Review by Johnrap

"Shadow Ops: Red Mercury is an Awesome Game but Bad Software"

There are times when you are playing Shadow Ops: Red Mercury(SORM) and you think the game is a 10. There are other times when you think how could this bug not have been worked out of the game. And still other times when you think how could this game be allowed to go gold without this being fixed.

The most obvious comparison to Shadow Ops is Rainbow Six 3. That's when you look at the story. But when you look at the gameplay the comparison probably shifts to Halo. And, when you look at the engine, we've quite literally shifted to Unreal, as Shadow Ops is built around on the Unreal Warfare Engine. When you play the game on Live you may actually forget you are playing SORM and think you are playing Counter Strike. And did I mention that when the game starts out you might think you're watching the movie Black Hawk Down rather than playing a video game at all. And releasing the game in the same quarter as Rogue Ops and Psi Ops didn't help the game to identify itself either. With all the schizophrenia just noted, believe it or not, that's not the problem. The problem is not the game, it's the software, but I'll get to that later.

Shadow Ops is not as immersive as Halo but it's more cinematic. Ops is not as realistic as Rainbow Six 3, but it's more fun. Red Mercury is not as fast as Unreal, but it is more tactical. And Shadow Ops: Red Mercury is not as cinematic as Black Hawk Down, but it has a deeper story. Again, none of the comparisons or multiple personalities are the problem. I think the game developers did a great job. It's not the game that cost Shadow Ops three points. The problems were in the software and the testing..

I think it's best if I just go through the attributes of the game and you'll see why this game is a 7, as opposed the higher numbers that a good first person military shooter should get; or, more sadly, the spectacular numbers that a ground breaking game like Shadow Ops: Red Mercury should have earned.

STORY – 10/10 – If this story was a movie you wouldn't ask for your money back. This isn't the only game that can say that, but it's true. And, if for some reason you didn't like this game, you'd probably still finish the single player just to see how the story turns out.

GRAPHICS: 9/10 – The in game graphics are actually extremely good. I don't recall if I've seen a game built on the Unreal engine that has better graphics. The soldiers working with you in Red Mercury look more believable then the soldiers moving with you in Halo. And all the character animations are detailed and fantastic.

And the levels in this game are really well done. They have all different kinds of lighting, which is dynamic and effects gameplay. And all sorts of different weaponry for different locales. There are effects, such flashbangs and fog, that work well. And there are other little things in the levels, like little critters or fire and water, wind blow debris and other immersive details. All the areas have their own flavor. And every inch of every level is deliberated. There are no walls of the matrix that you'll run up against in this game.

There are a couple of small complaints about the graphics though. Enough to pull it down to a 9. For one, the cut scenes are a little odd in that the characters look better in the game then in the cut scenes. It's actually odd. Some characters are in both the cut scenes and the game. And they look five times better in the game then in the cut scene. However, the cut scenes aren't bad. The vehicles and explosions and camera angles and the motions and just about everything except for the character models in the cut scenes is fabulous.

Another little problem with the graphics is the selective use of the ragdoll physics. I don't know why it is used in some places and not in others. Maybe it has to do with memory or processor consumption, I have no idea. But I do know that the ragdoll physics are great when used. And when not used, well, it seems like the game was designed assuming it would be used. Because the kills without the ragdoll physics don't work. Sometimes guys levitate while dead, other times they poke through walls. But it's really not that bad, because they disappear after 5 seconds anyway.

AUDIO: 10/10 – My two favorite DVDs are Black Hawk Down and Gladiator. In fact Gladiator was why I got the DVD player. And after I saw Black Hawk Down, in the movie theatre, I couldn't wait to get it on DVD. And it was precisely because of the surround sound that I wanted both movies on DVD. That's no joke. And when I found out that the same people did the surround sound on both movies, I realized it wasn't a coincidence. Well, those same people did the surround sound on Shadow Ops: Red Mercury as well. And it shows.

I don't think you'll find a game released before Red Mercury that has better surround sound. Although I'm sure it's just a matter of time until one has better surround sound. But at this point Shadow Ops is the king. If you doubt me just play the first level of the single player campaign with the surround sound. That's actually all you need. After I played that one sub 10 minute level I felt like I had been compensated for the $19.99 that I paid for SORM. It's really that good.

