Capitalizing on the recent 'Coalition' (you just have to love the
unimaginative terms the Bush administration comes up with) forces
launched on the Taliban government and Al-Qaeda forces in Afghanistan,
NovaLogic has adapted their Land Warrior tactical FPS engine to provide
some gritty entertainment against an enemy that is surely deserving of
your virtual wrath. Taking place in areas immortalized by the press,
like Kandahar, Mazar-e-Sharif or the mountain range of Tora Bora, Delta
Force: Task Force Dagger lets you assume the role of elite fighting
units around the world from the field intelligence officers of the CIA
to lesser known groups like the Canadian JTF-2.
By now, NovaLogic titles are often predictable, at least in the tactical
FPS genre. You have a campaign strung together, a series of quick
missions and a multiplayer mode on NovaLogic's unique battle servers.
Dagger doesn't deviate from this and in fact, on first glance, will
remind you of its predecessor, Land Warrior. Except this time around,
the action is decidedly more of the arcade quality. How did I come to
that conclusion? Key to my argument is the introduction of special
forces from a variety of world-renowned (English-speaking) military
operatives. Gone are the character classes of Land Warrior and in comes
a feeble attempt to capitalize on the personnel shown in recent events.
Furthermore, each operative carries a primary rifle, a secondary
submachine gun, in addition to a sidearm and a host of other equipment,
plus an anti-tank rocket launcher. Considering most titles, including
even FPSes like Halo, are going with fewer and fewer weapons for realism
sake, the equipment loadout here is something that fits a title from the
console world, rather than the growing tactical FPS sub-genre on the PC.
Arguably, the result is that each operative you assume is a one-man
army. That's important because you *are* for all intents and purposes,
a one man army. One of the things Land Warrior, this title's
predecessor, tried to implement was the integration of squad tactics.
Delta Force, as a genre, has never been known for its squad or enemy AI.
Often, you're a lone gunner (another arcade-like feature) pit against
enormous odds. However, NovaLogic increasingly scripted and implemented
friendly forces to aid you, directly and indirectly with fire support.
So when Dagger came around with all these components stripped out, it
feels like NovaLogic took a step back. In light of progress made by
titles like Operation Flashpoint or Ghost Recon, a huge step back.
Some of this, I imagine, is due to inattention or lack of care on the
part of the developers. Each mission is littered with dozens upon
dozens of enemies. In an urban setting, I can imagine this is
important. As recent films like Black Hawk Down illustrate,
overwhelming numerical odds in a confined urban setting are deadly for
any military fighting force, regardless of the level of training or
expertise. I'm reminded by the Allied soldiers in their 1945 approach
to Berlin. A fatal bullet in your head on the last day of the war is
just as deadly as a bullet in your head on the first day. Dagger forces
you through a deadly gauntlet against innumerable numbers of opposition,
frequently with no help at all from friendly forces. Granted, this may
have been what it was like for soldiers in Afghanistan (although I
highly doubt that), it makes for fairly bad gameplay. Because in the
end, the killing and firing of your weapon goes on for so long that
there's no possible logical reason for it to continue. Pulling aimed
shots at more than three (try four or five) dozen people per mission is
a ridiculous demand, even on an arcade game.
Coming back to my inattention thesis, I think the reason why this
happened is due to the fact that the enemy AI in this title is
absolutely horrid. Delta Force, the franchise, has never been known for
excellent AI. So I didn't come into Dagger thinking I'd see things that
will pass the Turing test. Time after time during play, I found the
enemies to be completely oblivious to danger. You can pick troops off
one by one with a sniper rifle. It gets so long in tooth that you'll
get tired of repeating this process; tired of killing. Increasing the
AI difficulty doesn't seem to help. Admittedly, Taliban and Al-Qaeda do
not hold the mantle of best military force in the world. Veterans of
the Afghanistan campaign often tell the public that enemy forces aren't
the best shots but that doesn't mean they don't spray bullets at you.
But something is truly amiss when I fire a sniper rifle from far away,
only to miss the target and see him fire a grenade in retaliation (into
an object, might I add), killing himself and all his comrades. Enemy
placement is also suspect. There are times where enemy units will start
out on the sides of steep hills, completely exposed. Or, inside a
building, they'll all face away from the entrance and be ignorant of my
entry. These design problems denote some carelessness on the
Otherwise, Dagger takes full advantage of its special ops emphasis.
You'll be inserted covertly by plane or helicopter into some luscious
environs from afar. However, even with the 3D acceleration
enhancements, the Land Warrior engine is showing its age, especially
once you hit the ground and explosions start dragging your framerate to
a crawl. There are missions that are truly engaging, if not in
execution, at least in concept. The defense of a fort in Paktia is a
riveting favorite of mine, where you must hold off a two-pronged enemy
assault until forces come to relieve you. There are also missions where
you ride a helicopter, providing overhead sniper support or picking off
convoys fleeing into Pakistan. These enjoyable missions are the ones
that typically include friendly forces, support helicopters and the now
famous CIA spy drones.
It's rather a shame Dagger has been released now. It's all the more a
pity because the Land Warrior engine is one of the few titles that
factors in bullet ballistics. High-powered rifles can penetrate even
metal. Sound clarity is always a NovaLogic strength and the unique
voxel technology produces distances that create a haven for would-be
virtual snipers. This title, however, even lacks the co-operative
multiplayer mode that is found in its predecessors. Therefore, it's my
opinion that Dagger illustrates a move by one of the original three
great tactical FPS kings on the PC towards an arcade FPS. Perhaps the
integration of Zombie, who was responsible for a lot of console ports of
the Spec Ops franchise, is showing its influence here. Clearly, Dagger
only serves to tarnish the Delta Force name that NovaLogic strove so
hard to redeem in Land Warrior.