Review by A Black Falcon
"Recoil: Zipper's Great Tank Action Game"
Recoil, by Zipper Interactive, which was an independent studio when this game was developed but is now a wholly owned Sony subsidiary, and published by Westwood Studios, is a PC vehicular action game where you control a very fast moving tank. The game's simple plot involves your character's conciousness being taken forward in time by a small group of rebels who are trying to defeat the evil computer system, the Network, which has taken over the world in their time. They have hacked in to the Battle Force Tank (BFT), the Network's latest and greatest weapon system, and given you control of it remotely. With the BFT you are tasked with saving the world from the Network. The story is told with live-action videos between each chapter. They are are quite strange and unique, as there is a lot of corruption and snow in the picture, the picture keeps getting cut off, and the actors are sometimes hard to hear and seem disjointed. It makes things make little sense, but it does fit the theme of rebels trying to break through heavy jamming and fits the game's plot. The story is quite easily ignored, however, and really doesn't matter much. It serves as a decent enough excuse for the action and the videos are entertaining. In addition to the single player campaign, Recoil has LAN, modem, direct IP, and internet (via Westwood Chat) multiplayer options. It's too bad that there is no splitscreen because the multiplayer game is as great as the single player and it adds a lot to the short long single player campaign.
For its time, Recoil has quite good graphics. The game consistently impresses technically and everything looks great. As the game focuses on vehicles and environments and not people, the game's graphics have withstood the test of time quite well. Everything looks great, the environments are varied, and the weapon effects are particularly spectacular, with plenty of flashy explosions and lights. The game has a good and somewhat unique graphical style that is shown through both the ingame graphics themselves and the style of the menus and cutscenes. The game's sound and music is good too, though that is simply good, not truly exceptional. Even so, the soundtrack fits the game well and is well done. There is one technical issue to note, though. On newer computers the game has varied performance; on some machines it can be hard to get running properly, and it does have some bugs. This is probably part of why it died off online -- many people were simply not able to play it anymore. If it runs or can be gotten to run on your system, however, it is worth the effort.
The game's controls are simple, but may take a little while to get used to. The game controls like a third-person vehicular shooter with standard mouse and keyboard controls, but the difference here is that you control the BFT's movement (driving forward and backward and turning) with the keyboard while the camera, and thus the gunsight, is controlled with the mouse. The camera does autocenter behind the BFT, but if you move the mouse around you are fully able to turn turret of the tank (and thus the camera) around so you can drive in one direction and shoot in another. When combined with the great speed that the tanks drive at and the game's low gravity that sends you flying into the air with the slightest bump like something out of a San Francisco Rush game, it is a somewhat unique experience. The controls work great and let you both move very quickly and precisely shoot your targets, and just driving around or shooting at things is exciting.
In addition to the original tank form, as you progress through the game you gain the ability to transform the BFT into three new forms, including a boat, a hovercraft, and a submarine. These transformations aren't as useful as they may sound, however, as most of the time you just use those other forms in the specific places they are needed -- the submarine for underwater tunnels, the boat for crossing water, the hovercraft for going over lava or water -- and use the tank the rest of the time.
More useful, however, are the weapons your tank is armed with. Indeed, in many ways the game's focal point is its variety of weapons. In Recoil there are 18 weapons, with a weaker and stronger weapon mapped to each of the number keys from 1 to 9. The weapons are quite varied and interesting, ranging from your basic slow white (twin) gun and stronger red gunshots to bombs, rockets, mines, missiles, homing missiles, and even a mini-nuke. You start out with only a few weapons, but quickly amass a large and impressive arsenal. Some of the weapons are pretty fun to use and get quite powerful. The enemies are armed with the same kinds of weapons you are, and most of the time when you destroy an enemy they will drop a powerup that will either heal your health or will give you a refill of some of whatever weapon type it is that they use.
