Military games have always been one of my favorites, providing some of the most intense action and encapsulating story lines of any genre. And let's not leave out the often incredible enveloping action scenes such as stomring Normandy and fighting through the dessert streets of any number of middle eastern countries.
And as such I have really enjoyed how games have progressed, from Wolfenstein to Medal of Honor and on. And as they progress strategy and decision making have played a larger and larger roll. But as of yet the balance between gritty in your face action and team based engrossment in the story has been a tough line to hit. And with First to Fight I thought maybe finally this perfect melding of action and teamwork were going to come together...
In First to Fight you are the commander of a fire team of marines infiltrating areas of Beirute to remove a terrorsit threat. In order to complete your mission your team is assigned a standard regimine of Marine weapons with occasional access to nice little extras like air strikes and sniper cover. The idea being to wisely use your resources to safely complete your missions. And all thorugh the mandatory 5 minute training video you will find yourself believing that this is not only possible but will be incredibly fun. And to an extent it is.
From the first time I played Freedom Fighters I was engrossed with the ability to place my squad where I wanted and have them react intelligently to the situation at hand. After hours of play however I came to the conclusion that while an excellent practice in strategy it was not very realistic and I was looking for something more simmy.
The next big hit for me was Full Spectrum warrior in which you were given a squad or 2 of well trained marines who followed standard tactics and who were to use strategy instead of ungodly health or unfair abilities to beat down the enemy. And while I liked it a lot and found it to be very well crafted I found it lacking a bit in that often I wished I could take contorl of one of my gunners and pick off a guy who was obviously stadning outside his cover, or have my gun pointed in a direction I knew a guy would be running soon to pick him off, or just use my steady hand to waste a guy who by all means should have been shot but wasn't because of how the game figured what was a hit or not.
First to Fight looked like it was finally going to be the best of both worlds: Strategic miltary tactics and first person action all rolled up into one. Full Spectrum Warrior where I control one guy fully and command the rest of the team. And it comes so close.
Overall First to Fight is a great idea, whose time has been long in the comming. Taking control of your fireteam and moving them through (slightly) branching maps and trying to find the best placement to take out the Opfors is quite fun and quite often in the game shines. With quick responding control and fairly easy and intuitive basic control layout (note this only refers to the basic actions and not the more specialized ones), Firs to Fight puts you in pretty solid control of the action from the get go.
Also spicing things up are some pretty decent graphics. While occasionaly the graphics have a sort of Doom3 roundness to them that doesn't quite feel natural and when joints and seems of clothing get streched they show some obvious texture distortion, overall the game has a good crisp feel to it and looks believable if not always interesting.
Little touches like crosswalk signs that depict accurately (I believe) the little red hand and green man signals instead of the US's large red hand and white walking man as well as building and car models that seem localized properly show an appreciated attention to detail. Building architecture and level design are pleasantly varied and from a reasonable distance the people in the game look detailed and realistic with a slightly too noticeable amount of texture poppin as you get closer.
However for all it's good points FtF has so many nagging little problems that despite how much you want to like it, it's just hard to really get into it when every other minute a little detail is reminding you this is a game where it should be seemlessly integrating your actions into the story.
For instance one of the biggest problems in the game is the way shadows work out. In many areas shadows on walls or on the ground can alert you to an enemy moving out of your direct line of site; possibly a hostile moving closer to a door, or an unsuspecting enemy walking buy the other side of a car. These little touches make you feel like you are really being stealthy as you can use that information to your advantage and move in to attack your opponent from the rear or guard a certain area more closely.
However just as usfeul as they are, they come in and flumix the whole thing up just when you least need it, as for some reason it seems shadows in this game are not stopped by solid object.
For instance in one area I was in a small courtyard enclosed on all sides by a wall or building. I saw a shadow of a guy go by on the wall in front of me and immediately swung around firing for what must surely be a guy right behind me casting this shadow... but no, he was right behind me... and through another wall. Indeed his shadow had crept right thorugh the wall and was showing on the next wall somehow so I eneded up unloading into a blank wall. Not only that I could see the same shadow of this guy on MY side of the wall between us as if the wall were tissue paper and I was seeing the shadow right through it.
