SWAT 4: The Stetchkov Syndicate is a follow up to last year’s SWAT 4 game, quite possibly the only police related title that will have you yelling things like hands up, down on the floor, and occasionally cursing at stubborn suspects and civilians. Priced at $19.99 US, this expansion pack installs on top of the original game so it is not a brand new take or a substantial upgrade. It does, however, add new missions, weapons and a few armaments to the SWAT arsenal. The original title was known for its realistic action and mandatory requirement for methodical tactics. This one is no different.
The Stetchkov Syndicate refers to an Eastern European mob that plagues the unnamed American metropolis the SWAT team is based in. The same members from the previous SWAT game returns, including Fields, Hollywood (which makes me think this is in Los Angeles), etc. Like the previous game, The Stetchkov Syndicate features characters who react naturally to the locales they’re in. When raiding a satanic rock concert, for example, one of your SWAT team will remark how they brought a date there once. When visiting a bombed out government building, the civilians will complain about how it would have been better if you showed up before the bomb actually went off; plus or minus a few profanities. I also like the fact that civilians tend to try to help the police by pointing out if a suspect is around with a gun, although I’ve been tricked a few times by false alarms.
I originally lauded SWAT 4 for its introduction of new law enforcement tools like the Taser stun gun. In this expansion pack, you get an expanded stun gun called the Cobra. With how unpopular Taser is faring these days in the news, I’m not surprised with the departure. There’s also a CAR-15 sniper rifle that seems too slow to be of any real use in the close quarters for SWAT. Probably the best gun available is the FN P90 PDW, which features very little recoil, a rapid rate of fire and a fifty bullet cartridge. Once you get this weapon in the single player mode, you’ll be hard pressed to find a comparable weapon. You also have access to a grenade launcher, which is loaded with various stun grenades or a one shot non-lethal round. All in all, it’s not the weapons bazaar that you find in other games like Rainbow Six (in fact, here I believe they didn’t have rights to the names of specific gun manufacturers although the form looks exactly like it), but enough to whet one’s appetite.
Of the seven new maps, all of them revolve around responding to high risk warrant searches or some form of chaotic hostage situation; what SWAT usually calls bring order to chaos. The briefings are still done very well. You’ll actually want to pay attention to the details, particularly the maps since they will help you clear the building faster. Unlike the original game, there aren’t any 911 call recordings, which I thought were useful since they can give clues as to what opposition you’re up against. The Stetchkov Syndicate assumes you’ve played SWAT 4 before because it throws you right into the action. The seven maps get increasingly difficult but there aren’t any starter maps to ease newcomers in.
In spite of what the expansion pack is called, the Stetchkovs only really figure into half the missions in the game. All the others have you facing off against extremists: a Christian extremist group raiding a satanic concert or a paramilitary outfit of farmers who bomb a government building. The most visceral mission has to be in the ruined government building. Irrational did a bang up job on this one because SWAT responds to the call after the bomb goes off so the whole map is in darkness. That’s when you get to use your night vision goggles. It’s almost eerie clearing the building because you think somewhere someone in real life must have encountered the same thing in our never-ending war on terror. But more importantly, there is a gaping hole to which you can see civilians calling for help up and down the center of the building. The environments are very detailed and Irrational has skipped putting in generic interiors. This helps heighten the overall realism of the game.
Besides the Stetchkov mob, I also found it very strange that the commander describes opponents as amateur or sloppy. You would think given that comment you would find some benign suspects with handguns and the odd shotgun. But often you’ll find very well armed, trigger happy hostiles decked out in body armor. No doubt the design is aimed at veterans of the SWAT series.
There are some drawbacks to the new maps though. Pathfinding is an issue as I’ve found sometimes your element will take a roundabout way, sometimes exposing themselves to hostiles to get to your position. The element also seems more prone to getting trapped on stairs now and there are times when no matter how you approach a door, you can’t get the teams to clear a room correctly. An enemy might be hiding behind a cubicle wall, which to the artificial intelligence is somehow part of another room. In open areas, the artificial intelligence has similar problems acquiring targets properly.
That said, the command structure continues to be very intuitive. I liked the fact that you can set synchronized commands now with your team. This allows you to tell one squad to clear a room while you approach from the other side. This feature was available in Rainbow Six, so I’m glad to see it here. I still don’t like the fact that you can’t control the sniper fire or relocate snipers to focus on other parts of the building.
One small but significant addition is the ability to punch people. Someone unfamiliar with SWAT 4 might laugh at that but there were times in the original game when you ran out of pepper spray and you couldn’t get a civilian to comply with your orders to be handcuffed. This either resulted in an extremely long shouting match or situations where I took a page from 24’s Jack Bauer and shot someone’s limbs to get them to comply. Now you can simply punch them into submission.
Multiplayer has been expanded to incorporate more co-operative play functions. Up to ten people can join a co-operative multiplayer game in The Stetchkov Syndicate. Furthermore, you’re able to divide yourselves into two elements and choose your entry point into the map. It makes for a more complete gaming experience.
Those quick missions you can create in single player can now be transported to multiplayer play too, so co-operative players get a huge boost in this expansion pack. VOIP capabilities obviously let The Stechkov Syndicate match capabilities offered by competing Battlefield 2.
For competitive players, there is a new multiplayer game mode called Smash and Grab. It has police officers defending a suitcase while suspects come in and grab it. It’s really the flip side of the VIP escort. Of course, the new maps can also be fitted to play other multiplayer game modes as well. To keep the game moving, a respawn option has been added.
Many initial articles have stated that The Stetchkov Syndicate is longer and difficult. On the easiest settings, I was able to get through the single player campaign in four hours or so. On more difficult settings, the game forced me to be more patient and methodical. Each turn at a mission is a surprise as Irrational intentionally mixes up where the civilians and suspects are on the map.
Owners of SWAT 4 will find the purchase of The Stetchkov Syndicate a no-brainer. It expands on the original game with quality missions and offers significant upgrades to co-operative multiplayer. I still don’t know why we can’t enable artificial intelligence players to fill in for co-operative but that said SWAT has always been very attentive to co-operative play. Although short and abbreviated, The Stetchkov Syndicate is a great expansion to its predecessor. Its major fault is making its fans ask for more.