Delta Force: Black Hawk Down is the latest in the long line of special ops games to come from Novalogic. It attempts to recreate the 'American soldiers in the Battle of Mogadishu trying to capture two Somalian warlords' feel of the true story and of the movie. But it's a Delta Force game and they were always flawed gems to be honest - and there in lies the rub and endeth my preamble quite nicely.
Black Hawk Down is however on a new engine and the whole thing seems to have finally shoved aside the voxel-engine for something a little more robust and graphically nicer. My only problem is that the whole game doesn't feel as fluid and linked, as it should, the Singleplayer element feels as though it really is an addition to the Multiplayer game. But it's here where you realise that they didn't really set out to make a linear campaign but a series of missions that tie in with a kind of loose chronological order.
You'll engage in a number of missions, either on foot or from a vehicle mounted position - usually behind a .50 Cal Machinegun. And there are no punches pulled, BHD is an action game and nothing more - so they pile on the action and get your adrenaline and blood pumping nicely. It's a rollercoaster ride of hot lead and dust as you attempt to achieve your mission objectives without becoming a ventilated body in the sand.
As with most Delta Force games this one doesn't allow you to take weapons from fallen enemies or utilise their ammunition. Ammo boxes and health packs are scattered around the maps and sometimes there's a weapon's locker from which you can pull a new weapon. I'm pretty used to this after seeing DF: Task Force Dagger and it didn't really bother me at all.
Before the mission one is invited to select loadouts as is usually standard with the DF games, and pretty quickly you can find which weapons suit you and which don't. I found myself sticking to a small group of weapons in the end and only using those - it is to be noted that BHD does have 25 nicely modelled weapons in the game and they're all pretty realistically done. Damage is another factor that's been handled nicely along with ballistics, BHD sports fall off physics that accurately map a bullet's trajectory to the target and you must compensate for this when sniping, so it's not a matter of click-trigger from long range and 'HEADSHOT' bang they're dead. You must be more accurate and adjust your rifle's sight to take this into account.
A headshot or body-shot will usually kill outright and a couple of shots to a limb will usually be enough to take down and opponent. This means you can have great fun when sneaking around, it only takes a couple of shots in that sneaky foe's hand to kill him - a bit of a problem with most shooters I have found.
Your character, Mr Nameless Soldier in the war can take up to 6 shots in total and health is shown by a Green, Yellow, Red icon which simplifies things and lets you get on with the important part of the game action. Enemies die nicely and there are a number of death animations triggered when you shoot them in various places, no one dies the same way and your suspension of disbelief is maintained.
BHD isn't trying to be the be-all and end-all of military shooter/simulations; it's a fun and frenetic action game that doesn't really break any new ground however. But that is ok because it's not trying to, it's attempting to tell the story of the Black Hawk Down situation in that War, not by tying into a movie or a book - but by immersing you in a rich and detailed environment full of hot lead and screaming soldiers.
Graphics: Gone are the voxels and the pixelated worlds of other DF games! BHD has taken a leap forwards for Novalogic and created some very nice visuals indeed. While they break no new ground against other games, for the DF series they provide a welcome change of pace as we're given massively sprawling maps from rolling dusty deserts to run-down hovel-like Somalian streets. Death lurks around every corner in these situations and the blaze of the dying sun juxtaposes nicely against the screaming hammer of gunfire. So for what it does - the graphics engine recreates a gritty world of dangerous urban combat, handling exteriors and interiors very well - the design is nothing special but you don't care when you're knee deep in spent shells and hissing lead.
Character Animations and Graphics: This is where the game feels a bit more unfinished, while the environments are gorgeous, the character models, weapons and vehicles all seem a little jagged in places. There seem to be some odd joints on the character models of allies and enemies and the animations when viewed from other angles can cause you to blink, as they almost seem a little flat. But overall the animation quality itself is pretty fluid, nothing special and nothing detrimental.
Sound: If Graphics are the bones of the experience then sound is surely the meat of it, and that's what we get - chunky meaty sounds that hammer your auditory senses with a gorgeous range of gunfire and explosions. It's action, action and more action brought to life with screams and yells from the commanders, from soldiers and from constant radio-chatter, as you'd expect in the thick of battle. The sounds don't get in your face and they're well balanced alongside the other ambient noises and the throaty-purr of vehicles and other equipment.
Musical Score: It's pretty good and not intrusive, it doesn't sound like a bad N64 or Two-tone keyboard sound. It seems to sense the action quite nicely and helps to raise that adrenaline and drive the player further into the world around them, while none of us actually run around in War with a ghetto-blaster playing one might imagine if we did, it would be playing something like this (Or the Spice Girls to scare away our enemies).
AI: Ah the bane of any Military sim and most games, but BHD isn't really a sim so we can forgive them for having some ropey AI both on the side of the enemy and allied forces. More often than not the AI gets into your line of fire and takes dumb risks where you'd really wished they'd not just stood there and let the terrorists or soldiers shoot them in the head. They have the worst aim in the game and this is really where the whole thing is let down. I've seen them empty three or four clips at the enemy and not hit a single one. DF games have never really been known for excellent AI so my advice would be to charge ahead and try and clear up before your buddies get to where you are.
Also watch out for the civilian AI, they have a habit of hurling large lumps of stone at your head because they're not too happy to see troops marching around on their home soil. And while you might think you're a liberating force, they won't hesitate to bean you on the noggin with a piece of brick if they think they can get away with it. Another word of advice, don't let them get killed either, you can fail a mission if you let too many die. (And that means: don't shoot them in revenge)
But at least the enemy AI isn't badly placed on the maps, I'm glad that the placement and level design actually lifts the whole bad AI experience up from the mire. This is the saving grace of the game alongside the other saving grace if you're not on a 56k modem (If you don't' mind lag and you are on 56k of course it's ok).
Multiplayer: There is no Co-op V AI MP in BHD its all team or Deathmatch orientated gametypes. But the massive maps and the online 'Novaworld' servers make for a comprehensive MP game experience. Deathmatch and the normal CTF types are on offer, along with King of the Hill, Search and Destroy and Attack and Defend...the most popular are always the standard though, which seems to be a shame considering the new modes are quite cool. Most MP in other games are often frenetic affairs full of posturing and if you're lucky to hit a good team, you can have a rewarding experience when you're playing, but as in all things - this is highly dependent on if the server and players are ok or utter asshats. Thankfully I found some really good servers and a nice bunch of people. And the game experience was a good one - top marks to the server masters out there and the players themselves!