STAFF REVIEW of Shadow Ops: Red Mercury (Xbox)

Thursday, July 1, 2004.
by RichVGS

Shadow Ops: Red Mercury Box art If you haven?t seen the film Black Hawk Down do yourself a favor, run, do not walk, to the video store and check that one out (or at least just skip down to the second paragraph of this review). After a Black Hawk helicopter goes down in the middle of war-torn Mogadishu, Somalia several platoons are sent in to rescue the downed troopers and bring them back home safe. The problem is that the rebels have surrounded the area and will shoot anything that looks even remotely like a United States soldier. To make matters worse, all around are ruins of a bombed out city giving the rebels not only plenty of cover, but literally thousands of places to set up an ambush. Difficult to imagine what it must have been like being a soldier dropped in the middle of such a scenario where you have to constantly be moving and shooting if you want to get back to base alive. Hopefully you?ll never live it, but you can simulate it if you so wish. Get ready to shoot and run like a crazy man in the newest military based first person shooter Shadow Ops: Red Mercury.

Red Mercury is the name of a new weapon of mass destruction capable of nuclear disaster that is hidden somewhere behind enemy lines, somewhere between the ruins of a Middle Eastern city and the jungles of the Congo. Currently, Red Mercury is in the hands of one of the worlds most notorious terrorists who is not afraid to unleash the awesome power that is Red Mercury. This is a task that is not only going to require nerves of steel, but speed and deadly marksmanship behind a scope of a rifle. Who can fill these necessary requirements? Here?s a hint?it?s you.

Okay, not you you, but the character you portray. Step into the shoes of Frank Hayden, Captain of a Special Forces unit assigned to go in and recover Red Mercury. So is it your leadership? Your skill with a firearm? Your speed? Or is it the simple fact that your willing to risk your life in a mission that has a very low probability of success? Well, once you meet Frank Hayden you?ll see that the answer is all of the above. Frank is so ruthless that you?ll even begin to wonder just how in control of him you really are. While you maybe leading a squad into combat, it will become apparent that Frank likes to work on his own and that is where he really shines.

Now I?m used to a game starting out with a few minutes of background story, followed by some sort of easy mission so one can get used to the control setup. With Shadow Ops, I got the exact opposite. Dropped deep in the middle of a devastated city block, you and your team will quickly realized that you are outnumbered at least five to one in the opening minutes. Just as I realized my surroundings and took out my first enemy, the next thing I knew I was dead. It seemed that in my blind ignorance I had forgotten to kill two gunner above me, one hiding behind a broken down wall at six o?clock and one crouched behind a barrel to my immediate right. Oh how stupid I felt. Reminded me of one of my favorite movie quotes from Top Gun. ?The Defense Department regrets to inform you that your sons are dead because they were stupid.?

So, my usual stand in the middle of things and shooting everything in sight was no good because I was going to get picked off quick. A simple change in strategy is in order. Time to deploy my ?tip toe through the suckers? method. Basically, sneak and shoot. Pick off enemies one by one until I?m the only one left standing. Perfect. What could possible go?what the heck? I?m dead again in less then a minute. That is total (the following has been censored by the good people of Xbox Live, you stupid mother [the following has been censored by Penny Arcade])! Okay, what now? What the am I supposed to do? I guess there?s nothing left but to run around like a psychopath and shoot anything that looks remotely human. Oh wow, that works. At last, I have found the secret formula. Run and shoot everything. Sure, your accuracy will be crap, but at least you?ll be alive and ready to take on another mission.

One of the biggest drawbacks in Shadow Ops is the lack of mission variety. Aside from a couple of extra side missions, it is all about collecting info and advancing through whatever area you find yourself in. Now, one can make the same argument for most first person shooters, but this one?s storyline, in my opinion, deserved more then just run and shoot. How about a quarter of the missions involve recon and sneak fighting, another quarter used for infiltration (similar to Splinter Cell type action) and the rest to the run and gun? It seems that developers get lazy once they realize that they?re developing a first person shooter.

But is it really about the storyline? Is it about the single player game at all? Of course not?Shadow Ops is a first person shooter, and first person shooters are supposed to be about the multiplayer aspect. And what a relief it was to learn that Shadow Ops would support Live multiplayer match-ups. The only problem is that Shadow Ops, again, brings nothing new to the first person shooter genre and therefore is attracting a low number of interested players. Since its first week available, the number of games going on is getting smaller and smaller. It seems the most people have decided to stick with the old online staple games like Counter Strike, Rainbow Six 3 and Ghost Recon: Island Thunder. Just goes to show that FPS fans expect more improvements with each title that is released, and it appears Shadow Ops: Red Mercury is sticking too close to the typical FPS formula to catch anyone?s attention.

Graphically speaking there is some good things and some bad things. The amazing detail of your weapons is something close to jaw-dropping. You will never look at a gun and describe it as a thing of beauty (unless you?re Charlton Heston), but Shadow Ops will get you closer then you?ve ever been before. Beware, you may start whispering sweet words to your gun as you storm the broken down city. Speaking of the city, it?s a pretty nice place?if you like getting shot at. Frankly, I think that the designers spent all their time on the weapons design and put together the environments in a matter of an afternoon. Perhaps nobody would?ve noticed if we didn?t live in an age of high definition television. As far as the characters go, it?s really nothing to do back flips over. Standard Xbox graphics all around, with the exception of your gun (my sweet, cold steel beauty).

While the graphics are questionable, the sound is a thing of wonder. I mention Black Hawk Down earlier and I?m going to mention it again. It seems like the sound guys decided to rent BHD and steal all the great sound effects for Shadow Ops: Red Mercury. Normally I would not condone such behavior, but it sounds oh so good?I can?t stay mad at them. I must have liked the sound effects so much that I don?t even remember a soundtrack of any kind. I?m sure there?s music?I think there?s music. I forget. The voice acting is decent, even though I had no idea what was being shouted at me. Did he say ?I?m gonna kill you? or ?The milk is frozen now?? If you want to know what the bad guys are screaming, I recommend contacting a local interpreter.

Overall Shadow Ops: Red Mercury will go down in the books as?well?another first person shooter. While the action is intense the first time you take control, this coolness becomes a novelty after a while. The missions are real basic and offer little flavor once you?ve played through the first few levels. While online multiplayer fun is offered, you may have a better chance of finding more XIII games going on (okay that was low, but fun). The amazing detail of your weapons will turn you into a gun nut psychopath in no time (or a member of the National Rifle Association) while all the other graphical details will be forgotten minutes later. And if you want an incredible sound experience treat yourself to a Dolby Digital surround sound system and a copy of Red Mercury. While the sound and gun detail are some of the best available, it won?t be enough to save this basic first person shooter. I would like to encourage Atari to keep at it because I have a feeling they?re getting closer to a winning game formula with each almost success they seem to have. Stay with it Atari, it?ll happen.

Overall: 6.0 / 10
Gameplay: 5.0 / 10
Visuals: 6.0 / 10
Sound: 10.0 / 10


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