The threat of a coordinated terrorist attack is a frightening one, ripe for media exploitation, video games included. This is not necessarily a bad thing. It offers an opportunity for video games to disseminate important information and criticism, and take a look at different viewpoints ? obviously terrorists deserve to be shown in the darkest light possible, but understanding their motivations, as sinister as they are, can only be beneficial. Games about terrorism can also let the player step into the shoes of soldiers that risk their lives fighting everyday. Is Without Warning one of these high art games?
At best, Without Warning offers players a bit of catharsis as they blast their way through an insane amount of terrorists. At worst, it is good for a couple days worth of fun. Capcom has produced a game with a fair amount of problems that will make many gamers turn elsewhere, but it excels and innovates in a few areas that deserve attention.
A ruthless terrorist group has captured the Peterson-Daniels chemical plant just four miles outside of an unidentified American city. They have taken more than 40 hostages, and probably killed just as many. Now they are threatening to blow up the plant, causing an ecological disaster that will kill millions. This is a promising set up that is never used to its suspenseful potential. Players are given this backdrop in the opening video along with hasty introductions of the six playable characters, and shown the ambush of the military assault team sent in to handle the situation.
Warning: This game has possibly the worst voice acting ever.
The six playable characters all have diverse roles, but players will never spend enough time with any of them for each become anything more than vehicles for their separate gameplay mechanics. Dave Wilson was a cop for 17 years before being wounded and taking up a job as security guard at the plant. Tanya Shaw is a receptionist that has just watched the murders of all her closest coworkers. Ben Harrison is a cameraman for a local news station dying to cover a big story. All of this information is found in the game?s manual, not in any in-game narrative. The three surviving assault team members are even more cookie-cutter than the first trio. They are as nondescript as the little green army men that kids gleefully melt in the microwave.
Without Warning has some interesting gameplay features that are executed with some pretty bad gameplay mechanics. The timeline system is innovative; all the playable characters are active in different areas of the plant all at the same time, and when players switch characters they find themselves playing the same section of time as the last character, just in a different area. Sometimes players will see a firefight from afar that they were just a part of in the last segment, or the actions of one character ? say, restoring power to part of the plant ? will affect the next character?s environment. While a cool concept, the game suffers from being overly linear. It is impossible to fail a mission and continue the game. There are no choices, which makes every action and consequence predictable.
A third person, over the shoulder camera has become somewhat of a standard for tactical shooters, and using this view was the correct choice for Without Warning. Unfortunately the controls are so bad that it becomes a hindrance. The camera control is sluggish, which is terrible for a game so fast paced. The camera, which controls the crosshairs, is also offset strangely from the character, and firing seems to be from the character?s orientation rather than the camera?s view. Players will often find themselves hitting pillars and walls when the crosshairs show a clear shot.
The game is very unbalanced in many areas. Each character has a different primary weapon, and it is the only weapon they can use, with the exception of Kyle who carries a sniper rifle as a secondary weapon. Enemies drop ammo and health, but players cannot pick up a selection of weapons from fallen foes. The game removes any tactics from weapon selection ? in fact, there is no weapon selection available. The weapons are also uneven in power; Ed?s shotgun is terribly underpowered — often ineffectual — and Dave?s pistol is unbelievably powerful.
The dedicated roles of each character are also unbalanced. The three military men take up the bulk of fast paced gunplay. This would not be a problem if they were not also saddled with flawed, slow and annoyingly repetitive mini-games; bomb defusing, lock picking, and power restoration. Tanya fills the game?s stealth quotient. If I did not know better I would say that her role seems to be a bad last minute addition. Without Warning tries to introduce stealth using the same controls and mechanics used in the fast paced gun battles — it’s extremely awkward. Ben?s journalist gameplay is a little bit better. He is not dragged down as much by misplaced control schemes, but his role feels token and a little out of place.
The game has a lot of gameplay and control flaws, but they mostly stem from confusion over what the game really is. It tries so hard to fall into the tactical military genre, and it just doesn’t fit. It is a fairly decent spray-and-pray, Ramboesque, one-man army tour de force; in the first two hours you’ll mow through more than 500 terrorists yelling, ?Die capitalist scum!? In a genre dominated by tactical squad-based shooters it can be refreshing to play a tongue-in-cheek run-and-gun from days of old. If Capcom and Circle Studio had tailored the controls and attitude toward that end the game could have been much better.
Without Warning has a lot of technical problems, and they can make play repetitive and aggravating. But taking out wave upon wave of terrorists can be fun. It is not high art, but it tries too hard to escape the fun, lighthearted game it really is. Players that feel like giving it a chance wont find a gem of a game, but rather a good-looking rock that they should rent ? so they can throw it back when they are done.