Shadow Ops: Red Mercury

Shadow Ops: Red Mercury

Written by Charlie Sinhaseni on 10/8/2004 for PC  

After the gaming industry polluted the market with endless World War II shooter after endless World War II shooter, developers started to look for new source material. Some have chosen to make Vietnam the new WWII while others, such as Pandemic decided to head to the Middle East for Full Spectrum Warrior. Atari and Zombie tackle similar material with their original first person shooter Shadow Ops and in the end, come away with a decent shooter that’s marred by a number of horrible design decisions.

Shadow Ops decides to take a Pulp Fiction approach to the story telling by putting the end of the story first and then thrusting players back in time. Red Mercury is a remote nuclear device that can be carried and armed in a suitcase. At the onset of the game you’re tasked with retrieving the device and stopping the madman from obliterating the continent. You come close but he narrowly escapes. As he does he detonates it in the middle of the ocean, the impact so large that it causes a ripple in the ocean large enough to capsize an aircraft carrier. With this great setup the game tells you that the threat is real without wasting too much time on exculpatory elements such as foreshadowing and predilections. Soon after the detonation you’re sent back in time as you play the game leading up to the events in the Middle East. You’ll travel to a wide variety of locales including jungles where you’ll do battle with the rebels.

I’ve never been a huge fan of storylines in first person shooters so I’ll forgive Shadow Ops for going the “oh my god, the madman has a bomb! Stop him!” route. Besides, the way I see it, storylines in shooters are kind of like storylines in pornos, it’s basically there to give you an excuse to have at it. And have it you will in this action-oriented shooter. As with most flawed shooters, the game starts off a brisk pace and fails to keep it up after the first act. At the start you’re dropped right in the middle of a hot zone where enemy gunfire reins upon you from all sides. You scramble to find cover when your squad mates call out to you to join them. Working as a team you pick off enemies from behind cover, from atop balconies and from across the alley. Eventually you’ll work your way into the town and infiltrate the rebel encampment, destroying a tank and doing combat in a hollowed out building in the process. I’d be lying if I didn’t say it was one of the best levels I had played in a shooter this year. It’s just a shame that the rest of the game can’t live up to the hype caused by the first level.

To me it seems like the designers tried to do too much with too little. They had it right at the start; throw the player into a hotbed of action and let them pile up the bodies. In later levels though they try to throw some monkey wrenches into the machine by forcing players to use mechanisms that don’t quite work the way they should. Players can peak around corners but to do so, they need to activate the zoom which significantly limits the field of view. You can snipe but the accuracy is weary at best. This is particularly annoying in the sniper scenarios where you’re forced to rely on a shaky targeting system. For a first person shooter the arsenal is pretty weak as well. Although the game provides you with other weapons most of the combat takes place in close quarters; meaning that the assault rifle will often be your primary weapon. It baffles me why the game decides to give you a sniper rifle so often when you’re fighting in the streets and in the buildings. To make matters worse the game never provides you with enough ammunition for the assault rifle, forcing you to rely on the pistol for combat.That’s just the small stuff; my biggest gripe with Shadow Ops is that it bills itself as a realism-based first person along the lines of Ghost Recon but actually plays more like a run-and-gun shooter like Serious Sam. Players can take an excessive number of hits before they begin to keel over. Actually that seems to be the name of the game here; enemies consistently get the drop on you and ring off a few shots before you even know that they’re there. Luckily you take minimal damage from even the biggest of ambushes. In one sequence I took about 5 shots and the splash damage from an RPG. My health? A sparkling 76, not exactly what I would call realistic. The game even lacks the most basic fundamental core of realistic first person shooters; a fluctuating targeting reticule. It’s reasonable to assume that your character is an excellent marksman due to his high level of training, but the imagination can only go so far. To assume that he has perfect aim while jumping off the side of a building or sprinting in the middle of a gunfight is just absurd. In short the game seems dated, almost as if the designers were locked in a time chamber since the late 90s. Then there’s the fact that there’s no in-game save, a feature that seems to be a carryover from the console game, Not only can you not save in the midst of a mission, but there are no checkpoints as well. If you fall pretty to an ambush or haphazardly wander off a cliff, you can kiss that progress goodbye because you’ll have to start all over again. Frustrating doesn’t begin to describe how annoying this becomes.