This happened in numerous other places often putting shadows of people in very odd places and often even inside buildings where shadows should not have been so visible.
This along with other small issues such as walking animations that don't take stairs and gradations well (they kind of popup a set amount each time a foot goes up a few inches) and odd physics of bodys and weapons after they die serve to kill a suprisingly large amount of the believeability in this game, but all the more so because of the other individually small, but naggin issues with the game, one of which is the sound or lack therof.
In Full Spectrum we were treated to lots of banter between team members and although it sometimes got old and even occasinoally hampered the speed of the actions, you never realize what you have until you loose it, and you certainly loose it in FtF.
Your teammates are almost entirely silent with the occasional call of out "Red' "Green" and "Go!" to break up the silence. A few other responses to commands exist but it seems pretty much only one per command, the most noteable and annoying of which is your own characters "Slow is smooth, smooth is fast" EVERY time you call a Bang and Clear.
Add in the fact that the music pops in rarely and in a very jarring and unnatural way, and that almost no other sounds other than weak and VERY reptetitive background sounds occur and you have for a frustrating auditory experience.
All these problems asside however the gameplay could easily save a game with only such small faults, and I so wanted it to... but at best the gameplay manages to stand on it's own feet, but never really shines for any given amount of time.
The biggest flaw is in the actions and reactions of your team along with your control over them. Unlike other games where your team members are pregrouped into sets, in FtF you manually choose who to send your command to. This allows a lot of flexibility in how you manuever your team, but with only 4 members to control and the need to keep in pairs to provide good coverage for each other, the control scheme gets in teh way more than really helps.
In order to give commands you use the D pad to select peopel or groups of people with each direction toggling one of your players from command to not command status. This sounds basic enough but in the heat of battle it is very cumbersome. More often than not I end up calling the wrong person out of a good cover spot or off a piece of artilery or sending the wrong set of people to do covering fire and quite often it costs me a life.
One major facet missing in controlling your team is the small circles that dictate where everyone will stand or where they are heading. Wihtout this you are never quite sure if you are sending them to this side of the cover, or just past it into the wide open. And even if you do get them to the correct side of the cover, your men seem pretty unmotivated to engage an enemey.
Often I will have my team such that they are about 2 feet from teh edge of their cover, and the enemy is pelting all around us with bullets. But rather than move to the corner and try to engage, they just sort of sit back. The game even touts that you do NOT have to command your men to engage an enemy, and this is true as long as they have seen the enemy, but put the enemy just slighlty out of easy view and your men tend to ignore them entirely making you feel like your team is goverend by the same stupid AI that the enemy is in the poorer games available.
Considering the game touts that "they are smarter than you are" I find this to be unnaceptable.
Moving on through the game you will find many situations where things just don't feel right, from the fact that it seems there is no collision detection for people (your team and enemies can all run through each other it seems and often do), to your incredibly smart team aciting in not so smart ways, to the way the enemy always seems to target your head (I can't count the number of times I had my whole team in a doorway laying down fire against enemies 2 blocks away, no one getting hit and the second I lean out a little I get domed) and the rather cumbersome in fight controls (calling an air strike or covering fire requires you to have your reticle on the enemy, then move your thumb to the D pad to choose the approriate action, often leaving you exposed and getting you killed) and each of these things piles up with all the others to take this game from a great idea, down to a poorly finished average military sim.
Overall I would say it's decent and if you have Live! (I don't) it might have a lot more value to it. But I advise renting to see if you like it, as I think during the first few minutes you will be happy with it but as you see more and more problems you will be less interested in fighting through what ends up being mainly you picking off the enemy and your team following.
Personally I will finish out my rental period and probably not think of this game again.
Full Spectrum Warrior and Brothers in Arms both offer a far more polished team combat experience and a far more satisfying play engine.
Graphics: 7 - Good attempt at shading, decent textures and models but too many rough edges to get a really good score
Sound: 4 - Sub par in many areas and becomes grating and annoying quickly
Control: 6 - Control is responsive but had to deduct serious points for the fact that the control scheme left much to be desired and often forced you to leave yourself vulnerable while choosing commands
Fun Factor: 7 - Average game, not a huge dissapointment but almost certainly a rental. Promising for those who have Live! and who really love military shooters and have already finished the other options available.