Genre : Action
Developer : Pivotal Games
Publisher : Gotham Games
Release date : October 7, 2003
And you can only imagine how such a venture would turn out. I hold a keen interest in modern military applications, tactics, strategy, equipment and deployment. Some may say that it is an addiction. Others find it frightening. I have been told on many occasions by military personnel, officer or enlisted, that I know too much for my own good. In any case, if you hear that I’ve disappeared, it’s probably because the government got a little too concerned about how I do know. All ego stroking aside, my aforementioned knowledge tends to be a bit of a curse when it comes to games, especially games like Back to Baghdad (herein referred to as BTB).
BTB sets you as the team leader of a four man fire-team of Green Berets who are ostensibly Gulf War 1 vets. All logistical practical matters of such a premise aside, the setting leaves the player with some interesting opportunities. What it allows for is the usage of some cool hardware by specialized soldiers. It would also allow the player to use a healthy dose of small unit tactics to effectively employ. Both of these aspects are possible within the game; however there are some issues which obstruct the player from enjoying these gameplay features.
Before we really delve into any of these issues, let’s talk about something that BTB does moderately well: atmosphere. BTB’s levels are pretty big. The environments, whether they be the exterior sand dunes outside of a city or the bombed out ruins of downtown Baghdad, are large and well populated. The level designs, while linear in nature, serve up a decent draw distance to eliminate pop-up and are home to some interesting geographical features that lend to the tactical employment of cover and concealment. The level textures and art leave something to be desired and the obviously the PS2’s resolution does not help matters as does dithering and aliased polygon edges. It seems that this is the trade off of playing within the confines of the PS2’s abilities and the large environments. Even so, there are many examples of large levels with cleaner artwork and less linear designs (the Tony Hawk series comes to mind).
On a more personal graphical note, character models are mediocre at best. The animation does not inspire nor do the characters themselves as they look rather generic. I would not mind this since adhering to an authentic military look, a la Ghost Recon/Rainbow Six, can work very well. In BTB’s case, the cloudy looking textures and average animations make for a dull combination.
In terms of sound I do not recall any sort of involing soundtrack. The sounds of battle are nice. The ambient gunfire in the background leads on to feel like they are in the midst of an ongoing ground-war. My caveat for this matter is, admittedly, nitpicking but it nagged at me: you’re supposed to be leading an SF fire-team (which is wrong straight away) into a covert area of operations…why is there the sounds of pitched battle roaring around you?
The voice acting is another dull point as all the soldiers you command sound very similar. The enemy soldiers are reduced to Arabic sounding mutterings. Radio chatter is somewhat authentic and the mission briefing audio adds to the atmosphere effectively. If you could easily identify who was speaking by their voice then gameplay would have been greatly enhanced.
In terms of gameplay, the best way I can describe BTB is awkward. I personally find the Dual Shock 2 to be the most comfortable controller in my hands, but I had considerable difficulty employing all of the gameplay maneuvering the game allows. Learning where everything is not the issue. Being able to do certain things in close succession is. For instance, lying down, changing weapons, firing a grenade, moving under cover, reloading and coming out of cover to acquire, aim and fire again is process of Sisyphean proportions. By the time you’ve commanded your hapless hero to do all of these things you are either horribly disfigured by incoming fire or the enemy soldier has made a sandwich while waiting for you to shoot him. In terms of historical accuracy, this latter bit might be true but it does not make for a compelling gameplay experience.
The issuing of orders is a great gameplay feature; however the lack of elegance and the endless art of “maneuvering” your troops render the orders almost useless. I actually found it more useful to move my boys into position by myself. The only order I used consistently was the “Follow me” order to have my whole team cover long distances together.
This game’s multiplayer potential could have rectified matters greatly but the PS2 version lacks the ability to connect online and play with other gamers. Instead PS2 owners are left with the bad ole’ split screen option. In this game-mode, each player is detailed two of the four soldiers to command. With the generally dim look of the game and difficulty of spotting targets at a distance, the guy left with the sniper would find him (or her) self distinctly useless.
In hindsight, BTB’s failings are not that it is a bad game. What leaves BTB inadequate is that this game was good for two year old standards. As the PS2 grows long in the tooth, designers are left to get creative and squeeze every pixel and polygon out of the system. Next to the Xbox or Gamecube the PS2 lags in terms of sheer horsepower however there are still games being produced which continue to dazzle even a jaded gamer’s eye. BTB unfortunately does not stretch the PS2 to its limits in terms of graphics or playability. With other tactical shooters out there it is difficult for me to whole hearted recommend this game to anyone unless it was marked off at a bargain price because in the end that is what the buyer is left with: a game with bargain value design.