Review: Raven Squad (Microsoft Xbox 360)

Raven Squad
Publisher: Evolved Games
Developer: Atomic Motion
Genre: FPS/RTS Hybrid
Release Date: 8/21/2009

Modern shooters are a fairly tried-and-true genre at this point. COD4, the Tom Clancy oeuvre, and a million other clones have run the genre nearly to death at this point. Little has come in the way of originality to these games (which doesn’t mean they’re not fun), so Evolved has brought Raven Squad to the catalog with a nice, single twist as an attempt at originality. Raven Squad‘s single addition to the FPS genre is the addition of RTS elements. About half the game is played in a typical, overhead RTS mode.

But is this enough to make the game stand out among a slew of imitators?

Read on to find out…

Story
The plotline of the game follows a group of quasi-mercenaries in Brazil as they attempt to track down a fallen plane containing some sort of secret information. As the plot thickens, as a soup stock made from water will thicken with the addition of, oh, lets say a gram of flour, they group encounters drug and human smuggling operations and a bunch of shady dudes with Spanish surnames. Yes, Spanish. Yes, I know Portuguese would be more appropriate. The plotline is straight-ahead crappy B-movie. One odd thing, the plot is set in 2011. I really have no idea why someone would set a game a mere 2 years in the future… There are no real intricacies to plot or character and the “hilarious, campy dialog” (from the official website) may be the latter, but is certainly not the former. There are six “unique” characters in the game, although they are functionally indistinguishable, poorly acted, and horribly named. Paladin, Oso, and Thor make up one squad… Paladin seems to be the leader of the bunch, but you wouldn’t know it by his actions. Mysterious person on the comm? Paladin follows her orders. I mean, why wouldn’t a special ops commander take tactical advice from an archeologist? Subordinate tells Paladin where to go? Hey, ok. Rescued general has some commands? Paladin will follow those, too. Dude would beat out Liz Lemon for the followship award.

Game modes are limited to single player and online co-op, which is kinda fun as you can each control one of the two squads. There is no local co-op or online versus.

Story/Mode Score: Poor

Graphics
The opening FMV looks damned pretty. Ten years ago, this would have been a big plus for a game, but these days it has become de rigueur to have a nice lookin’ FMV bookend a story. In-game graphics are considerably worse, although this is to be expected. It doesn’t help that the primary game for comparison is Call of Duty, one of the best looking games out there. While the graphics are certainly adequate and I noticed no issues of planar clipping (unlike COD…), nothing particularly stands out. Everything is functional and that’s about the extent of it. Interaction with background is nearly non-existent. Wading through a swamp feels the same as walking around on dry land, and looks little different.

Graphics Score: Mediocre

Sound
Oh lord. The dialog, the dialog, the atrocious fucking dialog. The official website calls it campy fun, but I really think that was something they tagged on after the game was finished and someone realized just how horrible it was. Not only is it bad, you get to hear it over and over and over. Also, you hear it again. Characters all say the same things in the same situations and, while it might be sort-of amusing to hear a revived comrade say, “I’m back!” it gets old fast – and you will hear it a LOT. Especially if you are as crappy at RTS micromanagement as I apparently am. The soundtrack music, however, is just fine. Again, nothing remarkable about it, but it serves to adequately mirror the mood and tension. Like the graphics, it is journeyman competent, but not artistically interesting.

