Delta Force: Black Hawk Down


posted 8/25/2005 by Dave Gamble
other articles by Dave Gamble
In the early 1990's, civil war erupted in the East African nation of Somalia after long-time dictator Siad Barre was removed from power. The resulting infighting amongst various clans and factions led to anarchy, famine, and general mayhem for the Somalian civilians. In the first year alone over 300,000 Somalians died of starvation. The United Nations attempted to provide relief with humanitarian aid, but the violence of the ongoing power struggle proved too much for them. Food convoys were routinely hijacked and aid workers assaulted. The UN requested international military support to assist in the protection and distribution of the food and medical supplies so desperately needed by the Somalian population. In response to that request, President George H. W. Bush dispatched 25,000 US troops to Somalia to provide a secure environment for the delivery of food and supplies to the starving population.

As these things usually go, the mission was soon expanded from providing security for food and aid delivery to an attempt to restore peace throughout the entire country. Part of this operation hinged on removing some of the new warlords from power. One of the primary targets for removal was General Aidid, leader of the Somali National Movement party. Aidid was considered a primary target after his involvement in the ambush and massacre of 24 Pakistani soldiers. In early October, 1993, a mission was launched with the goal of capturing General Aidid. The mission was a dismal failure resulting in the loss of 18 U.S. soldiers. The story of this mission is told in the book "Black Hawk Down."

Ten years later, NovaLogic released "Delta Force: Black Hawk Down" for the PC to mediocre reviews. After an inexplicable two year wait, an Xbox version has been released. One would think that those two years would have been used to beef up the game prior to its second release, but that does not appear to be the case. The PC version suffered from weak AI on both sides of the battle line, fairly dull campaign missions that don't really tie together to provide a consistent storeline, and dated graphics. The Xbox version faithfully ports all of these weaknesses from the PC to the console.

That said, the game is not entirely bereft of entertainment value. While some players may disagree, I found the segments that involved using the mini-gun located on the waist of the helicopters and the .50 cals mounted on HUMVEEs to be a great deal of fun. It's quite challenging to pick off an RPG bearing enemy soldier while the chopper is maneuvering around, and it's also quite fun to blast apart technicals as they attempt to attack convoys. It would be far more difficult; of course, if you had to worry about real world issues like running out of ammo or overheating the gun, but those are just nitpicks. There's just something about blasting away at gangs of malevolent enemies with a six barrel Gatling gun hung from the side of a helicopter to get your juices flowing.

Ground based combat is a different story. Your AI squadmates, while not completely useless, are not the elite soldiers you would expect or hope for them to be. Fortunately, the AI enemies are no better. If you're after awesome body counts and don't care much about squad tactics or other complexities, this will be fun for you. At times, it really comes down to simple target shooting, and with the ultra precise sniper rifle, even that isn't much of a challenge. At other times, you'll wonder where that shot came from that killed you and frustratingly sent you back to the beginning of the mission. And be aware - it only takes one or two hits to snuff you. Oh well, that's why they included save slots. Eventually you'll find the one guy that was clever enough to remain hidden and finish him off, and it's on to the next mission.

While the graphics are not top-notch, they still do a pretty good job of setting the tone of the environment. The buildings of the villages are nicely aged and dilapidated, as you would expect in a country that is suffering from famine and civil war. There are plenty of civilians milling around, which adds to the challenge (and realism) of determining who is a lawful combatant and who is not. The battlefields are large, which makes for some great visuals of convoys winding their way down dusty roads while riding in the helicopters and manning a chaingun to provide them with covering fire.

Where the Xbox version differs from the original PC version is in multiplayer. The Xbox version offers a split screen offline multiplayer mode for up to four players. In the split screen mode, players can either work cooperatively or against in other in Death Match mode. This is a nice feature for two reasons: there are cheap people like yours truly that won't pay for an Xbox Live connection, and there are also people, again like me, that prefer the co-op mode to the Death Match style of of play. The split screen works pretty well for two players, but more than that and the screens get pretty small. Also, on some of the helicopter rides one of the players may be somewhat bored as the action all happens on one side of the helicopter. Make sure if you're playing co-op with a n00b that you put him on the boring side because if the player on the action side misses a soldier with an RPG, it's game over for both of you.

For those equipped for it, there is also multiplayer available via Xbox Live. While I wasn't able to test it, it certainly sounds intriguing as it reportedly allows for up to 50 online players. The maps are well suited to these kinds of numbers both in size and complexity, although the uncanny accuracy of the sniper rifle and the amazingly large blast radius of the grenades will likely lead to some pretty off-the-wall (and possibly annoying) tactics.

In summary, Black Hawk Down shows its age in both the lack of technical sophistication and the almost forgotten subject matter. Newer games have surpassed the capabilities on display in this title to a very appreciable degree, but there are aspects of it that can be fun if you're looking for a low learning curve and high body count. The offline co-op multiplayer is a big plus in my book, and I'm sure there will be plenty of online opponents to keep the Xbox Live contingent happy. Still, with a street price approaching $50, you may want to shop around a bit before deciding on buying this one.

NovaLogic has released an Xbox version of its 2003 FPS “Delta Force: Black Hawk Down.” It’s about what you’d expect when porting a two year old game from the PC to the Xbox, but it does have some redeeming features.