"Fun Labs has created a very impressive tactical shooter engine and built an awful game around it"

U.S. Most Wanted is yet another budget tactical first person shooter game, coming from Fun Labs, the developers of the equally tactical and (as this review will quickly point out) equally frustrating and difficult. USMW follows the adventures of Randall Joyce, a retired American law enforcement agent who, rather than go on about his life as a private citizen, decides to become a vigilante. With the help of his connections within various agencies around the world, Joyce dispatches with groups of unknown criminals, terrorists and other assorted modern day villains. Of course, you won't get any of this exposition anywhere other than from the back of the game's box, because the game itself never explains who you are, your intentions, or why exactly you have to kill these terrorists except because they are. Each mission briefing gives a one or two sentence blurb succinctly describing your mission objectives. Once you're done reading that blurb, you're tossed into the equipment screen.

It's here where you encounter your first taste of the kind of realism USMW is aiming for. You can equip yourself with a variety of different firearms, but you can carry at most three: 2 large weapons (rifles, SMGs, shotguns) and 1 pistol. The more you carry, the more you weigh, the slower you move. You can opt to carry 3 guns and a bit of ammo; or 2 guns, more ammo and a lightly armored vest. As a tactical shooter, USMW has only real-world weapons, so no BFGs or Gravity Guns here. M4s, AKs and MP5s are the order of the day. Most weapons have at least one version that comes with a suppressor and/or a flashlight slapped onto it. You can also carry explosive weapons, such as RPGs or an M4 with an under-barrel grenade launcher, but these are there solely for your amusement.

Once you've outfitted yourself with whatever weapon you want you'll be tossed into the game world, where the problems quickly pile up. You'll quickly notice that no matter how much you're carrying, Joyce moves with the precision of a gelatinous blob. His movement speed is woefully low, and he can't really strafe or do any evasive maneuvers at all. You may be thinking that this is great, since this is supposed to be a tactical shooter and not another Quake rehash, but the fact that your character is nearly lethargic means that whenever you need to make a quick getaway or scramble for cover you're totally screwed. Either that, or your body gets stuck on any number of objects littered around the level. Another problem with movement is that your character can get stuck on ANYTHING: chairs, tables, pots, rugs, doors, and even guns dropped by other enemies. You'll get a wide variety of locales to get your body stuck in, but they're all generic urban and desert landscapes.

Each mission boils down to basically killing everyone and/or making it to a specified end of the level. The shooting is strangely both satisfying and maddening. USMW employs a realistic approach to shooting combat. If you want to fire your gun wildly on full automatic mode, you can do so but you won't hit much and will probably die within milliseconds. To steady your aim, the majority of USMW's weapons employ ironsights. These have a visible effect on your accuracy and allow you to peek around corners, and all of your shots will land in the general vicinity of your sights. To further increase your accuracy, you can also place the gun on single shot mode. However, pistols lack any sort of sights, so they're completely inaccurate and useless. Guns also have realistic recoil. Rifles have much more kick than SMGs, so it's usually a good idea to fire rifles in single shot mode or with 2-3 shot bursts. SMGs, on the other hand, have relatively low recoil and as such you don't get much of a penalty for firing them on auto as long as you're aiming down your sights. Whether you use an SMG versus a rifle is up to you: rifle shots kill in 2 hits as opposed to 3 or 4 from an SMG.

With such a realistic damage model, you can expect not to last too long in missions, since you're doing them completely solo. You will definitely be making liberal use of the game's save feature, since each encounter is likely to be your last. Armor (light or heavy) doesn't affect how much damage you take, and only serves to limit how many guns you can carry. You're likely to want to carry a lot of ammo, since the body-searching mechanic is completely broken. In theory, once you run out of ammo, you can loot ammo from other people's bodies, but it's never worked. Whenever I've run out, I've had to run back and keep grabbing various AK-47s and Uzis off of dead terrorists and expending whatever ammo is in them then coming back for more.

The AI themselves seems pretty hit or miss. You can gun down a whole group of them with a loud gun and nobody will notice and other times you'll get swarmed after taking down a single guard with a headshot from a silenced weapon. Their aim is also rather inconsistent. They will either never hit you (although it is rather scary to see their bullets flying through the walls around you) or nail you in the head with uncanny accuracy. Enemy placement is done rather cheaply, though. For example, there is one mission that takes place on a cramped train. The game's full body awareness is absolutely working against you here: if you're too close to anything, Joyce will hold his gun up to his chest and you can't fire, and in such cramped quarters this is happening about 70% of the time. Anyway, there are several points where you pass by passenger cabins. A few of them will have a terrorist waiting inside, and once you ran past them they'll put a bullet in your skull. You cannot shoot back at them from the corridor because it's too cramped, and you probably won't even know who shot you the first couple of times it happens. Eventually, you'll figure out who it is. The only way to get past this bugger is to enter the passenger cabin next to his, fire about 50 rounds into the wall and hope you killed him. If not, prepare for a nasty lead surprise.

So, after all this rambling, is there anything good about this game? Sure! It has some very realistic shooting mechanics (probably too realistic for it's own good) and full body awareness that rivals most of today's modern games but that's about it. Aside from the huge rant about how the gameplay sucks, the game's controls are also clunky and garbage. You can slowly scroll through your items to perform various tasks such as picking locks or even just equipping your weapons. If you get stuck holding your gun up to yourself because you're too close to anything, you can't do anything unless you smack the fire button to draw the gun again. Sounds like a minor quibble, but it's extremely annoying when it happens while you're in a heated firefight. The game offers a robust multiplayer mode with a few deathmatch options and a large assortment of maps, but like all value first person shooters, nobody is playing. Who is this game for? If you're aching for tactical shooting on a budget, pick up an old Rainbow Six game instead of this.


Reviewer's Score: 2/10 | Originally Posted: 12/23/08

Game Release: U.S. Most Wanted (US, 10/10/02)


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