It’s pretty easy to sum up Shadow Ops’ visuals in one statement: The weapon models are amazing, the rest of the game, not so amazing. In this PC port you’re receiving a rather straightforward port of the Xbox game with little adjustment or fanfare. The resolution can be bumped up but that further highlights the game’s visuals deficiencies. From the start you’ll be less than-impressed by the blocky architecture, poor special effects and weak texture work. This is horrific considering that first person shooters are on the forefront of graphics technology. While games like DOOM 3 and Half Life 2 are making headway by introducing new technology and showcase style visuals, Shadow Ops is bringing up the rear with a game that looks like it was made in 2002.

If there’s one area where Shadow Ops truly excels it’s in the audio. The price tag might say $19.99 but the sounds coming out of your speakers say otherwise. All of the sounds are superb and the audio separation comes through very clearly. To complement the gunfire and chaos is a heart thumping soundtrack that helps convey the situation. It goes for a sort of middle eastern chant that was prevalent all throughout movies like Black Hawk Down and Gladiator and it works really well here.

There’s a multiplayer facet, but judging by the amount of people who actually use it, you have to question its inclusion. As of review time we had trouble finding people online to play with, and when we lucky enough to find some stragglers, the experience was more frustrating than it should have been. That’s because it’s a cavalcade of errors; riddled with bugs, poor network code and flawed gameplay design.

If you’re looking for a decent shooter you’ve come to the right place. Atari and Zombie could have done much better given the promise seen in the first few levels, but the poor level design and weak AI kill the game before it can truly get off the ground. The price is definitely right but you can still do better for twenty bucks.
It starts out fast but fizzles even faster. Zombie had some pretty decent ideas but the archaic gameplay mechanisms and horrid multiplayer drag them down before they can get off the ground.

Rating: 6.4 Flawed

* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company for review.


About Author

Gaming has been a part of my life for as long as I could remember. I can still recall many a lost nights spent playing Gyromite with that stupid robot contraption for the old NES. While I'm not as old as the rest of the crew around these parts, I still have a solid understanding of the heritage and the history of the video gaming industry.

It's funny, when I see other people reference games like Doom as "old-school" I almost begin to cringe. I bet that half of these supposed "old-school" gamers don't even remember classic games like Rise of the Triad and Commander Keen. How about Halloween Harry? Does anyone even remember the term "shareware" anymore? If you want to know "old-school" just talk to John. He'll tell you all about his favorite Atari game, Custer's Revenge.

It's okay though, ignorance is bliss and what the kids don't know won't hurt them. I'll just simply smile and nod the next time someone tells me that the best entry in the Final Fantasy franchise was Final Fantasy VII.

When I'm not playing games I'm usually busy sleeping through classes at a boring college in Southern Oregon. My current hobbies are: writing songs for punk rock bands that never quite make it, and teasing Bart about... well just teasing Bart in general. I swear the material writes itself when you're around this guy. He gives new meaning to the term "moving punching bag."

As for games, I enjoy all types except those long-winded turn-based strategy games. I send those games to my good pal Tyler, I hear he has a thing for those games that none of us actually have the time to play.

When I'm not busy plowing through a massive pile of video games I spend all of my time trying to keep my cute little girl fed. She eats a ton but damn she's so hot. Does anyone understand the Asian girl weight principal? Like they'll clean out your fridge yet still weigh less than 110 pounds.

Currently I'm playing: THUG, True Crime, Prince of Persia, Project Gotham 2 and Beyond Good & Evil. View Profile

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