Novalogic have been kind enough to release another team-based FPS into the already saturated market. Delta Force: Black Hawk Down has been available on the PC for over two years now, but PlayStation 2 and Xbox owners can now see what the game is all about. While the Xbox version is a close port of the PC original and is developed by Climax, the PlayStation 2 game is quite different and was developed by Rebellion, so to make you aware of the differences between the versions we are reviewing both at the same time to help you make sense of it all.
The game's opening sets the scene with a little back-story to the conflict in Somalia in 1993 and then throws you into the action as a squad leader for a US Special Operations team. The game pans out over 16 single-player missions, with you having to carry out a number of objectives in each. You'll have to escort people and destroy targets as well as gun down any hostile Somalis that run at you - although the civilians look far too similar to hostiles and are often caught in the crossfire.
Combat is simplistic and while squad control is available it's rather clunky to use, meaning I often let my team-mates act on their instincts. Problems arise almost instantly, with the poor enemy AI (neither version excels in this area) evident from the start, and their cheeky ambush tactics causing death far too frequently. To make things worse, your team-mates aren't exactly the elite soldiers that you'd expect, so they'll often take an abundance of enemy fire. With death to a team-mate as bad as you losing your own life, you'll spend as much time protecting them as you do yourself.
To spice things up a little the game often switches to an on-rails shooter, with you manning a turret on a Humvee or chopper. These sections are fun once, but the unlimited ammo supplies and relative ease of these sections make them become dull rather quickly. Other problems include the lack of accuracy with your aim when trying to take out distant enemies. While the PC version benefited from the extra accuracy offered through mouse control, console controllers aren't suited for picking off specks in the distance.
The Xbox version of the game uses a manual saving system with a limit to the number of saves per mission. This is a relic left behind by the PC version, and isn't as suitable for a console game as the PlayStation 2's checkpoint system. If you forget to save on the Xbox you're right back to the start of the level when you die. While the PlayStation 2 version throws one mission after the other at you, the Xbox game gives you some choice, with a number of missions available at any time.
Aside from the differences already mentioned the PlayStation 2 version has a character progression system that allows you to upgrade your character's key skills as you progress through the game. Your accuracy, reload speed, movement speed and more can all be upgraded. This combined with the more console friendly checkpoint system and easier access to your weapons via the controller makes the PlayStation 2 version play like a console specific game, rather than a PC port.
Thankfully there is more to Black Hawk Down than the single-player campaign. Both versions support offline and online multiplayer, but as with the single-player campaign, there are differences. Offline, both games support four-player split screen competitive play and a number of co-op missions (this is limited to two players on the PlayStation 2). At a time where online play seems to be an industry favourite it's good to see that offline players have been accounted for by the developers.
However, it's the online modes that save the game from mediocrity. Here the Xbox version one-ups its PlayStation 2 brother by supporting up to 50 players online, something that no other Xbox Live game has been able to achieve. This is only possible on games hosted by Novalogic (with normal users limited to hosting 32-player games), but there were plenty of servers available during my time testing the game. The PlayStation 2 version is no slouch online either, offering support for 32 players on dedicated servers and 8 for user hosted games. Games on offer include deathmatch, team deathmatch and tag, and they make for some very enjoyable online play when combined with the various soldier classes you can choose from.
Back in 2003 the lack of drivable vehicles online was disappointing, but not a disgrace. In 2005 with Battlefield 2: Modern Combat on the horizon and Battlefield 2 wowing PC players, it's more of a problem. While Black Hawk Down does include vehicles online, the way they are used is rather disappointing. Humvees and choppers will move around the maps on a predetermined route, allowing you to hop aboard and man a gun turret if you wish. It's simple stuff, and is no where near as involving as proper vehicle control would have been. The fact that these vehicles can't be destroyed doesn't help either.
Visually the two games are rather different, with the Xbox version definitely coming out on top. Climax has recreated the PC version pretty well on the Xbox, with some impressive draw distances and detail, but somewhat muddy textures. It isn't Halo 2 or Riddick beating, but it's more than passable considering the scale of the environments. Rebellion's PlayStation 2 version has a much rougher, blurry look and lacks much of the detail present in the Xbox and PC versions of the game. The PlayStation 2 version's frame rate also suffers a little when lots of enemies are on screen and its roughness doesn't help you to pick off distant enemies, but the scale of the Xbox version has been retained.
It's good to see that Novalogic has tried to create a game that will work on the Xbox and the PlayStation 2, rather than churning out the same game across the board, but unfortunately neither game excels enough to warrant a purchase. The campaign mode is rather dull, and while the online and offline multiplayer modes are enjoyable, they aren't good enough to warrant a purchase unless you really must play a large scale FPS on a console.