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Game Over Online ~ The Sum of All Fears

GameOver Game Reviews - The Sum of All Fears (c) Ubi Soft, Reviewed by - Fwiffo

Game & Publisher The Sum of All Fears (c) Ubi Soft
System Requirements Windows, Pentium II 450MHz, 128MB RAM, 1GB HDD, 16MB 3D Accelerator, 4x CD-ROM
Overall Rating 85%
Date Published Wednesday, May 29th, 2002 at 02:51 PM


Divider Left By: Fwiffo Divider Right

Coinciding with the release of a new Tom Clancy movie, The Sum of All Fears is based on the theatrical release more than the fiction itself. Like most film derivatives, Fears fleshes out the underlying story of John Clark and the FBI Hostage Rescue Team (HRT), a much-acclaimed domestic unit often praised by Clancy in his various works. The premise is frighteningly plausible: A nuclear device smuggled into the United States detonates in a major city in a bid to throw the two Cold War giants into a full scale nuclear war with a secret society of neo-fascists stepping in to fill the power vacuum. The movie focused on the rise and exploits of Jack Ryan as a CIA analyst. Set in a time before Rainbow Six and most of the popular novels and films like Clear and Present Danger or Hunt for the Red October, we track Clark and Ryan, the two principle characters, in their infant careers. Clark is still a veteran CIA operative, doing most of the hands-on work himself. Ryan is a budding CIA analyst, writing up the intelligence reports in the briefing screens of Fears. The movie skipped over much of the actual operations carried out by Clark to track down the neo-fascists and in intercepting arms shipments, opting to follow Ryan instead. In the game, you'll get to carry out operations under Clark through a variety of locales spanning North America, Africa, Europe and the Middle East.

Late last year, Red Storm Entertainment, the company that single-handedly made Rainbow Six a household name for PC gamers, bifurcated their premier franchise into two. Ghost Recon would represent all their endeavors into military operations encapsulating the exploits of the infantry unit while Rainbow Six will be continued in its own right with the forthcoming Raven Shield title debuting later this year. Fears represents a synthesis of both these worlds. Map design and gameplay is focused solidly on close quarter battles but with the engine that powered the award-winning Ghost Recon game. It makes a smooth transition to a mostly indoors environment, one-upping the aged Rogue Spear engine in many aspects. Rooms are more intricate and smaller in design, making complete eradication of your enemy a tough proposition. Environments can also be more cavernous in nature, creating opportunities for the enemy to ambush you via height differences. The closer draw distance makes the engine run faster on slower computers but in general, the Ghost Recon engine is more than up to the task. Gone are the undecorated and bland locales of the infantry simulation. Typical of Rainbow Six, all the attention to decorative furnishings is back, including a heavy dose of destructible glass.

In addition to the indoor locales, a few other things from Rainbow Six have also made it into Fears. The dramatic music upon death, for example, is one such thing that was curiously missing from Ghost Recon. A guided pre-planned mission plan is also available. Opening a door in Ghost Recon was a one shot deal. You couldn't stop opening a door if you're suddenly under fire. This small issue is rectified in Fears. Weapons-wise, the cast of guns reflects the close quarter nature of Fears. By default, for example, you'll now be armed with the 9mm MP5. Grenades and flashbangs are now a staple due to the HRT-centric armament. Sidearms are also much more effective and numerous than Ghost Recon. LAWs and RPGs are out, replaced with a plethora of weapons including some with high rates of fire and those nominally considered as terrorist or paramilitary arms. Bullet penetration physics work through wood and doors but unfortunately, don't work everywhere; through a cubicle or an object for example.

The excellent audio of all Red Storm titles continues to make its presence here. Fears doesn't pilfer from the movie soundtrack but adds a few new pieces to complement the developers' existing cache of music. Clark continues his voiceovers as he has done since the first Rainbow Six title. The guns and explosions are crisp although some guns, like the M16, are taken from Ghost Recon. All Red Storm titles are about detail and in Fears, this definitely shows itself. If you fire a weapon over a metallic surface, you can hear the casings bounce off the floor; a subtle but important feature.

