When people hear that I review games for a Web site, they usually say, "How can you possibly consider that work?" Then I show them a game like Raven Squad. When I have to play all the way through a mess like this, you better believe that it's work.
Raven Squad takes place in 2011 and follows an elite group of mercenaries on a mission in the Amazon jungle that goes very wrong. Shot out of the sky and stuck behind enemy lines, you're tasked with everything from taking down South-American warlords to recovering valuable intelligence.
I don't remember much else because Raven Squad has one of the most generic stories that I've ever seen. The writing is filled with so much clichéd military dialogue that it's impossible to take seriously. I'm pretty sure I came up with better plot lines when I was a 7-year-old playing with my G.I. Joes.
Here's an example to show what I'm talking about. The soldiers have names such as Paladin, Zombie and Flash. That's what we're dealing with, people, and this carries over into the gameplay as well.
Raven Squad's claim to innovation comes from its combination of first-person-shooter and real-time-strategy mechanics. At any time, users can play the game in RTS mode to plan out attacks and switch into a first-person view when some more precise combat moves are needed. There are two squads to command: a stealthily reconnaissance team and a heavy assault team.
The RTS, or "tactical," view comes in handy when navigating through dense jungle levels, but the game really doesn't have the depth of a traditional RTS title. There's no resource management, only basic commands for attacking enemies. Another weird thing is the lack of any fog of war, so the entire level can be viewed from the outset.
This makes for few surprises in most missions. I mainly used the RTS mode to be aware of approaching enemies, and not much else.
Playing from the FPS view isn't much more fun. For a squad-based game, there's very little control over the soldiers, meaning no individual commands. Anyone who is really into squad management will probably find this underwhelming.
In FPS mode, each squad member can be controlled by simply hitting the proper direction on the d-pad. The player is then given access to that soldier's specific kit, ranging from sniper rifles, submachine guns, grenades and rocket launchers. It's all standard stuff, so no squad member is particularly enjoyable to use.
The worst part of the gameplay, though, is that it's a complete bore. Almost every level consists of fighting a series of separate enemy units who barely move, and when they do, they stupidly run into your line of fire. This obliterates the game's squad-based feel because there is no need for tactics. I was able to clear the entire game using one squad and bringing in the second only if I needed backup. The friendly AI isn't the brightest, either. Eventually, I learned to not stand directly in front of my squadmates, since they had a penchant for shooting me in the back.
The action feels terrible. The sights on some weapons are surprisingly hard to see through, and the controls are very sluggish. I also found the hit detection to be way off at times, especially when shooting enemies behind bushes, which are apparently bullet-proof in the Amazon jungle.
And they say the rainforest needs saving.
But Raven Squad's real lack of fun stems from the sheer amount of linearity in each level. It feels like walking through the narrow corridors of a giant maze. There's hardly anything exciting thrown in to shake up the gameplay, save a couple of measly boss fights that require no strategy at all. The dynamic of having an RTS mode is a good addition, but the rest of the game is so bland that there's no real need for any strategy.
The main campaign is about six to seven hours in length. After that, there's a cooperative mode where two players play through all 11 levels, with each player controlling his own squad. It's nice to have another person to manage the RTS mode and keep a lookout for bad guys, but there are no elements to the game that are really meant for co-op. Adding another hit to the value of Raven Squad is the sad fact that there is no competitive multiplayer, but given the horrifyingly bad quality of the rest of the game, maybe it's for the best.
The graphics of Raven Squad have to be seen to be believed, and not because they're good. While traversing the extremely bland urban and jungle environments, there's a tremendous amount of texture pop-in. The character models look dated and only possess about two to three different animations. The facial animations are especially bad and are so unrealistic that characters look like some sort of talking doll possessed by the devil. It's actually pretty creepy.
The in-game cut scenes are terribly directed, and most of the time, they just show two groups of soldiers standing still while shooting at nothing. It's not enough that Raven Squad's story is bad, but its presentation is even worse.
To match the characters' lifeless appearances, the voices sound extremely synthetic. The accent of the local Intel officer Xiang sounds inaccurate given the setting, and every line of dialogue is delivered so poorly that it's hard not to laugh.
The effects are also terrible. Sounds of gunfire and explosions pack no punch, and the sound is completely missing in some areas. This occurred when I was manning the turret on a jeep that moved in silence. Blatant omissions like this make Raven Squad feel like a lazy attempt at a video game.
A game like this exists for one purpose: to prey on innocent relatives who are just trying to buy little Jimmy a birthday present. No one would consciously purchase this title. Even at a lowered $50 price point, Raven Squad doesn't suffice because both its gameplay and presentation barely function.
If you are looking for a tactical military shooter, I recommend picking up either of the Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter games, as they are legitimate products of this generation in video games. I think I'll go play them right now just to wash away the vile taste of Raven Squad.
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