SWAT 4 is the latest addition to the very popular urban police first person shooter by Sierra. This game is not your shoot em up first person but requires a bit more tact and finesse to play, and to accomplish each mission. The game is fun but it also adds some frustration and rage to your play. Not that this is a bad thing, but you can’t take it out in the game as you will not be able to advance if you just go around and blast things away. That is probably one of the better things about the SWAT series of games. It is not just a shoot the enemy until their all dead type of first person shooter. You have to rescue unarmed civilians in hostage situations and use a team of fellow swat officers to do this.

But the fun begins when you enter rooms and areas and there’s some card board cutout of a movie star in the room. Or a poster that’s five feet tall of some person that you mistake for a real player in the game. They add all kinds of things like this to make the game even more interesting. I noticed even shapes of some things like objects sitting on shelves tend to take on human form when you first enter an area. It seems they have added this to make it more fun, and their right to do so. It does make it more fun and interesting.

The game is from Sierra and is the fourth, duh, in the SWAT line. They have done better and better with the series, using the latest and best game engines and improving many things from one to the next. The first couple were not so hot, more like the company had great expectations and the technology was just not there. Now they are up to steam and doing fine. You play as a regular SWAT team and you go to various scenes of robberies gone awry or kidnappings and you have to defuse the situation by taking out or arresting the perpetrators. This is made harder by the fact of the things they put in your way and how some of the rooms are laid out for you. Many times the bad guys will see or hear you coming and you have to move quickly and with careful aim. Other times you need to try and figure out the best way to do things with your team, like have them go in one door as you go around and in the other.

They have added some toys for you to use and many times they have added them with some of these to your advantage. Door stops and less than lethal weapons are just some of the new fun, like the sting grenade. It sends dozens of small rubber balls flying out just like a grenade, stunning and hurting anyone they hit but not killing. One toy you just have to use is the stun gun, in all missions you have to take civilians into custody just to be sure you get the situation in hand. Some times you will get one that will not cooperate, then you can have fun with the taser. Pop and the guy or girl who was trying to tell you they are not the bad guys is suddenly arching their back and a few seconds later down on the knees and waiting for the zip cuffs.

The game has 13 missions but it is not over with when you get through them, you can go back and try different ways to accomplish them at different levels of difficulty. The difficulty level is measured by a point system, the more difficult the more points you need to get to the next level. You get points for accomplishing the objectives of the mission, bag a bad guy without killing and you get more points than killing him. If you kill without warning or get one of your men hurt, you loose points. As well as losing points for what is called breaking the rules of engagement. The rules of engagement are simply orders they give you before each mission in the mission briefing that tell you when you can kill or wound on your own. If you shoot a bad guy when you first see him without his shooting at you or you yelling at him to freeze, drop his weapon and otherwise comply like a good little bad guy, you will loose points. When I was playing it was the most frustrating thing to see a bad guy, shoot him in a clean hit and then get docked ten points for killing the bad guy that killed and wounded the many people you walked over and around to get near.

Although there are only 13 levels I assure you that you will want to play them over again, and you will have to play them many times just to get through to all of them. It is not hard to figure out how to shoot the bad guys, the hard part is to hit them or otherwise incapacitate them before they start hosing down the hostages. In one level you are trying to rout some bad guys out of a bank during a botched heist, I had gone through and taken out all but one of the robbers when I could not find the last one. He was running around trying to find something to shoot at, I finally found him when I stayed at the top of the stairs and watched him in the lobby, he would run out and then into another room and then back out the front and back into a totally different room. He kept this up as he did not see me and my team was in a room on the second floor while I tried to find the last one. I watched these antics for a minute and then dispatched him, it was fun. That is how good the AI is, when the last guy was without any hostages to hit and he must have gone out a back door to a room that we went into and then started going in and out.

The game is fun and the AI is very good at using the layout of the rooms to hide and or try to deceive you. There are of course the obvious things like the posters and a couple of card board cutouts that you take for bad guys at first but if you use your optiwand a lot you will do good after you get the hang of it. In one scene they have a dressmakers manikin to further confuse the issue of identifying good and bad guys and the scenery. The graphics are really good and the game does take a pretty good system to play on. The requirements are here and you will see that a good processor is a better thing to have for the frame rate of the game.

Minimum Specifications
Processor Pentium III 1.0 GHZ or
Intel Celeron 1.2 GHZ or
AMD Athlon 1.2 GHZ
Hard Drive 2 GB free
Memory 256MB RAM
Video CardNvidia Geforce 2 (MX 200/400 not supported) w
32 MB Memory or
ATI Radeon 8500 w/ 64 MB Memory
Microsoft Direct X 8 Drivers
Windows 98SE, Windows 2000 w/ service pack 3 or Windows with SP 1 minimum

Recommended Specifications

Processor 2.4 GHZ Pentium 4 or
Athlon XP 2500+ or equivalent
Video CardGeforce 4 Ti (not MX) w/128 MB or
ATI Radeon w/128 MB
Microsoft Direct X 9 drivers
Windows XP w Service Pack 2

When I first got the game I had to adjust the settings for anti aliasing and such on my video card and in the game on the options screen. My fellow SWAT members did not like the rain very much, they were all brown with no texture when they were standing in the rain. As soon as we moved out of the rain their texture came back and all was right with the game. I adjusted the settings and got rid of this. Other than that I have found no problems with the game other than the usual fun frustration with playing the game. And it is fun frustration.

My computer is an AMD Athlon 2.1 GHZ and the frame rate is fine on it, the only problem I have is the rain thing. I have the settings at the default level, if I change it to get better detail and such the frame rate drops to were it is noticeable in how slow the men move. I do like the adjustments for brightness, contrast and gamma. The game inherently has dark scenes, bad guys don’t live and work in bright sunlight and the scenes are usually dark. It is nice to be able to adjust the brightness and contrast a little to compensate for this darkness, not so much to make the scene so you can see easier, just so that it’s not so gloomy.

The AI controlling both the SWAT team members and the others in the game is really good. Every so often, I’m sure it’s a randomizer that controls the hostages and civilians, a hostage will resist and not cooperate to get hand cuffed. Then you get to use your taser, or if you brought a non lethal weapon you can use it. You have to hand cuff and detain all people at the scene and collect all weapons from bad guys or you loose points and won’t complete the level. If you don’t advise the backup that a fellow SWAT member is down you will also loose points. The main part of the game and the part you have to complete before the game will let you end each mission is you have to detain all the people, good and bad. There may be an additional objective to complete in a level, one is you have to find some illegal weapons that are being manufactured at a residence. You have to point at the weapon sitting on a table and middle click the mouse. That is how you tell your backup that the people are cuffed or down and ready for collection. Then the backup will tell you trailers are waiting for you to secure the scene and you can continue on.

During game play, you should secure the immediate area before going around and securing the suspects and civilians. I have stopped after entering an area and started to handcuff someone when around a corner that led down some stairs a guy popped out and blew me away. I could see him come out but did not have my weapon ready as I was cuffing someone and he shot me before my teammates could get him. It is better to wait till after you clear a floor and then worry about going around and telling the backup that they are ready for transport. Or you can tell your teammates to cuff people as you sit and watch over them, I found this worked pretty well as I was faster than my teammates.

SWAT 4 is a great game and is well worth the cost and frustration of playing. It has great game play and with people creating their own levels and rehashing the ones from the game with the editor it makes it even more fun. There is a sequel in the works but will not be out for some time, around the spring of 2006, it is called The Stetchkov Syndicate. I’m sure I’ll get it as the game is really good and the next one won’t be a disappointment.

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