Special Forces: Team X
Genre: Shooting At People Online
Developer: Zombie Studios
Release Date: 2/6/13
This generation of console games has seen one genre of gaming rise above the others: the team based multiplayer shooter. That genre has risen in popularity so much that team based multiplayer gets shoved into nearly every game now, just to check off that box on the list of features. Special Forces: Team X is a stand-alone multiplayer only product, and it attempts to offer players a tactical third person multiplayer shooter at only the fraction of the cost.
It is also about a fraction of the fun of other multiplayer games.
When you boot up the game, you get a menu of what you can do. The first option is weapons and gear, though when you first start the game there aren’t really many options to fool around with. Hell, even at later levels there aren’t that many options to fool around with, so I’m not sure why this is the first menu option. At the very least, the How to Play option should’ve been the first option. The second is to jump into multiplayer, which immediately starts to load a server list of currently open games, along with a list of options to either quickly jump into the first available game or filter the results shown.
Because this is a lower profile title and multiplayer only, you might be worried that there aren’t very many people playing online. Thankfully, I never had to once wait for a game, there were always plenty of games going on at once, with very little wait to get into a game.
Once in a game, a timer will count down until the map voting begins. This is where Special Forces: Team X begins to separate itself from the pack as more than just a clone of other cover based shooters. Instead of choosing a map, you choose a section of the map. The map will be divided into three parts and you get to choose the left, middle and right sides of the map, and then the game will duct tape those areas together into one map for when the game starts.
This is an interesting idea, but it falls flat. There aren’t exactly a lot of pieces to choose from; the promotional material on the website says there are a lot of different combinations, which mathematically may be true, but you are still going to see the same couple map sections over and over again. Some of the sections are just reverse flipped versions, and there are only few different middle sections to choose from. Also, some of these maps in objective matches feel oddly unbalanced. Capture points will be closer to each other on some maps, giving an advantage to one team where the maps are connected together at times seem to benefit one side over the other and so on. So while trying to add a new map selection system to keep things fresh, they instead made parts of the map feel far more repetitive.
After choosing a map the game will start. Several times I accidentally started by spawning next to the opposing team, which led to some amusing moments of confusion and chaos, but I have to assume that this is not an intentional feature. Great for random kamikaze moments regardless.
When you start with your team, you’ll notice a meter on the bottom that gives you a bonus for however many teammates that you’ve managed to stick close to. There are also abilities that you can activate which will give bonuses to the stats for you and the teammates you are currently linked to. This is a nice way of encouraging teamwork, however, the explanation for how this works is in the How to Play menu, which from what I could tell playing it, seems like many players either hadn’t read or didn’t care about teammate bonuses. Still, I liked this feature and I hope to see it in other games.
The game plays out like Call of Duty mixed with Gears of War. The button inputs are nearly identical to the Call of Duty series; click left joystick for sprint, right for melee, left trigger zooms, right shoots, Y button switches weapons, and so on. The game is played from an over the shoulder third person perspective, and you can snap to cover like Gears by moving towards cover and hitting the A button. It works most of the time, though I ran into situations where I tried to take cover near a wall I was right next to, and instead just stood there playing catch with the enemy bullets. I’ve also thought I was safely behind a section of wall and still was shot to death, so cover can be tricky.
Aesthetically the game has a cartoonish cell shaded look, like Borderlands with less texture detail. It looks nice, though there’s no real reason behind it. There are some actions which strangely seem like they’re missing frames of animation, like the weird robotic way the dogs move or using the chainsaw. There’s no satisfying animation to using the chainsaw like in Gears, it’s like a magic death wand; if you touch a player with it, they fold like a puppet with its strings cut. It’s really weird, though they did add an animation for running with the chainsaw where you run with it above your head like a madman, so it’s forgiven.
