One of the sorrier conflicts of recent years took place in Somalia in the early 1990s, when a UN aid operation became a full-scale occupation of the country in an attempt to oust local warlords and end their civil war. The mission ended in disaster, with dozens of casualties amongst the UN force (who eventually gave up and pulled out) and thousands of Somalis dead, many of them women and children.
Although it's not as well known as other recent conflicts such as the Gulf War or the collapse of Yugoslavia, Somalia formed the backdrop of Ridley Scott's brutal war movie Black Hawk Down last year, and now Novalogic are adapting the whole sorry tale as the latest entry in their Delta Force series.
The game is split into five episodes, one of which is based directly on the harrowing events seen in Black Hawk Down. Here you will be part of the team of US soldiers that was dropped into the heart of Mogadishu by helicopter in an attempt to arrest a pair of Somali leaders. Of course, things soon go pear shaped as two Black Hawk helicopters are shot down and the soldiers try to shoot their way out of the city. In reality the ensuing battle left eighteen Americans and anything up to a thousand Somalis dead. In the game the carnage is likely to be somewhat less extreme, especially as you'll fail a mission if you shoot too many civilians. However, given that the Somali rebels don't wear uniforms and the local civilians are often far from friendly, identifying your enemies may be easier said than done.
In keeping with the game's origins, Novalogic are aiming for a more immersive, cinematic feel in Black Hawk Down, name checking the likes of Medal Of Honor. The early version that we saw at the publisher's UK offices certainly showed promise, with a nice soundtrack, characters talking as you ride around in cars and helicopters, and chatter on the radio, including the cries of "Black Hawk down!" when chaos breaks out in downtown Mogadishu.
Operation Snipe Crocodiles
Despite the title, Black Hawk Down covers a wider canvas than the eponymous movie and the book on which it was based. The game begins with the player working with the 10th Mountain Division to defend relief supplies and escort UN convoys during Operation Restore Hope. As the UN and US get sucked further into the war, you'll progress to Task Force Ranger before eventually arriving in Delta Force.
Missions vary from locating documents to destroying a pirate radio station and assaulting a warehouse full of weapons. There are often multiple objectives to accomplish, and you may get fresh orders in the middle of a mission. In one level, for example, you begin on a routine fly-over of a Somali town, only to receive a message that a UN convoy is under attack and needs air support. In another you start off by clearing a warehouse, but end up taking a ride in a Land Rover to get to another site, fighting off rebels with a machinegun mounted on the back of the vehicle. You're dropped off next to a mine field and have to make your way through this before reaching a river, where crocodiles offer an unusual threat. Eventually you'll reach the other side and meet up with a trio of Delta Force operatives who have been dropped in by helicopter, at which point you move on to attack the second warehouse.
The whole thing is rather more action-oriented than previous Delta Force games, but there's still scope for stealth and some missions will require you to take a more considered approach. You can also take full advantage of the terrain, making your way on to rooftops and towers in the city to pick off your enemies from above. Sometimes you'll come across mortars and other heavy weapons mounted on top of buildings, and naturally you can take control of these to cause even more devastation, including the ability to demolish some sections of wall.
All of this war porn is powered by a modified version of the Comanche 4 graphics engine, rather than the increasingly tired looking Delta Force technology seen in Land Warrior and Task Force Dagger. Although changes have been made, the level of detail found in building interiors isn't particularly impressive by modern standards, but the exteriors are a whole different kettle of fish.
Novalogic seem to have done a great job of bringing Somalia to life in digital form, and the graphics have a gritty feel to them, giving you a good sense of being in a war ravaged city. Buildings are often damaged or scarred by fire, rubbish and burnt out cars are strewn throughout the streets, and some levels are set in labyrinthine shanty towns made up of corrugated iron huts.
Some of the visual effects are also quite striking, including all your favourite pixel shading doohickeys. The reflective, rippling water is pleasing to the eye, and in the midst of a fight you can see bullets pinging on the surface and the splash of bodies falling into the river. Particle effects for smoke and fire are also quite attractive, and all the pretty dust and rotor wash effects found in Comanche 4 have made it into Black Hawk Down as well. There are even some decent night vision effects, with the picture becoming saturated in bright light and trails forming behind rapidly moving objects or if you turn too suddenly.
Let's Work Together
Novalogic are also promising that the AI (particularly of your squad mates) will mark a step forwards for the Delta Force series, although this was still very much "work in progress" in the version we saw. If you get fed up of taking on the computer though, as usual the game will feature plentiful multiplayer features.
For starters, up to four players will be able to group together to make their way through the single player's missions in co-operative mode, which is a welcome addition. The more belligerent amongst you can look forward to deathmatch, team deathmatch, capture the flag, king of the hill and other competitive modes. As in the single player game, some of the maps will be vast in scale, and Novalogic are expecting to be able to fit at least 32 people into a single server, possibly going as high as 50 (although this is still being tested).
Something else to look forward to in the game's multiplayer modes is the inclusion of vehicles. Although you can't drive them for yourself (this isn't supposed to be another Battlefield 1942 or Operation Flashpoint) you can hop into a helicopter and ride around in the back of it, firing on your enemies far below using your own gun or the hulking great chaingun mounted on each side of a Black Hawk. Which is sure to prove entertaining.
Black Hawk Down is looking more promising than the recently released Task Force Dagger, and it's obvious that a lot of care and attention has gone into its development. With an October release on the cards we should know soon whether Novalogic have managed to polish off the rough edges in the preview build, but in the meantime why not try it out for yourselves? The official multiplayer demo is available here (56.6MB), and although this obviously won't give you any clue as to how the single player game is shaping up, it should give you a taste of what to expect.