Neutralize villains, try not to kill

The main aim of most first-person tactical shooter games is to kill the maximum number of people (or monsters) that you encounter.

swat disk 88 (photo credit: )
swat disk 88
(photo credit: )
Swat 4, a set of three CD-ROMs in English by Irrational Games for Sierra, distributed with a 33-page Hebrew-language user's manual by Hed Artzi Multimedia, requires Windows XP and a 1 Ghz Pentium PC or better, for ages 18+, NIS 219. - Rating: **** 1/2 The main aim of most first-person tactical shooter games is to kill the maximum number of people (or monsters) that you encounter. But in this well-made disk, as head of a five-member Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) police team you are penalized and your mission is judged a failure if you kill unnecessarily. There are many bystanders and hostages in the vicinity, and even villains shouldn't be targeted unless they endanger life. "We are a lifesaving organization," you are sternly told from the outset. "We don't want to kill people. But sometimes knuckleheads don't cooperate." Better to neutralize these dumb troublemakers with Taser, beanbag or paintball-like guns that shoot pepper balls. With 13 missions that can be played as a strict scenario or customized according to your own choices, the game is successful in showing how real SWAT teams work to save the innocent. Most of them involve suspects who take control of a hotel, restaurant, research center or hospital and set down conditions for their release, but the missions are varied and often spine-chilling. First learn the ropes in a training session on the firing range and other locations that make the controls and moves easy to learn. A policeman acts out the role of a suspect and hardly flinches when you throw something at him. You quickly master the art of picking locks, clearing out a room, using flashbang, smoke and sting grenades and subduing, arresting or incapacitating suspects. One of the nicest gadgets is the Optiwand, a camera on the end of a flexible stick that can be extended under doors, into rooms and around corners and show you what's there before you endanger yourself; another is a doorstop that prevents anyone from exiting a room after you've checked it. In the game itself, you are briefed on your mission, and you issue orders to your team by clicking a context-sensitive pulldown menu. As head of the team, you can lead them as they cover you from behind, send them ahead or split the team into two groups and control each one separately. The briefing provides all the data you need for selecting suitable weapons and equipment. For example, if the bad guys have gas masks and flak jackets, gas grenades will be useless and high-powered guns necessary. Whether you succeed or fail, you must be debriefed and graded with points to understand what went right or wrong; 50 points must be earned out of a maximum of 100 to pass each of the mission stages. The graphics are excellent (but not perfect), with your team's reflections bouncing off mirrors, people looking like people and California-style environments very lifelike and varied. Load times are relatively long, but the lighting is impressive and appropriate, and when a flashbang explodes, you are blinded temporarily and gradually brought back into focus. If you have an urge to shoot a TV set, its glass screen shatters, but a watermelon I aimed my light machine gun at didn't explode as I had expected. Sound effects - from weapons to subway trains - are very realistic thanks to surround-sound capability, and music becomes louder and more dramatic before something dangerous is about to happen. A multiplayer online game is also available, with four modes and 14 maps to use; in the cooperative mode, you can join up to five others and play any of the missions on the disk, giving the game high replay value. Here too, you get more points for neutralizing and arresting a suspect than for killing him. Fortunately, the minimum age limit is 18, as there is liberal cursing, blood spattering on the walls and pieces of human flesh often hanging from the ceiling. Fans of this genre who liked Rainbow Six, Counter Strike and Splinter Cell will enjoy SWAT 4 as well. It wouldn't be a bad idea if the skills of candidates for real SWAT teams are tested on this kind of game before they are accepted.