Sound Score: Poor

Control & Gameplay
OK – I will say right out, I am no expert at RTS, but I’ve played (and loved) all of the COD games, which makes me at least glancingly familiar with FPS, and COD4 gave me a good standard with which to judge modern games (or two years in the future in this case). That said, the FPS is not great. First off, no jump button? What is this, Doom 2? The rest of the FPS parameters are fine. You’ve got your crouch, zoom, shoot, secondary weapon, etc, that you’d expect from any such game. The one issue I noticed is the speed of aiming a gun. Its slow. I mean, like, REALLY slow. Luckily the enemies in FPS are none too bright (I played in normal difficulty) and will literally walk into your sights. Problem with that, though, is, I’ve had some dead-on shots that don’t even hit the guy and I have no idea why. Another thing – why can’t I shoot through a chain-link fence? After learning to shoot through walls in COD, this whole not-interacting-with-background gameplay rubs me the wrong way. The other issue I had was the “specialty” weapons. Yeah, I can see only having one heavy gunner and one sniper, but only one guy with grenades? Really? Shouldn’t those be pretty standard secondary weapons? Maybe a pistol I can pull out instead of waiting for the incredibly long reload times? RTS gameplay seemed better – to me, anyways – as it is pretty easy to get the separate squads where you want them and then order attacks, etc. I think my lack of familiarity with RTS in general dulled my appreciation for some of the intricacies, but I still found it useful, easy to use, and fun.

Control & Gameplay Score: Poor

Replayability
Replayability in this thing is pretty standard “increase the difficulty and try again” fare. There are a few trickier-to-get achievements, but one walk through the game is going to yield most of them automatically. There aren’t a heck of a lot of unlockables, mostly development photos and a little info on the recently discovered Mayan temple in Northern Brazil (ok, that was cool, if short), but nothing above that. In keeping with the trend set by sound and graphics, this is entirely…adequate.

Replayability Score: Mediocre

Balance
Balance is definitely one of the things done well in this game. The first couple battles are cakewalks allowing you to get used to the control and strategies and later battles become much, much more complex. In spite of my inherent desire to, you really can’t beat this using solely FPS, the RTS mode will have to be used to suss out some of the bigger battles. I noticed a few where refining your strategy helps a LOT, which is a great mark for RTS, I think. I did not play through higher difficulty levels, but just based on the in-game difficulty curve, I think the developers did an excellent job scaling the battles.

Balance Score: Great

Originality
Ok, as I’ve said with my COD reviews, this is well-trodden territory. FPS is done to death, jungle warfare has been around since before Contra, fer chrissakes. BUT, the combination of RTS and FPS is where this game shines – the levels will vary a bit in when/where you can use RTS mode, and FPS is definitely not always the smart way to go, so the combination of modes and an often needed quick-switch to modes of thinking adds a very unique touch to the game.

Originality Score: Good

Addictiveness
If we define addictiveness as the intensity of desire to keep playing a game, this thing ranks pretty low. Playing it doesn’t make me want to run away crying like some of the Wii crap I’ve played, but nothing really grips me in a way that makes me want to stick it out to see what comes next, either. The story plot points are not that interesting and the gameplay itself, while competent, is not particularly addicting.

Addictiveness Score: Bad

Appeal Factor
While I know a whole ton of people into FPS games, I only know a handful of kids into RTS. Realistically, this game is only going to appeal to people who are casual fans of both, as the combination can not match the intricacies of more single-minded genre games. So, the ideal market for this is someone who kinda likes FPS and kinda likes RTS, but doesn’t care at all about the details of either. In other words, not too many people.

Appeal Factor Score: Dreadful

Miscellaneous
Ok, I know I said it in the sound section, but goddamnit, the awful dialog needs to be addressed again. This is groan-inducingly bad. Not “so-bad-its-good,” which I am a HUGE fan of, but just atrocious. I ended up taking some memory eraser drugs (I think they might be called “whiskey”) in an attempt to purge my consciousness of sub-Schwartzenegger dialog. Seriously, ick.

Miscellaneous Score: Awful

The Scores
Story: Poor
Graphics: Mediocre
Sound: Poor
Control and Gameplay: Poor
Replayability: Mediocre
Balance: Great
Originality: Good
Addictiveness: Bad
Appeal Factor: Dreadful
Miscellaneous: Awful
FINAL SCORE: POOR GAME!

Short Attention Span Summary:
If you’re looking for a great FPS, buy Call of Duty. If you’re looking for a great RTS, look elsewhere. But, if you want a more-or-less adequate FPS with some reasonably functional RTS elements, wait for this thing to hit the cut-out bin and then pick it up.

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