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SummaryIt's Metal Hovertank/Plasma! (sort of)
The GoodAll game series have that game. You know, that game. The game that is based on the universe of a well-established franchise, but takes it into a different genre for the "displeasure" of hardcore fans. Fallout Tactics, Streets of SimCity or C&C Renegade fit into the description, and XCom fans already had this by the truckload: after a brilliant first game, a second with grenades being thrown underwater, a third game with TINYYYYYYYYY sprites and a real-time mode, a space-flight sim, and even the e-m@il games version was a huge letdown. Following the Dance of the Batch-acquired Franchises, Infogrames threw in the Unreal engine into the franchise, and the slow, cerebral pace of the "Geoscape" games gave place to a frenetic third person shooter.
Remember those missions where you had to carefully plan an assault to a large UFO facing over 20 aliens? My, how times have changed, now on an average mission over 200 aliens will die facing the Enforcer; on a good one, the numbers might reach 500. That's how frantic the game is - from passing the first door until clearing the final objective (usually destroying all transporters, small objects used by the aliens to infiltrate an area), the player rarely has time to stop. There are, however, some breaks to explore the maps (which range from trailer parks and corn farms to malls and parking lots), searching for researchable items, hidden items and the five bubbles that open the bonus level at the end of the current level. Which are always short (one level shouldn't take more than 10 minutes tops), to the point and of variable quality. Some levels are awesome to blitz through (like the farm), others are somewhat dull (the space carrier level being the worst offender). Either way, a rotating VibroBlade (and a lot of sectoids) is everything needed to turn even the dullest of levels into an happy slashfest.
The main concept of the game, and what makes it different from other third person shooters are the datapoints, small tokens left by downed aliens and other objects that can be used in upgrading and unlocking new weapons and general upgrades. While the concept is downright strange (more on that next), it manages to open the "research mode" typical of the series, which would be hard to implement otherwise.
The BadHowever, even excusing the attempt at being an arcade game, the game sports some problems. As said before, the levels are all very linear, and require sharper reflexes more than a sharp mind - in fact, you can turn your brain off in most levels. Spots with bonuses (such as a juicy 100 datapoints card) would enhance the game without compromising the "run and gun" gameplay. The BONUS bubbles provide this variation in some levels, but that's not nearly enough. Also, the quality of the levels vary a lot between them. There's some levels one would play again and again, then there's levels you'd just want to finish off quickly.
Interfering a lot with the gameplay is the weapon pickup system. As our Enforcer can only carry a gun at once, he has to pick them up as they are spawned, but doing it does not require any button press (like in Oni, for instance). If a player is holding a fully uploaded Mass Driver (one of the most useful weapons in the game) and is backtracking to get some space from an incoming rush, he might accidentally pick up a Shotgun, which is almost useless against the stronger enemies, and get very literally between a rock and an hard place. The player should also have the option to stop the spawning of certain weapons unlocked, but found to be useless in most occasions. Of course, that's part of the challenge, but it's an annoyance. The concept of datapoints feels somewhat tacked on. Why are the aliens dropping research points like candy? Like it was mentioned above, a way to implement credits and research/upgrades was required, but maybe it shouldn't have to be this transparent.
Technically, the game isn't free from problems. Graphically it's not the prettiest peach in the basket, and has a few glitches (one of them particularly annoying), and most levels aren't that inspired, same with the aliens. Yes, your friends the Sectoids, Sectopods, Chryssalids, Cyberdiscs, Mutons and Ethereals are here, along a few new pals, but they're just little more than cannon fodder. Sound also isn't particularly thrilling. While the scientist's voice looks a bit too cartoony (double to the citizens needing help) and the Enforcer rarely says more than a few mechanized "Aliens detected!" and "Prepare to be enforced!", the game is very forgettable in this aspect. The squealing of a dying Sectoid is nowhere to be heard, and everything just sounds too generic.
Also, for some reason, the sound sometimes stutters (and freezes the game for a short period), but that can be attributed to Windows XP (the box claims the game is compatible, but not fully tested), breaking the immersion a bit.
The Bottom LineSome might say that Enforcer symbolizes what's wrong with the modern video games industry. On the other hand, the wanton criticism of the game is what symbolizes the decadent state of the gamer nowadays. The game is simply an unpretentious arcade shooter, reminding me a lot of titles such as Metal Slug. You have a guy armed to his teeth, a simple level filled to the brim with enemies where the goal (at worst) doesn't require more than some mindless trudging on the level. Shoot-shoot-shoot, kill-kill-kill. This is arcade gaming at it's core. Is the X-Com franchise be the most appropriate for this game? Had the cancelled projects of Alliance and Genesis came to life, Enforcer would be that "other action title". As it is, it's the last game in the X-Com franchise, which is the biggest reason why most reviewers refused to cut the game some slack.
No, there aren't overly produced, ten-minute long cutscenes, no robot-human-alien relationship drama or 10 year olds with a sword larger than him saving the universe and all that's good and holy. But there's a game inside. Even with it's many flaws, Enforcer is a decent title at the right price, provided the player accepts the game for what he provides.
And I know I'll name by best soldiers in the next game of Enemy Unknown Tarma Roving, Marco Rossi, Eri Kasamoto and Fio Germi.