Review: Special Forces: Team X
Recently I had the chance to check out one of the newest shooters on Xbox Live Arcade, Special Forces: Team X, and I have to say I was pleasantly surprised.
It’s a smooth blend of Counter-Strike style team matches combined with a movement which takes obvious cues from Gears of War.
The result is a strange beast, with the easy accessibility of traditional PC shooters combined with a ‘heaviness’ to the cover mechanic which feels a lot more safe and solid than traditional “oh it’s time to crouch behind this wall and I hope my head isn't sticking out” cover mechanics.
And I have to say it couldn't have come at a better time.
Where a few years ago the only shooters competitive shooters being played anywhere were large budget titles like Battlefield, Call of Duty and Halo, since the launch of Counter Strike: Global Offensive and increased traffic through the Steam system, lower budget games (with a suitably lower price tag) are getting a lot more time in the light – and variety can only be a good thing for gaming.
To get into the nitty gritty for SFX (a much more accessible name than the clunky title it stands for) – it’s a solid blend of genres, obviously designed to be accessible on both the platforms it’s launched on, Xbox Live and Steam. Its combat has a solid flow to it, with fire fights taking part in all areas of the map, the weapons feel different and have a real weight to them (something plenty games have screwed up in the past) and there are solid indicators for whats going on in the map, whether it’s locating team mates or keeping an eye on map objectives.
Speaking of map objectives, the game mode selection is impressive. Whether you are taking part in a traditional Team Deathmatch, playing recogniseable game modes like Capture the Flag or heading into less common game types like Control Points (where you take control of areas to gain points for your team) or High Value Target (where one person is the MVP of sorts, gaining extra points for their team until killed, at which point their killer becomes the HVP) – it’s quick and easy to pick up what’s going on and I was never left scratching my head for long.
As another refreshing change, teams can be anywhere between 2-4 – creating an interesting map dynamic, particularly for game modes like Control Points, where teamwork becomes more mandatory the more teams that are in play.
And there is even a system rewarding you for teaming up, with a little interface bubble which “charges” up as you stay near team mates, awarding extra points and experience for working together.
Speaking of the interface, the art style for this game is one of the features which really stands out. Blending a form of cell-shading with realistic body designs and blood spatter effects, it somehow strikes a line between Borderlands and Call of Duty – and for once this is a good thing. There are also many opportunities to show this off, with an experienced-based rank system which awards both new guns and new customization options as you level up.
But perhaps the most interesting thing of all is the map system. SFX uses a unique map voting system which combines three map “tiles” together to form the map for the game. One tile might be a giant warehouse, another an outdoor dock area and the third could be the indoors of a building. These are voted on before the game starts, selecting different tiles for different places so rarely will you play on the same map twice. For comparison, there are 9 different map tiles resulting in over 100 combinations – so you cut down on campers learning the map and the places fights take place is a lot more organic.
The last feature which really sets this game apart is the use of war dogs as a kind of secondary grenade. Players familiar with Call of Duty might remember the killstreak ability to summon a pack of dogs to attack enemies, but the way these are used in SFX is a lot more frequent and has a marked change on the gameplay. Dogs are the ultimate weapon for an enemy attacking you from behind cover – which happens frequently. I often found myself stuck potshotting an enemy from behind a barricade, both of us tossing grenades which fell short or bounced off more often than not before I remembered to utilise my trusty hound – which promptly ran around the cover and savaged the helpless enemy squatting behind.
I can see how people used to have fun hunting with these things. It’s addictive.
All of that being said, SFX isn’t without its flaws.
For those of you unfamiliar with Gears of War, there was no tutorial on how to play. As a result I spent about an hour playing before I noticed a loading screen tip which explained that you can melee behind an enemy for an instant “execute” kill – I had only worked out what button was melee about 5 minutes beforehand.
Similarly there is no backstory, not even through a cinematic, so from a thematic standpoint I often wondered why these military Special Forces teams were duking it out with shotguns and chainsaws in an abandoned factory.
The colour palette is also a little dry. Greys and browns abound and which can make it kind of difficult to tell friend from foe – especially when the only markers indicating team mates or enemies is a small coloured triangle above their head (which changes depending on your team colour, not on whether they are an enemy, so from game to game you really need to watch what colour you are so you don’t waste half a clip on a team mate who is the same team colour as your enemies from last round). Dogs don’t have a colour at all, which caused a lot of false starts as I frantically wondered if it was about to savage me or if a team mate had inadvertently hit the dog button (dare I say, let the dogs out) while no enemies were around.
The experience grind was also a little slow for my liking. Two hours in I was stuck with the same 3-4 weapons, two of which were very similar in range and damage, which can make it difficult to stay motivated.
This wasn’t helped by a bug which caused my level to reset no less than twice, which was a bit disheartening to say the least. The only other bug I encountered was the game failing to launch a few times from my Xbox Dashboard, although I was disconnected from matches every so often (I’m not sure if this was a regional thing).
At the end of the day SFX isn’t going to reinvent the third-person shooter wheel. Its inspirations are many and they are obvious. But what it does do is deliver a fairly unique and smooth multiplayer experience which is easily accessible, fun and pretty addictive.
Also it let me set a dog on my enemies every time I ran out of grenades. Which is always something to be thankful for.