The original Deadly Dozen was a value title aimed at capitalizing on the
recent wave of WWII-based first person shooters. It took place amongst
the deserts of North Africa and on European soil as it tracked twelve
daring commandos in their fight against Axis forces. That game,
however, suffered from some noticeable flaws that made it look more like
a value title than anything else. But it held promise. Now, a year
later, Deadly Dozen: Pacific Theater delivers on that promise and fully
realizes the true potential of the franchise.
As a first person shooter, Pacific Theater is two games in one. On the
one hand, you have the run and gun style of games like Wolfenstein or
Battlefield 1942. On the other end, Pacific Theater is a slow-paced
realistic game where one shot to your head causes immediate death. The
fun thing about Pacific Theater is its ability to switch between both
modes on the fly, even when you're playing co-operatively. In fact, you
can switch between the more console-like third person mode and the more
PC-like first person view with the touch of a button. Each has their
own strengths and weaknesses. Obviously, your aiming suffers in third
person but you get to see more of your surroundings.
By default, Pacific Theater is one of those games that bear more
resemblance to Ghost Recon rather than the popular Medal of Honor.
Often, you're sent deep within enemy lines alone and there's little to
no cinematic sequences throughout the game. Mission objectives never
change during the game itself and you never see a friendly soldier
beyond your own squad.
The objectives doled out to you, however, are often pretty free-form.
With the exception of one mission in the arctic, you're allowed to
alternate between a violent forceful approach and a silent stealthy one.
Either one suffices, as long as you complete the objectives on hand.
WWII was arguably one of the first wars that legitimized the necessary
use of specialized forces. And the objectives given to you will
highlight why. Typical tasks require you to rescue friendly forces
trapped in enemy territory or clear out fortified positions that might
be a bottleneck to the main attack force. The developers of Pacific
Theater have added some tense moments to the game though. In some
cases, you'll be going in with indiscriminate bomber support;
indiscriminate only because you might get hit yourself. With allied
planes zooming above your head, the battles don't feel like it's you vs.
Because of updated friendly AI routines, you won't feel much of that at
all. There are only twelve soldiers you can choose from. Each of them
specializes in something: demolitions, fire support, anti-armor, etc.
They come pre-configured but Pacific Theater lets you individually
assign equipment from a small, but satisfactory, pool of military
hardware. The AI is particularly useful in foggy jungle settings. More
often than not, they're able to pick out ambushing soldiers hiding
within the vegetation faster than you can. Using some simple commands,
you can issue orders for them to fire at will, hold up, or follow you.
There aren't any waypoints or sub-squads like in Ghost Recon but in the
event everything goes awry, you can still assume direct control of each
member of your squad.
The original Deadly Dozen was known for its fogginess. The draw-in has
been extended in this game, although the fog is much more realistic in a
jungle setting. There's one lone arctic level where you have to raid a
Japanese base on the Aleutian Islands in Alaska. But that mission
appears contrived. Your soldiers wear the same uniforms to Alaska as
they do to the Philippines. The facial textures aren't particularly
well developed but everything else looks as it should be, particularly
the vegetation which consists of a swath of reeds, tall grass, shrubs,
trees and bushes.
The audio in this game is right on the mark. Effects are crisp, clear
and most importantly, fairly authentic to the era. Firing out eight
rounds on the M1 Garand will lead to the trademark plink sound. There's
good use of 3D surround and the engine that powers Pacific Theater has
support for a bunch of sound codecs from the venerable Aureal to the
latest EAX. A lot of the guns, like the BAR, certainly sound better
here than in EA's Battlefield 1942. And the Japanese even have its own
cast of authentic weapons.
Without a doubt, the most revolutionary addition to the game is the
inclusion of co-operative play. You're allowed to bring along a full
squad of four for each human player that joins. Furthermore, there's
support for respawn options and like I mentioned earlier, you can toggle
difficulty and arcade/realistic modes on the fly; a feature I came to
like myself. Out of the box, the multiplayer can be a frustrating
affair with more than a few people. Playing with one other person is
almost flawless but with more than a couple of human players, you should
expect some serious lag.
The developers didn't stop there. There's also a "Mission Mode" that is
team competitive with one group of players assuming the Allied forces
and one group of players assuming the role of the Axis. The latter will
fight to prevent the Allied forces from achieving the objectives laid
down in single player. Deathmatch and Capture the Flag round out an
outstanding cast. Now only if you could get more than half a dozen
people in here without it crashing or lagging and we might be looking at
an uber-hit on the net. Some multiplayer patching will definitely be
needed ex post facto of the retail release.
Holistically, this is such a polished package that you never get the
sense that you are compromising by buying a cheaper title. It does have
its faults. Chief amongst them are pathfinding woes that leave fellow
squad members behind. The vehicles included in the game aren't really
all that useful either for transport or combat. Some of the missions
are reduced into a two minute drill of stop, scan, snipe and go. This
type of play makes weapons like the flamethrower fairly redundant. I'm
eagerly looking for a follow-up, where close quarter combat and scripted
sequences will spice things up. Banzai charges should really have been
added to the game.
On the technical side, the EAX sound effects disappeared a few times
during multiplayer sessions and the draw-in fog is a little
disconcerting. However, those flaws are mainly minor slip-ups. Most
value titles have glaring defects that cause them to fall flat on their
faces. This title hardly falters anywhere and while it only features a
dozen missions, its varied modes and multiplayer features should keep
you busy for quite some time.
On a final note, I often review value titles for the PC platform. Most
value titles try to capitalize on what's hot in the industry today.
Clearly, the first person shooter and the WWII theme are topics a la
mode. In dishing out low review scores, I often get criticism from
developers, some friendly, some not so friendly, that I'm unfairly
judging their product against something that was developed with millions
of dollars for five years and a cast of one hundred programmers. When I
point out the lack of features like multiplayer (besides the fact that
they use engines like LithTech where you know multiplayer is
there), they cry out it would take too much time. Let Pacific Theater
serve as a shining example of a value title done right. By definition,
a value-priced product is supposed to deliver the biggest bang for the
buck. And that's exactly what you get here.