There are a number of odd visual choices. For example, when I started playing for the first time, I saw a dog and I had no idea what to do about it. It didn’t attack me so I ran around it, thinking maybe it was just a statue or something. Turns out you get a dog almost right away as a secondary ability. According to the game, you can call the dog out and it will attack enemies. Mostly they just run a few feet and then stand completely still, and maybe later remember to do something. Oddly, you can call out two dogs at once, and with it being one of the first available abilities and everyone having access to it, you can run into an area and see a bunch of dogs standing stock still like the worlds weirdest dog park. Until you place the aiming cursor over them, there’s no way to tell which dog belongs to which team, or if they’re friendly or not. The dogs don’t acknowledge the existence of other dogs. Some of the enemy dogs will stand still and then suddenly come after you. It’s really bizarre. I don’t know why what appears to be a feature of the game is so poorly animated and designed, but it’s there. I was telling my wife about it and she wondered why they didn’t wear colored collars to reflect the team they were on, to at least identify which dogs might rip your face off versus which ones might just want to cuddle. I don’t know. I do know it took her thirty seconds to think of a solution.
You can gain experience points to earn levels and unlock things, but I really can’t see why, aside from the fact that everyone is doing that now. There aren’t enough things to unlock, and the way the whole gear screen is laid out is confusing. I can’t just see a list of what unlocks at each level, so when I do unlock things, I can’t tell what it is unless I look in every different gear submenu. It’s disappointing to gain a level and try to search for what new thing you have, to find out you unlocked a new pair of pants that look a lot like the other pair of pants. Some items appear to be locked away just to have something to unlock later. There are four character models; white guy and white guy with beard are unlocked right away, but you have to wait until a much higher level to unlock the black guy or the asian guy if you want to play as a different model from the first two. I’m really curious how the discussion went during development about when you could unlock the models of the non-white dudes. The weapon unlocks are the only ones that really make a difference, as there aren’t enough secondary items or abilities to really need to worry about customizing different classes or anything.
Hell, while we’re talking about problems, there’s lag, but maybe that’s because the server browser always shows every game as having full bar connection. It lies. There are no bots to try and practice against, which I think should be mandatory for any multiplayer-only game. The game doesn’t auto balance teams, which can be frustrating when a game starts with one full team and one with three people. The spawn system is broken; technically you can spawn on a teammate, but this works maybe one out of three times I’ve tried to do so. The Spawn Here prompt seems to be there just to tease you. I’ve been stuck in geometry and seen others stuck as well (it’s kind of funny when it’s not me at least). There’s no type of stat tracking, and the scoreboard disappears almost instantly at the end of a match. A bunch of folks have had issues with being reset to level one as well.
All of which is sad, because if it wasn’t for the laundry list of issues this game has, it’d be a fun, if derivative, shooter. Even with, and sometimes because of, the issues with the game, I had some fun moments. There are a number of different modes, like Team Deathmatch, High Value Target, Hot Zone, Capture the Flag, and Capture Point, but for me Capture Point was the highlight of my experience. With Capture Point, you capture different points of the map, and there are three spread across the map. What’s fun is when you capture a point, there is a suitcase that will spawn a special weapon, like the chainsaw or rocket launcher, though in another strange design decision, these suitcases are sometimes in an awkward location that’s slightly away from the capture point.
I had some really fun, fast paced firefights that I enjoyed, and it was easy enough to hop back into another game to give it the â€˜just one more match’ kind of addictive quality. If the game wasn’t such an unfinished mess, then I would recommend it for genre fans; however, with the state it’s currently in, there’s just no reason to spend the money on what feels like a Beta version of a decent shooter, when they could spend that same money on a better product.
Short Attention Span Summary:
Special Forces: Team X has issues on nearly every level. The map system is unique, but the limited selection of map parts makes it feel even more repetitive. The leveling system doesn’t have enough to it to justify locking things away from the player. There are numerous issues with connectivity, team balance, lag, some weird animations, the dogs being just broken, and more. Even if these issues didn’t exist, it would be a derivative cover shooter, but with these issues it’s a terrible derivative cover shooter.