STAFF REVIEW of Takedown: Red Sabre (Xbox 360 Arcade)

Monday, March 17, 2014.
by Khari Taylor

Takedown: Red Sabre Box art I'll give Serellan and 505 Games one thing; their pitch for Takedown: Red Sabre is pretty good at convincing potential players that 1) everything today is wrong with modern first person shooters; and 2) that they've created just the shooter to fix that. The following is taken directly from the game's official website description:

"...In recent years, shooters have become homogenized. The realistic tactical shooters with in-depth planning have almost entirely disappeared in recent years. This game focuses on realistic weapons modeling, squad based play, in a close-quarters battle setting. To succeed in this game you need to take things slow, study your environment, and execute flawlessly...if you are a fan of old school shooters where thinking meant more than running and gunning or perks, or if you are just looking for something different in your shooter games (sic) experience, this is the game for you…"

Well, after spending a few nights with the game, I can confirm that at least one of the above boasts is true. Takedown: Red Sabre is a game that needs to be taken slow, excruciatingly slow, as a matter of fact, but for all the wrong reasons. Anyone who picks up this game looking for an old-school tactical shooter fix along the lines of Rainbow Six or S.O.C.O.M is in for a very big shock.

Before getting to the laundry list of things that are wrong with and/or missing from this game however, let's start with what Takedown: Red Sabre does offer. Takedown's solo-campaign puts the player in charge of a four-man tactical squad and challenges him or her to successfully complete a variety of infiltration missions that usually involve taking down a group of terrorists in addition to a secondary objective, such as defusing a number of bombs, hacking a terminal, or saving hostages. Your squad consists of a Recon soldier, an Assault soldier, a Breach soldier (a shotgun and C4 specialist) and a Sniper, and the player can customize each soldier's primary weapon, sidearm, ammo, grenades and kits from a selection of options within that soldier's specialty. Players choose the soldier type they want to start as, then the mission and one of two insertion points that the squad can enter from, and it's off to the races.

There are no respawns or checkpoints once the mission starts; so once a soldier goes down, he's dead for the remainder of the mission, an event that automatically puts the player in control of a different squad member and leaves the team with one less specialist to complete the mission with. If all four soldiers are killed, the mission is a failure. In multiplayer, up to six players can take on the same missions co-operatively, with each player choosing from the same four soldier classes. Unlike in single-player however, each player only gets one life, and fallen soldiers are forced to watch in spectator mode as the remaining team members complete the objective or die trying.

You'd be forgiven for thinking that the above sounds pretty straightforward, and might even turn out to be a fun challenge, like Rainbow Six: Vegas, the original S.O.C.O.M and Full Spectrum Warrior were in their day. 30 minutes into playing Takedown however, you'll be wondering if anyone on the development team ever touched, much less played any of those far superior titles, as insipid gameplay, annoying bugs and horrid overall execution permeate the entire experience.

For one thing, solo-play is almost completely unbearable, largely thanks to some of the worst AI this reviewer has ever witnessed in a shooter. It's bad enough that your squadmates are only capable of following two commands ("follow" or "hold position") and blindly mimic your movement when you run, crouch or sneak, but as backup they are completely useless; they'll either stand around and get shot within the first few minutes of play, or they'll recklessly open doors on their own or engage in firefights that are likely to get the entire team completely wiped out. The enemy AI is almost just as bad, running (and sometimes sliding) about the map like chickens with their heads cut off, throwing open doors only to let off a few shots and then run away. But unlike your squadmates, their aim is often accurate and deadly, which means by the time you see one or more of them in the open, you're probably already dead.

And while one soldier's death in single-player is not necessarily the end of the mission, the player is given neither choice as to which soldier he or she will end up controlling next, nor any reprieve during the switch, so it's quite possible for the player to die as one soldier and then get shunted to the next only to die again immediately because that squadmate was standing in the same line of fire. Perhaps this could have been avoided if the game had some sort of cover system, but of course there isn't one, neither for the player nor the AI. As a result, squadmates huddle mindlessly in the open and make themselves targets, while enemy soldiers randomly vacillate between aggro and cowardice, as moving is the only way the AI knows how to avoid fire.

