In response to the fact that Black Hawk Down: Team Sabre is absolutely the bare minimum necessary to be considered an expansion pack, I plan to write the bare minimum necessary to be considered a game review. I mean, if they’re not going to expend a lot of time or effort making a game, how much should I really feel obligated to expend reviewing it? Team Sabre does nothing to address the many problems of the original game, provides a scant dozen or so new single-player missions, offers like 30 new mulitplayer maps (as if anyone was looking for them), a couple new weapons, slap a $20 price tag on it, and see if it shambles out the door. Not so fast, Ritual Entertainment, Rorschach Van Helsing is here to drive a stake into your cold and shriveled heart.
Allow me to begin, if you will, by flogging the AI, which, come to think of it, is how I started the BHD review (apparently I get paid by the comma). Questionable at best in BHD, I’m debating with myself now if it is even worse in Team Sabre, or if geographic vaguarities in some of the maps only make it appear worse. Your squadmates simply don’t understand that they can’t shoot through objects to hit enemies. I’ve seen them empty whole clips into walls, buildings, vehicles, rocks, and hummocks, the bad guy on the other side doing the same thing. It got to the point that I would frequently use my squadmates as a sort of penetrating radar – look at what object they’re pinging shots off, and there’s a bad guy hidden behind it. Even in open ground and with a few feet separating them, the AI forces can’t seem to hit each other. Their navigation skills are little better, snagging them on all manner of garbage, and forcing you to frequently Border Collie your little group to keep it together. One mission teamed me with some British Special Forces, the “Special” no doubt referring to their future participation in the Special Olympics. They got so hung up on the rocky landscape that I left them behind. Later, when meeting up with American Delta Forces, the Brits and the Americans strike up a conversation, a little witty banter. Of course, THE BRITS AREN”T EVEN FREAKING THERE, but the conversation continues, the British dialog emanating from thin air. Enemies by and large are not much brighter, standing around in preset locations (so much for replayability) waiting for you to wander into sensor range and activate them, and sometimes even then you can walk up ridiculously close and shoot them dead without response. This certainly isn’t the modern AI that Call of Duty and such have led me to expect.
The missions in the original BHD recreated events from Mogadishu. Team Sabre splits its dozen missions into two stories: the overthrow of a drug cartel in Columbia (a la Clear and Present Danger) and the extermination of a rebel group in Iran attempting to disrupt oil production. With the dozen missions split more or less evenly, the story is over almost as soon as it’s begun, and you’re probably looking at ten hours or so of playtime max. The Iran missions are pretty easy, a few haywire scripted events aside, as long as you advance methodically and don’t rush blithely into vast enemy forces. The drug cartel story takes place in, naturally enough, jungle, loaded to the treetops with snipers who are all dead shots, and is very, very frustrating. You are supplied with a fixed number of saves per mission that can be used at any point you wish. In Iran, I never ran out of saves, but would have used far more in Columbia if they had been available, and it would have saved me literally hours of belly-crawling around in the jungle. The levels as a whole appear larger than in the original BHD, but that turns out to be a lie as wandering even a short way off the intended path will get you declared AWOL and tossed from the mission. Even in somewhat natural situations, such as if you are advancing into a narrow jungle valley and instead choose to climb a nearby hill to get a look into the valley first is too far off the path to be acceptably. Why, then, did they give me the sniper rifle in the first place? Oh, and while I’m on the subject, have you ever seen a 12X sniper scope utterly without drift? Because now’s your chance.
Iran looks much like Mogadishu, with the exception of a few more modern structures and lots of oil-related equipment (drilling rigs, tanks, pipeline). The jungle is new territory to BHD and they’ve done a very nice job there, favorably comparable to about any 1st person shooter out there, jungle-wise. Trees, soil, and water are all smoothly drawn with rich textures and colors. I’m OK with the sounds by and large. I would have thought being shelled by mortars would be louder, but apparently, according to Team Sabre, it’s not all that bad.
Multiplayer continues to be the area where BHD shines, or if not shines at least doesn’t suck the life out of the room. The new maps are larger and for the most part well laid out, and the game itself supports a large, if not wildly original, variety of multiplayer options (deathmatch, CTF, king of the hill, attack and defend, search and destroy). Away from the anemic AI, you’re left with a solid graphics engine with lots of weaponry and gritty wartime action. If some people have glommed onto BHD as their multiplayer game of choice, I can’t egregiously fault them or recommend extensive electroshock therapy, though I myself prefer Call of Duty or Battlefield 1942. I’m still not sure that I can recommend Team Sabre to them, as plenty of user maps are already available on the web to extend their multiplayer experience for free.
So what’s to say at the end of this incredibly short review? It’s an incredibly thin expansion pack, even considering the el-cheapo price tag. I’m surprised it took so long to come out. I’m surprised it was actually delayed for a short time. Finally, I’m kind of surprised they bothered to make it at all.