While the missions are large, well designed, and take some time to get through, and have plenty of large areas, alternate paths, and a variety of types of enemy vehicles that will try to oppose you, there are, unfortunately, only six of them. Each one has a very different theme and setting, from a forested beach to a burning lava mountain to a broken city, a Venice-like city of canals, and finally a large futuristic indoor installation. Each mission is broken up into several objectives you must accomplish, and before the mission you are given a voiced briefing detailing the details of each objective and where it is on a map of the level. Once in game you are sent transmissions as you achieve each one telling you where to go next and what is going on in the story. Missions may have four to six objectives to accomplish, and sometimes you can do them out of order in some of the more open, less linear levels. Also extending things are the staticky live action cutscenes in between levels. Even so, completing the game will not take long. The game's short length is its main drawback.
One aspect of why the single player missions work so well is is the game's great level design, which in addition to the elements mentioned above includes many destructible elements such as trees, cranes, barrels, or pillars, hidden areas to find your way to, for instance by blasting part of a platform and creating a ramp you can then jump off to an upper level, and plenty of room to drive around. To make getting lost in the large levels harder, the game has an automap on the HUD which marks the location of your current mission objective on it. As a result it is hard to get lost, though sometimes it may be somewhat unclear about what exactly you are supposed to do, as the game does throw simple puzzles at you sometimes to keep things interesting. Figuring out those puzzles is a fun part of the game and they are well done, though when you are stuck on something you might not think that of course. For instance, sometimes you may need to find a somewhat hidden switch to shoot or blast a beam while it is crossing between two electrified pillars Assisting you here is the fact that, when you can shoot something, your target sight changes color from red to green so you always know when you are facing something that may be affected by your weapons. This will, for instance, let you know which bridge parts can be destroyed and when shooting at the thing won't break it anymore. Recoil makes blowing things up easy!
When the game first came out, helping to make up for the sadly short campaign was a fantastic multiplayer mode. All of them require multiple computers and multiple copies of the game, however, so actually playing them in this day and age might be difficult. While Westwood Chat, the online service, actually is still operational thanks to a group of fans that took over the Westwood Chat servers for the purpose of maintaining Command & Conquer/Red Alert online play who never removed Recoil's room in the service, no one ever actually is playing in that room so the fact that it still exists is somewhat irrelevant. In the rare occasion that a multiplayer Recoil game does happen, however, it is a lot of fun. The game has a nice variety of maps, with six to eight maps available for multiplayer use. One is a racing mode map which isn't as good, but the rest of the maps are for standard deathmatch or teams. While they are based off of the tilesets of the single player levels, the multiplayer levels are new levels and not just direct copies of the single-player levels. They are all just as well designed as the single player levels. The city level is particularly great, with plenty of jumps and destructible elements and places to hide in both high and low. While people were still playing it online Recoil was a really good multiplayer game. I don't know what game would be quite like this today.
In conclusion, Recoil is a very good third-person vehicular action game with great single player and great multiplayer. Every element of the game, from graphics to weapons to vehicles to level design, is very well thought out and well designed. It was an impressive effort from Zipper Interactive and showed how well they could do the genre, an impression solidified by their next work, MechWarrior 3, which was the last great mech sim for the PC. After that they made the PC flight sim Crimson Skies, which, while not a super hardcore flight sim, compares well with space sims like X-Wing and Freespace. It is truly too bad that Zipper got bought by Sony and has been turning out nothing but SOCOM games for years now; I would have loved to have seen a Recoil 2, or another mech or fighter simulation. It's unfortunate that it will probably never happen.
Gameplay - 9/10
Graphics - 9/10
Sound - 8/10
Single Player - 9/10
Multi Player - 9/10
Other/Value - 10/10
Overall - 91% (not an average) While Recoil has aged, is short, and is sadly unplayable in multiplayer now, it is still a very good game.
Reviewer's Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Originally Posted: 05/05/08
Game Release: Recoil (US, 02/28/99)
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