SWAT 4 was one of the best tactical action games of 2005; so good, in fact, that it made it to the heady heights of No.28 in EG's end-of-year Top 50 extravaganza. It was certainly one of the most brutally macho games you'll ever come across anyway, making you feel like you're playing out a particularly stroppy episode of The Shield.
And now there's more perp-busting to come, with the March 10th release of Irrational's forthcoming Stetchkov Syndicate expansion pack, featuring seven new levels that pit players up against "one of the most dangerous and ruthless criminals yet." To sate our curiosity in the lead up to the game's release we grabbed level designer Dean Tate for a quick chat and a cuppa...
Eurogamer: A welcome return to one of the most atmospheric games of 2005. Could you talk a little about how you plan a level? How do you develop a concept?
Dean Tate: When planning a level I like to look at it from two distinct points of view, the game mechanics and the story.
The first thing we did when starting the expansion was to sit down and brainstorm lots of cool, interesting things for the player to do in the levels. We wanted to throw interesting twists at existing locations in the real world: take something the player knows, then turn it on its head! With this being an expansion we thought it was important to take all the cool gameplay mechanics of the original and find new ways for the player to experience them. We also worked to strengthen that feeling of "being there" by providing each level with its own story fiction.
Once the brainstorming is done and we have a bunch of Ingredients to work with we take the freshest ones and mash them together to make a level with a perfectly browned, crusty exterior...a smooth, creamy centre...something that leaves a sweet aftertaste. If SWAT 4 was a filling dinner, then this expansion is the perfect dessert. The Iron Chef would be jealous.
Eurogamer: Could you talk about - without spoiling it too much, of course - some of the levels in the game. What do you think are the particular stand out points?
Dean Tate: You guys really want spoilers, huh? We can tell you not to expect any of the same stuff you saw in the original. Instead, expect all-new scenarios that'll provide a tougher challenge than anything SWAT came up against last year. You'll be leading your team through the winding depths of a dilapidated and abandoned subway station, into a rock concert thats gone a little quiet (hostage-taking terrorists sorta tend to ruin the party...), through the halls of the Department of Agriculture (sounds boring...) moments after the centre of the building has been well and truly gutted by a bomb blast (ok, not so boring), and plenty of others.
Eurogamer: Actually, screw spoilers: Is there anything as spooky as the serial killer level?
Dean Tate: Thats a damn tall order. The team here at Irrational made that level and it still manages to creep us out. Not to go too far and spoil anything, the answer to your question is "yes" (why, are you afraid?).
Eurogamer: The co-operative play was one of the other stand-out features in the game. Playing in across a LAN and shouting at each other is a glorious thing. Why was this so important to you?
Dean Tate: For this exact reason; it's important to you guys, and it's important to us as well.
Eurogamer: In fact, so important you've expanded it considerably. 10 player co-op is a serious thing. How does the game play out with 10 players? I'd imagine the dynamics would change in interesting fashion.
Dean Tate: The dynamics don't change too significantly. In our experience, small teams tend to separate and clear parts of the level independently. The level needs to be large enough so that the teams don't finish the level too quickly. We were careful not to make any small missions for the expansion that had only one or two enemies.
And taking up from our LAN experience, the VO-IP will bring that to people who haven't set up a voice-chat server themselves - which is just about everyone.
Eurogamer: Could you talk a little about how the fluidity of voice communication improves the game?
Dean Tate: Being able to coordinate breaching actions is what this game is all about. It was almost impossible to do this over the Internet using traditional chat.
Voice chat makes it easy.
Eurogamer: A Melee attack is a welcome addition to the add-on pack. What was the train of thinking which lead to its absence in the original game?
Dean Tate: Time is the biggest constraint on any game project. We regularly have to weigh up the pros and cons of every feature and make sure the best stuff makes it into the game. Unfortunately there was just too much other cool stuff to put into the game.
Similarly, Held orders. Could you talk a little about how they will operate?
Dean Tate: Held orders are really simple. You can delay the execution of any order by holding the shift key. This allows you to have your teams stack up in two locations and make their assault simultaneously.
It doesn't sound like much but when you start to play around with it you soon find it can make a huge difference.
Eurogamer: Dean, thank you.
SWAT 4: The Stetchkov Syndicate will be released on March 10th from Vivendi Universal Games. Look out for a full review in the lead up to its release.