All the sounds in the game are realistic. They all appear at exactly the right place and time. The music is original and good enough to be nominated for an Oscar if it had been in a movie. The foreign languages are all pronounced with the correct accents, and all are used at the appropriate time and appropriate grammar and context. And everything is programmed very intelligently. Including your AI teammates understanding the situations and plans and communicating them intelligently with you.

If you find any problems with the audio in this game please let me know. Because I couldn't.

CONTROLS: 10/10 – The controls in Shadow Ops: Red Mercury should be the Xbox first person shooter standard, as opposed to the Halo controls. Right Thumbstick, Left Thumbstick, Right Trigger and X are all the same for this game as for Halo. And when the controls differ, I like Red Mercury's controls better.

For example SORM swaps the B and Left Click from Halo. And think about it. Which do you do more melee attack or crouch? In Halo I often got tired of Left Clicking, not to mention holding the left click, and just walked around upright all game. The B is a much better choice for toggling crouch. And a similar difference with Halo on the Right Click. Ops has zoom tied to the Left Trigger which makes it much more accessible. And the Left Trigger zoom is not a toggle as Halo's Right Click is. Which, I think makes much more sense. And Y in SORM is for jump, which is more intuitive/immersive than A. A is for action, and SORM adheres to that rule. But there are more enhancements to the controls than just remapping.

Shadow Ops: Red Mercury has some very useful controls and control combinations that other games don't. For example while in Aim/Zoom mode you can use the D-Pad to precisely zoom to the amount you want. Also, while in aim mode you can lean. And not just left and right, but up and down. It's very useful. Lean up to peak over something. Lean down to avoid getting flash banged. Also the grenades in Shadow Ops are mapped to the black and white buttons. This is perfect use of these hard to reach buttons in my opinion. Because you usually need half a second, at least, to think about grenading anyway. You certainly don't need grenades mapped to the Left Trigger. In SORM the grenades are thrown with the White Button and rolled with the Black Button. How many times in other games have you wished you could roll the grenade?

Believe me, I could go on about the controls. I just love them. But I won't.

IMMERSION: 3/10 – I feel terrible for the people who worked on this game. I feel like they did amazing jobs on the story, the controls, the graphics, the audio and more. But they were really let down by whoever programmed and tested the artificial intelligence. Not too mention, whoever tested the game disc. Let me just give you one example of a problem with the artificial intelligence.

There is one spot in the game, where I picked off 12 terrorists in one room with 12 bullets, and without taking any return fire. And this was not some intriguing piece of the storyline, this was bad AI. In this section of the game 4 waves of 3 terrorists each wave enter the room. And, assuming you know how to play this section, all 12 terrorists stand around waiting to be assassinated.

The first time you see the three terrorists, if you are in the right place, they won't see you. And you can sneak a step or two until you can fire a shot from your silenced pistol and take out the middle guy with a head shot. True it's a silenced pistol, but the terrorist falling to the floor isn't silent. And his buddies to the left and right are only a meter or two away. But instead of moving around or firing around or anything like that, they just sort of move their heads around. And they glance at each other as if to say, “Did you see what happened to Smith? He just got shot in the head.” But they don't do anything. Then you move another step or two and you pick off the terrorist on the right with a single silenced pistol to the head. At this point, the terrorist on the far left still does not move. He just looks around with a sort of dumbfounded look thinking, “Hmnn, Jones got shot in the head too. I'm glad that isn't going to happen to me.” Then a second or two later, squeezing one more bullet from your pistol and the third terrorist is silenced forever. Let's call this third clueless terrorist Watson. Then you sort of do your thing in that room until the next wave of three terrorists shows up. It turns out these are the identical twin brothers of Smith, Jones and Watson. And before 10 more seconds of gameplay have gone by these three boneheads suffer the same exact fate as their brothers. Well this pattern reiterates itself two more times. And, in about a minute or two of gameplay, the Smith, Jones and Watson families have each lost four boys. And, you, my friend, are left feeling more sympathy for them than anything else. I don't think this scene was intended to play out this way. Because it certainly doesn't immerse you in the story.

While we're talking immersion have I mentioned load times yet. Keep some popcorn with you when you play this game. If you have to advance to the next level, restart a level or do anything more complicated than adjusting the volume in the game you are likely to encounter a load screen which will give you enough time to eat some popcorn and wash and dry your hands before the game starts up again.

