Do you remember my review of Homefront? Well, this game has a similar "doesn't feel quite right" vibe to it. But it is not a worthless pile of crap either. I would recommend it, just not at full price.
I think the problem is that I thought it would be realistic. This was probably stupid of me, since a realistic portrayal of war would be a lot less fun.
I guess what I'm trying to say is that my impression of war in Afghanistan involves a lot of the following:
- Trying to not shoot civilians
- Having a really hard to identifying civilians
I as a player never had to deal with any of these.
There were a lot of scripted events that included these or similarly unfun problems in war. In one cutscene a trigger-happy general ended up having us fire on Afghan soldiers. There were a couple scripted bits involving rigged objects, such as corpses and huts.
I as a player never had to wonder if something was rigged. I ran where there were no bullets and that was about it. Maybe this is because of gameplay. It would be a bit frustrating if there were random IEDs that could kill me. It would be pointless if they were in fixed locations that I could just remember.
I never wondered if I might shoot a civilian. If there was any uncertainty, it was scripted, and merely waiting would yield the answer. While waiting I was not in danger. The closest to this involved a few areas where I was shooting with friendlies nearby, which can be hard to identify if I am using heat vision. But that's okay, friendly fire seemed to either do no damage or was small enough to not matter.
To top off the strangeness of it all, while I could always perfectly identify enemies, the intel we acted on seemed to be absolute garbage. They expect a few guys and there is an army. This created a lot of dissonance for me.
Speaking of armies, I was not expecting the Taliban and Al'Queda fighters to be so willing to run straight into my shots. Sure, some of them are fanatics who want martyrdom, but it appeared that 99% of enemies were hoping to die while the remaining 1% were in charge of retreating and getting shot in the back. I know that Afghanistan had some of the traditional style of war: "a bunch of guys with guns shoot at each other for a while", but I don't think I ever dealt with a hit-and-run or any ambushes which did not involve at least 30 enemies who of course all died. Not a single suicide bomber.
It was symmetric warfare: what they lacked in technology they made up for with numbers. Lots of numbers. I'd have my fancy guns and awe-inspiring air support and they'd have lots of people. As best as I could tell, the US had around ten thousand soldiers and the Taliban had around ten bajillion. I suspect we were secretly fighting the Chinese.
I ran into a few bugs. Nothing disastrous, but annoying of course. At one point the Taliban units didn't all spawn, so they couldn't all die, so I couldn't advance, despite the area being clear. Going to the previous checkpoint fixed that. At another point, it seems that one of the kills was part of a scripted event: grab guy and bash his head, then drop down. But for some reason it was possible to find a gun before that point, which seemed to disable the bash guy's head script, making it impossible to move forward.
On to the good parts:
The stories are pretty interesting. I won't spoil them, but I felt like they tied together well. Everything felt connected, with a real sense that what one group was doing was not isolated, but was part of a network of support and cooperation. In this aspect it felt a bit more like a real war than the random and disconnected campaigns from the standard "shoot a million Nazis" WWII FPS.
In general, beside the one general, the American forces looked totally badass. Pinned down? Air strike is there in 30 seconds. Still pinned? More air strike. Still pinned? There is an American badass a second away from killing everyone. Maybe this as the true point of the game: to make America look badass. Of course it also looked incredibly expensive (precision munitions aren't cheap!), but definitely cost-effective, especially if we consider that until you bomb a bunker it has unlimited reinforcements. Though there was the one mission where, as best as I could tell, we lost the entire ground army except for eight guys, four of whom were not present at the battle. This might explain the ready availability of air support; there are hundreds of aircraft supporting eight people.
The gameplay itself is pretty good. In general I found myself using the given weapons, usually some sort of American gun. But at a few points I found myself picking up other guns due to being unable to get to anyone to beg for ammo. There is enough variation in the guns to be worth a little thought (though not a ton). When I had a machine gun, I took advantage of the huge capacity, a necessity given the long reload time. I often didn't use the sights, because if my goal is to throw lead in a general direction to keep people scared, accuracy seemed pointless. In contrast the assault rifles had me firing in more controlled bursts. The shotgun got some use near the end, when I found myself short on ammo, unable to get to allies, and unwilling to trade my scoped gun for an enemy gun with just iron sights.
The ammo was a mixed bag for me: given that there are a few infinite respawn parts, it was nice that friendly AI could give me more ammo. But it also seemed a bit strange that they are apparently all carrying a billion rounds. Overall I thought it was a decent compromise: I can only carry so much and have to take some care, but I won't find myself getting saved at a checkpoint with no ammo.
As would be expected, the game is on rails, but they aren't quite as narrow as I expected. There is some side to side room for maneuvering, which could lead to actually choosing different tactics rather than just "shoot better". The health system is the popular "wounds heal very quickly" system, which I like. I also appreciated that checkpoints are not too widely spread. I am easily annoyed by repeating long scripted elements and for the most part, I did not have to.
The friendly AI can actually contribute. At one point an objective was completed by the AI getting the last kill. Of course I still need to "push" the group to keep it moving, but that seems reasonable, since these guys aren't big on leaving anyone behind, particularly when there are only eight guys left.
As for the enemy AI, it isn't omniscient, though it does seem more perceptive than I'd expect. It won't see out the back of its head, but often out of the corner of its eye. That's fine by me, since it means I can move around a bit and flank them without things getting silly. In contrast, compare the extremes where the AI always knows where you are, or in Splinter Cell: Conviction where it will remember a last known location, and then obsess over that location, going straight for it without seeming to consider that the player can move.
The single-player campaign took about 4-6 hours. I know that is broad. I forgot when I had started playing. It was daylight savings and my sleep clock had decided to take advantage of the time change by screwing up my sleep horribly. I was on around 4 hours of sleep, so please pardon the inexact game time.
So overall, I'd recommend this game if you like shooting people and need to lose a few hours. But don't pay $50 or whatever they charge these days.