Genre: Turn-Based Strategy
Publisher: Gammick Entertainment
Developer: Gammick Ent.
Release Date: April 28, 2009
I'm not the biggest realistic military fan, but if there are fantasy or sci-fi military tactics involved, I'd be all over it. Despite that, I'm always willing to keep an open mind on topics I'm not fond of and neglect my predetermined biases in favor of fairness. At first glance, Elite Forces Unit 77 for the DS appears to be a generic army/military strategy game, but I ended up being pleasantly surprised with what the title had to offer.
The story isn't groundbreaking by any means. A group of terrorists has kidnapped various prominent world figures, including those from the fields of science, industry and entertainment. In order to save the hostages and possibly millions of others, the international governments have dispatched Unit 77, consisting of four of the most highly trained operatives, to deal with this menace.
These soldiers include Kendra Chase, who is adept in long-range combat with her sniper rifle; Dag Hammer, who specializes in heavy artillery such as the bazooka; T.K. Richter, a demolitions expert who can use explosives, disarm explosives and commandeer vehicles that contain explosives; and Bill Matic, who is the group's technical member and can operate any electronic equipment. The character names sound like G.I. Joe rejects, and they don't really have any personality for players to relate to.
Soulless story line and all, the gameplay isn't terrible, nor is it what you expect at first glance. Based on the top-down, isometric perspective, you'd think that Elite Forces Unit 77 is an RTS, which are fairly common on the Nintendo DS thanks to touch-screen and stylus. However, the game plays out as more of a dungeon crawler with a military skin. Depending on the level, you may have all or some of the four characters in your group.
All of the action occurs on the touch-screen, and you control one character at a time, with the others following quickly behind you. The stylus is used for virtually all forms of input in this game, with option to use the buttons if needed; you're better off with the stylus, though. You can switch your controlled character by tapping the grainy character portrait of the one you wish to control on the side menu. Movement is done by tapping and dragging in the direction you want to go. Tapping an enemy or object lets you shoot at it with your gun. Your teammates will provide cover fire, which, based on what I've seen, has little to no effect on the enemies, so you're usually the one who has to do all of the work.
The controls get frustrating since movement and shooting are the same command, especially when you're trying to move out of the way of a grenade, more so when your teammates get in the way and you can't run through them. The controls get really clunky when you try to be defensive in combat, and vehicular controls are absolutely horrible if you're trying maneuver through obstacles. You move with the stylus just like you would on foot, but the vehicles require a large amount of space in order to compensate for their wide turns. The vehicles can offer protection from gunfire but can only take so much abuse before exploding, in which case any passengers will take massive amounts of damage, and any hostages you're escorting will most likely die, causing you to restart.
Another thing about combat that can grow tiresome is that you have to constantly monitor everyone's health because if one character dies, the game's over and you'll have to restart the level from the last checkpoint. There are various items to pick up, such as first aid kits and special weapon ammunition. At times, you will have to use a specific character's special weapon to progress through a level, which can be toggled on or off by tapping the weapon's icon on the side menu below the character portraits; first aid kits are also used by tapping the respective icon on the menu. The sniper rifle doesn't make too much sense in context to reality, since it brings up a crosshair that lets you pan great distances from a bird's-eye view. I'm no weapons specialist, but I can tell when it's impossible to get a high downward angle from below. Reality paradoxes aside, the sniper rifle is great for picking off distant enemies and other sniper users, as well as surveying the area from afar.
The top screen displays the map and shows your group's positions (yellow icons), nearby enemy positions (red icons), your objective (blue icon) and vehicles (green icons). You have limited visibility because of the top-down perspective, and you can only see the area that appears on the touch-screen, so you're often being bombarded by off-screen enemy fire. To slightly remedy this, you have to rely on the top screen to see where enemies are in relation to you. Environmental features, such as trees and building structures, also get in the way of combat because you can't rotate the camera to see who or what is firing at you.
You'll have to endure these problems through 12 different missions that lack any sort of variety. You go from one point to another and shoot dudes as you go. The level design looks mostly the same from level to level, and the missions all take place in an outdoor environment. Instead of a normal dungeon crawler — where you navigate through dark, dank, underground caverns — you now traverse through guerilla-infested jungles and deserts.
The poor level design and gameplay mechanics may also be affected by the graphical direction of the game. Games that use isometric perspectives aren't necessarily known for their graphical prowess, but usually you can make a distinction from one character to another, and that's not the case for Elite Forces. Enemy models look exactly like the character models I'm controlling, and my only clue for distinguishing the two is that one group is firing and the other is standing around. Sometimes, I'll be tapping on one of my characters thinking it's an enemy, but I end up doing nothing and still getting hurt. Aside from a palette swap of the ground and enemy character uniform colors, the three main areas of the game are identical to each other. Save for a gimmicky obstacle here or there to break the monotony, the visuals aren't very thrilling. Animations hardly have any pizzazz, and the death animations for the enemies remind me of the animations for classic shooters like Wolfenstein 3D and Doom.
Like the graphics, the sound isn't very impressive either. You hear gunfire and explosions through the DS speakers, and the only voices in the game come from the grunts and other noises the characters make when they take damage. The "cinematic sequences" that occur between major points of the game only consist of still images of a character with boxes of dialogue. There also isn't much of a soundtrack, aside from some generic military-themed music.
Elite Forces Unit 77 is a decent overworld-based dungeon crawler that is plagued by clunky controls and a less-than-stellar presentation. The game isn't as bad as its outward appearances would have you believe, but there are much better games of the same style available for the NDS system.Score: 6.5/10
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