Another non-immersive aspect of this game is the ammunition allowance. In the coop and multiplayer it's fine. You get all the ammo you can hold. In the single player it's a little different. I sometimes found myself wondering why I left the base with 6 clips for the pistol, but only a dozen rounds for the sniper rifle and barely enough ammo for the assault rifle to take over a chop shop in South Jersey. I'm fine with the loadout being programmed into the story. But let's please give our boys enough ammo to get the job done.

If you play ten minutes of the game the immersion is a 10. If you play 10 hours of the game, I think you're likely to score it as I did.

REPLAY: 2/10 – Coop is great. Multiplayer is great. Live is great. The maps are great. But those are all when you are playing the game, actually holding a rifle and shooting it at your opponent. Save files, load times and menus are all buzz killing nightmares. And I'm going to have to request that med packs not be allowed in multiplayer. Otherwise, it is not a multiplayer shootout, it's multiplayer treasure hunting. And everyone but you knows where the treasures are, not fun.

If you're playing against someone who already knows where all the med packs are, guess what? You're toast. And headshots won't help you because in multiplayer neither headshots nor anything else will slow your opponent down until he is completely out of health.

Multiplayer isn't that bad still, if you can deal with the load times. But then when the game ends on Xbox Live it gets really bad. You can't just replay the game. You have to start a new game and wait through load screens and wait for everyone to return. And you have to hope that they all pick the right team, Special Forces or Terrorists. Because there is no lobby to help you on some games. And if you are playing a fast game like VIP Escort you might spend more time in load screens then you do in action. I know. Tell me about it.

The Counter Strike inspired Live game of VIP Escort in SORM is pretty good. The time aspects and the tactics of that game make for a lot of fun online. To get the most out of them however take the maximum number of rounds. This puts off the creation of a new game by the host, which there is now way to avoid, off for as long as possible.

Coop is a lot of fun in SORM. The coop maps are great. It is a separate campaign from the single player. And it seems to run parallel to the single player. Sometimes you'll recognize sections that are in both the single player and coop campaigns. Coop is really superb. But there are some peculiarities.

Sometimes in coop you'll be killed. You'll have 97% health and be suddenly killed without ever hearing a bullet or an explosion or anything. And sometimes you won't even be in a room with an enemy. This is still a mystery to me. I don't know what causes this. If the game would wait two seconds before cutting off you would likely hear the exploring barrel or deflected bullet or whatever. But they don't, they cut off real abrupt, I believe before whatever kills you actually kills you. It's like the game shuts off as soon as the kill is mathematically unavoidable. But not long enough for you to see what kills you. And you're just there wondering what you did wrong to go from 97% Health to Killed in Action in a split second. Coop and multiplayer are both good but they both share a fault in the game saves department.

You only get one type of save file in SORM. And it is your profile. And it is 5 blocks. There is no downloadable content. There is no map builder. There are no multimedia saves. There is just a 5 block profile save. So what does it mean exactly when a games only save file is a 5 block profile? I mean, besides the fact that the designer of the save file must've been a PS2 fanboy.

What a 5 block profile only save files means, exactly, is that you can not go back and replay levels that you've already beaten, for any reason. Because if you do you will wipe out all of your progress in this game. I guess if you follow exactly whatever strategy the developers had in mind for replay it will work. And of course, you can go into the Xbox dashboard and through the use of some logic and some elbow grease, get around the no replay problem. But you shouldn't have to. The small save file also means that there is no checkpoint saving, although most locales are broken into multiple levels.

So, its hard to rate the replay value on this game. I'd like to give it a 9 or 10, because I really want to replay it. However, the developers of this game have seen to it that attempting to replay this game, or playing online is, more often than not, a punishing experience. So we are left only with the game extensions available from coop and multiplayer. Maybe you can give it a higher score than a 2. But I'm going to have to put my foot down on some of these software issues with load times, menus and game saves. What good is the desire to replay the game, if for practical purposes you can not replay the game.

OVERALL: 7/10 – I think Shadow Ops: Red Mercury is an excellent game and should be a welcome edition to anyone's list of games. However, some software and testing issues really weigh the game down and keep it from staying in your Xbox for longer than 2 or 3 weeks. And that type of game is not a 10. It's a 7.

All things considered Shadow Ops: Red Mercury was well worth the $19.99 I paid for it. And I would recommend it to all fans of the shooter or military genre. And, of course, to anyone who likes a good and cinematic story with great special effects and prefers to get the story from a video game rather than a DVD.

Reviewer's Rating:   3.5 - Good

Originally Posted: 10/13/04

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