Ghost Recon brought forth the threat indicator, a device surrounding the compass to give you a general direction of what enemies are left on the field. Rainbow Six brought you the heart beat sensor, a miraculous device that lets you detect people through walls. Although both are plausible near-future if not currently deployed pieces of technology, they're also the ones that get the most mixed reactions from players. Red Storm lets you toggle them on or off so use is ultimately up to you but with both aids enabled, the game becomes a much simpler exercise.

Simplicity and accessibility is the order of the day with Fears though. New to Red Storm's tactical first person shooters, you have a quick-help box in between mission loads with timely tips and fun facts about the game itself. Like all of its games, there's a comprehensive tutorial to guide you through the basic mechanics but on easier settings, the game is clearly geared towards people who have never played a tactical first person shooter. Realistic physics are relaxed this time around. Running speeds are perceivably faster, perhaps due to tweaking or perhaps due to the fact that you don't have to run for long stretches of time to find action. You can take a few hits that phase or stun you before biting the big one. Grenades, so deadly in Ghost Recon, are survivable even if you're in the same room. The first mission is especially guided with pointers to assist you on how to open and breach doors. Objectives, for the first time, are filled with voiceovers from HQ to guide you through the game.

The briefing screens are also simplified even though they reflect a synthesized Rainbow Six and Ghost Recon feel. Weapons are organized like kits in Ghost Recon. However, weapons selection is minimized in the single player game. Instead of customizing your own loadout weapon by weapon (or even selecting bullet types), you choose from things like Spec Ops Assault kit or the HRT Stealth kit. Additional kits with heavier or more exotic weapons are unlocked as the game progresses but you can choose any kit during the multiplayer portions of the game. This sounds console-like and indeed, the single player campaign with its emphasis on gaining medals (achieving bonus objectives like not dying) reflects a more game-like nature. Planning before a mission, characteristic of Rainbow Six, has been dropped in favor of on-the-fly control of your three person HRT squad. The command map, not exactly the easiest piece of interface in Ghost Recon, also disappears. With only two people tagging behind you, you're now only able to issue simple hold and move orders. Point at a door, for example, and you can click on options like breach or breach with grenade. It's not as smooth and fluid as the point-and-click interface found in Sierra's SWAT title but Fears' relaxed physics and relative simplicity provides some lee-way. For people playing on easier levels, it's almost unnecessary since the friendly AI does a relatively competent job at keeping with the course of the mission.

Make no mistake though: this isn't Counterstrike or Quake. A few good shots can maim you and on harder settings, only one aimed shot is all that is needed to kill you. Crouching and peeking around corners in a slow methodological fashion is the safest way to clear areas. Your missions will take you up against a wide range of enemies including paramilitary groups, local militia, suited men in black, security guards and terrorists. The most interesting feature introduced here is the presence of FBI support teams in addition to the ones you control. In multiplayer, potentially, there could be more than one dozen FBI operatives at work on any particular mission. The support teams, which cannot be controlled or ordered by you, walk paths in addition to the ones that aid you, helping you force entry into hostage-held areas or clearing chokepoints from alternate vantage points. We saw friendly AI in action during Ghost Recon but these guys act less as cannon fodder and more realistically resemble as support. This gives the game a more realistic feel and is true to the deterrent policing tactics of the FBI. If you storm a room with half a dozen people, your opponents are less likely to put up a fight than if you storm a room with only two.

As the FBI wanders farther away from its jurisdiction, help from HQ is less forthcoming and this lets the veterans practice their craft in the eleven-mission campaign. In the beginning, you'll do some actual HRT work like rescuing friendly agents or hostages. But as a lot of people didn't like Rainbow Six because you had to babysit hostages, the appearance of Clark and the HRT's missions under the CIA lifts these nominal handcuffs. Fears follows our modern day attitude to terrorism: if you aid, help or shield a terrorist, you are a terrorist. Be prepared for a lot of dead bodies. HQ's plans also tend to get worse as the campaign progresses, perhaps a subtle nudge to force you to find alternative routes around chokepoints. Some of the most interesting missions include a stealth mission to steal the manifesto off a dock. If you're detected by some roving searchlights, the whole base is alerted to your presence and a real firefight begins as you rush to finish your objectives. Another fun one includes a bank where you have to grab some neo-fascist intelligence material. Clark has an idea and asks you to make it look like a bank heist, which places the HRT in the humorous position of breaking the law to enforce the law.

