Shadow Ops: Red Mercury


posted 10/8/2004 by Charlie Sinhaseni
other articles by Charlie Sinhaseni
One Page Platforms: PC
After the gaming industry polluted the market with endless World War II shooter after endless World War II shooter, developers started to look for new source material. Some have chosen to make Vietnam the new WWII while others, such as Pandemic decided to head to the Middle East for Full Spectrum Warrior. Atari and Zombie tackle similar material with their original first person shooter Shadow Ops and in the end, come away with a decent shooter that’s marred by a number of horrible design decisions.

Shadow Ops decides to take a Pulp Fiction approach to the story telling by putting the end of the story first and then thrusting players back in time. Red Mercury is a remote nuclear device that can be carried and armed in a suitcase. At the onset of the game you’re tasked with retrieving the device and stopping the madman from obliterating the continent. You come close but he narrowly escapes. As he does he detonates it in the middle of the ocean, the impact so large that it causes a ripple in the ocean large enough to capsize an aircraft carrier. With this great setup the game tells you that the threat is real without wasting too much time on exculpatory elements such as foreshadowing and predilections. Soon after the detonation you’re sent back in time as you play the game leading up to the events in the Middle East. You’ll travel to a wide variety of locales including jungles where you’ll do battle with the rebels.

I’ve never been a huge fan of storylines in first person shooters so I’ll forgive Shadow Ops for going the “oh my god, the madman has a bomb! Stop him!” route. Besides, the way I see it, storylines in shooters are kind of like storylines in pornos, it’s basically there to give you an excuse to have at it. And have it you will in this action-oriented shooter. As with most flawed shooters, the game starts off a brisk pace and fails to keep it up after the first act. At the start you’re dropped right in the middle of a hot zone where enemy gunfire reins upon you from all sides. You scramble to find cover when your squad mates call out to you to join them. Working as a team you pick off enemies from behind cover, from atop balconies and from across the alley. Eventually you’ll work your way into the town and infiltrate the rebel encampment, destroying a tank and doing combat in a hollowed out building in the process. I’d be lying if I didn’t say it was one of the best levels I had played in a shooter this year. It’s just a shame that the rest of the game can’t live up to the hype caused by the first level.

To me it seems like the designers tried to do too much with too little. They had it right at the start; throw the player into a hotbed of action and let them pile up the bodies. In later levels though they try to throw some monkey wrenches into the machine by forcing players to use mechanisms that don’t quite work the way they should. Players can peak around corners but to do so, they need to activate the zoom which significantly limits the field of view. You can snipe but the accuracy is weary at best. This is particularly annoying in the sniper scenarios where you’re forced to rely on a shaky targeting system. For a first person shooter the arsenal is pretty weak as well. Although the game provides you with other weapons most of the combat takes place in close quarters; meaning that the assault rifle will often be your primary weapon. It baffles me why the game decides to give you a sniper rifle so often when you’re fighting in the streets and in the buildings. To make matters worse the game never provides you with enough ammunition for the assault rifle, forcing you to rely on the pistol for combat.
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