Meanwhile, the only advantage the player gets as a human is the ability to perform a sluggish, shallow lean-and-peek around corners that is next to worthless for getting the jump on enemies in hiding. The game even punishes players for being too close to objects or walls by automatically lowering the player's weapon out of view and making it inaccessible until the player pulls far enough away from the obstruction so he or she can draw it again. In other words, players cannot fire when close to any sort of cover; they must literally be out in the open in order to effectively engage the enemy. As a consequence, surviving a firefight in Takedown's single-player campaign has nothing to do with skill or realism and all to do with the luck of the draw.

Then there are the issues with Takedown's controls. It's hard to tell whether they are highly unforgiving or just plain bad, but they just don't feel right at all. Character movement is intentionally slow, and if anything other than light armor is equipped, players can't even sprint. The only time that your aim is even halfway accurate is if your player is stationary and crouched, and the game's inept but cheap enemies will often kill you before you can even get a shot off, even when they're using a shotgun from the extreme end of a long hallway, or are firing at you from the bottom of a multi-leveled bunker with an Uzi. Oh, and don't think you'll be able to switch directly from your sidearm back to your primary weapon with any sort of urgency, because for some reason, Serellan thought it would be more "realistic" to stick your grenades in-between them as an unavoidable third option on the inventory cycle. That's right, if you're carrying any grenades, you won't be able to swap straight from your pistol to your primary weapon until you've used them up. Now that’s authenticity! And the ability to auto-reload when your gun is empty? Too unrealistic for Takedown’s tastes, so get ready to die often while pointing an empty barrel at multiple incoming tangos.

Perhaps what is most shocking about Takedown is just how few tactics there are to be found in this "Tactical Military FPS". The pre-mission briefings are scant on important details or even hints on how to best prepare for them. No basic floor-plans, building schematics or sketches are provided, so while the main objective is usually clear, teams are forced to go in to every mission completely blind, learning the map only through plenty of trial, error and death. And as mentioned before, there's no way for players to choose the pecking order as to which squad member they will next inhabit once killed, so they can’t even establish a chain of command to improve their odds of success. Worst of all, even though Takedown is only available as a digital download, there isn't even a proper instruction manual included that teaches players how to play. There's a training level that includes a shooting range, but it barely covers all the basics and doesn't even instruct how to properly breach a door with explosives (it tells you where to use them but not how).

All the above problems (particularly the AI) brought me to the conclusion that Takedown: Red Sabre was likely designed to be a multiplayer game first, so I also gave online a try. The first night, I wasn't able to find anyone to play with, but the second night, I luckily stumbled into a group of five other players who had been playing the game for the past two days. Craving the tactical shooter experience that the game promised, they were much more forgiving of Takedown than I was, and their tolerance made me consider the possibility that I might have been too harsh in my own opinions, but after a few hours many of the same problems I had with the single-player campaign bore themselves out in online play.

Enemy AI constantly gunned us down with the same sort of random, lethal accuracy of single-player, often within seconds of starting the game, and we'd often die two at a time because we were huddled up in a doorway with no means of quickly taking cover. A new unpleasant bug also caused some players including myself to spawn in at the insertion point a full minute after the rest of the squad, even though we all started the game at the same time, and once during a versus match the game even spawned me directly from the pre-game lobby into the spectator room, which meant that it assumed my character was dead before I'd even started playing. At that point, even the Takedown apologists I'd been playing with for hours had to admit that the game seemed extremely buggy and unfinished for a $15 game.

As the era of Xbox 360 winds down and that of the Xbox One gears up, it’s only natural to expect some of the quality and selection of games available on the Xbox 360 Games Store to diminish gradually over time, but Serellan already appears to be a in a solo race for the bottom. Takedown: Red Sabre clearly aspires to pay homage to many a great tactical shooter that has gone before it, but the final product is an inexplicably sloppy game that makes no attempt to incorporate any of the gameplay, design or innovation that made classics that inspired it as great as they were. DO NOT BUY.

1) Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. If you're going to try and bring back the tactical shooter genre, steal from the best. 2) No one cares how 'realistic' your game is if it isn't fun and the gameplay is broken.

Overall: 4.0 / 10
Gameplay: 3.0 / 10
Visuals: 5.0 / 10
Sound: 4.0 / 10


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