There are some AI slipups in the game to debunk an otherwise fun campaign. On the one hand, the enemy exhibits sterling intelligence. They usually wait and abate you in easily omitted corners like in between cubicles. If they see an overwhelming number of HRT agents, some tend to run away or towards cover. In the aforementioned bank mission, the security cordons off your extraction point and some of the guards will relocate to get a better shot at you. Whether these are thought up on the fly or scripted, I'm not quite sure. The doubt arises because in other instances, the AI is pretty wooden. Cover fire won't exactly scare anyone into relocating, although they tend to disrupt patrol patterns. What if they don't have patrol patterns though? Often, grenades or flashbangs are the only items that force people to move. For example, in assassinating VIPs, the VIPs tend to stick around their starting rooms even when fired upon, only moving when I toss a grenade. Friendly AI also tends to get stuck in some of the more complicated environs like the prison complex. It's especially annoying when you're about to extract and you find one of your three operatives is stuck way behind enemy lines. Curiously, the support teams always make it out.

Multiplayer, as always, helps resolve AI deficiencies. Fears brings all the multiplayer modes from Ghost Recon for all of its existing eleven maps and seven additional multiplayer maps. The single player campaign can be played out in co-operative fashion or used in firefight or recon modes. New competitive games introduced in Ghost Recon, like Siege, can be played with Fears. The multiplayer maps follow Ghost Recon's tradition. They are short, enclosed arenas, suitable for firefights against the AI or against humans. Some of the more interesting ones include an underground parking complex and the actual offices of Red Storm. The kill house from Rogue Spear is also converted and the training complex is considered a level too so these two maps are not exactly original.

There's a dedicated server and you can play on Ubi.com. Rogue Spear players addicted to the Zone will be sad to hear that Ubi.com will, for all intents and purposes, be the only gaming service now. As a server, you have full control over what types of weapons will be included and what kinds of aids (heartbeat sensor, etc.) can be enabled. This should level out the playing field for most. Unfortunately, while co-operative games feature a full four squads of three-people teams in addition to support HRT operatives, you don't have control over the weapons layout of your fellow comrades. There were many times where I died and was placed in the hands of someone with a sniper rifle or a shotgun (both rendered almost entirely useless in Fears); completely ill-equipped to deal with the task at hand.

Fears is an intriguing title to Red Storm's pantheon of tactical first person shooters. It's a hybrid of everything included in Ghost Recon and Rainbow Six. Could it possibly be a replacement for the latter or even an extension for the former? Not necessarily. It may not be satisfying for everyone. The hit and miss AI and relaxed realism will not appeal to hardcore veterans that are still playing Rogue Spear. Its aids and features is an olive branch to the mass gaming audience not hooked on tactical first person shooters. Key point supporting this: the game features no blood and uses the 'puffs' effect in addition to gruesome animations as an alternative. With Rainbow Six and surely, another Ghost Recon title coming out later, Fears unfortunately resembles more as an interim title. Raven Shield, the true successor to Red Storm's close quarter battle game, will run on an Unreal engine so the longevity of this close quarter game is in question, especially if they are depending on this game to develop a vibrant community. Whether Fears will develop into the next Rainbow Six in terms of fan popularity will ultimately be based on whether the theatrical release will fetch Fears enough attention. In spite of these shortcomings, Fears features excellent production values. That really cannot be discounted on any level; visually or aurally. It is a fun, if short trip to Clancy's world of counter-terrorism and military operations. Based on a real piece of Clancy fiction this time, the literary elements transform the gaming experience into something all the more enjoyable.

 

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Rating
85%
 

 

 
 

 

 

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