decide how much progress you’ve made and whether it is worth using a save. Unfortunately though Novalogic doesn’t really tell you how close you are to finishing. As some missions are derailed when “the shit hits the fan”, the whole Irene story being a perfect example, so it would make communicating this rather difficult.
Despite a lot of these positives, the game can be a little flat at times. As I mentioned earlier, the AI is particularly moronic and static. Having AI team mates that just get in the way and are unable to keep up or actually shoot and kill enemies is just annoying. In many missions the game would be just as fun, perhaps more so, without the crummy team mates. Rather than supporting you, they can be a hinderance lagging behind or getting in the line of fire. They make the bots on Left4Dead look insanely intelligent!
The same applied to the enemies. You can stand right by one yet somehow they miss. However equally they can also get in lucky hits from a distance. The worst though is the enemies positioned around a corner with an instakill. It can cause the game to be a little bit of trial and error at times. Whilst it does create a challenge and works well with the quick save system, insta kills like this can led to massive frustration if you are caught a few times within a short space of time.
The game contains a lot of bugs, which has a significant negative impact on the product. Unfortunately Novalogic have a poor history of not fully testing their games and not reacting to bugs found, even major ones. Within the single player there aren’t any game breaker bugs, however graphical bugs and missing collision from walls does the game no favours.
Finally I’d like to discuss the tutorial. Well, there isn’t one. You are provided with keys in the manual plus a bit of cardboard that can be put over your keyboard. As the controls aren’t anything outrageously new, picking them up on the fly is easy enough and to be honest, you don’t need a tutorial. Novalogic know their target audience is people who already play FPS games so why make them waste 5-10 minutes doing what they already know? I salute you Nova!
So what did I learn from this experience? Well for one, I miss the simpler visuals of older games. However despite some qualities, the game was poorly made and this was clear when revisiting it. As much as I loved the online gameplay, the single player is a long way off a classic. Call of Duty, a series that the Delta Force series no doubt viewed as a direct rival may be over rated in my opinion, but everything has a higher level of polish and that makes a superior gameplay experience. I’d love to play a game that takes the general design and style of the Delta Force series that is well made and polished. Unfortunately this was not it.
I decided to record some of my play so I’ve stuck up a few videos. I’ve not covered the whole game, or even whole missions. Just bits and bobs to give a feel for it. You can view all 6 of the videos HERE and I’ve picked one to display below. It wasn’t my favourite mission but you can see at times the pace is pretty good, its clear when I take damage but is ultimately let down with typical Novalogic shoddiness, especially after 2:30.
Source: PC single player