The SAS are a scary bunch of lads. Truly. However, in today’s climate of fear and terror, we could use something a little more shocking and awing. Something like the SCS: The Special Clown Service. Look, there’s nothing scarier than a clown - except for a clown with a Heckler & Koch MP5. Forget flashbangs, just try and shoot a hostage after you’ve had a custard pie flung in your face. Banana skins for booby traps, it’s anti-terrorist gold for chrissakes.
The Regiment is a tactical action FPS based on the SAS, with absolutely no clowns involved, at least not until I showed up for basic training. This involves 17 mini-missions which impart authentic SAS tactics, such as the dark arts of flashbang entry into a room and double tap killings (nothing to do with homicidal plumbers and everything to do with a two shot burst along the mid-torso line). You’re also taught how to control your AI team-mates using a simple mouse based radial menu. Incidentally, all these mini-missions must be completed quicker than a piss in no-man’s land to achieve passing grades and unlock the campaign proper.
This swift pace sets the tone for the main missions - The Regiment is best thought of as Rainbow Six in a rush. Forget all of R6's intricate map planning and inching along corridors, this is banzai-grenade-hurling door-booting gun-blazing super-dash-peppered-action. The tactics learned in training are actually useful and you’ll be ordering your team-mates to open doors while you stand back, timing the throw of a flashbang to perfection, then entering with a hail of terrorist cleansing lead, authentic radio chatter in your ears. Graphically, this is all depicted in solid if not spectacular style, with some detailed environments and smart touches like radiators that hiss steam when struck by a stray bullet.
Working against tight time limits, you’ll rip through rooms in literally seconds with a sense that this is how the real SAS work. Slow-pokes won’t achieve the score necessary to unlock the next mission, as the grading system is largely based on highly efficient target times. There are four main scenarios, including the Iranian embassy siege and a terrorist takeover of Parliament, each consisting of three missions which are unlocked sequentially. In total, that’s 12 maps, with each lasting three to five minutes, that’s roughly 50 minutes of gameplay.
Of course, the odds of finishing every mission first time are about equal with the chance of randomly farting the tune to the Hungarian national anthem. It’s very much a case of locating a level’s danger spots and practising different methods of tackling them, then pulling off the perfect execution (there are no saves here). To begin with, it’s a buzz to get your tactics slick at such a speed. On your thirtieth-in-a-row crack at one of the harder missions, however, it’s about as much fun as chiselling your own kneecap off.
One tiny mistake at the end means you’ve got to do the whole bleeding lot again. Even worse is when a bug hits: a team-mate might have an AI wobble, lag behind the squad and get himself stupidly killed (a dead friendly equals major minus points - at least the terrorists have similar moments of standing dumbly still while you shoot them). You might be rushing a hostage to the level exit when they get stuck in a doorway. Even handcuffing hostages can lose you vital seconds as the context sensitive icon only registers when you hover the cursor over certain parts of the body, and those lost few moments can add up to you failing by a margin of one per cent, so it’s back to the start, or indeed, off for a nice calming cup of tea.
Overly frustrated counter-terrorists can always switch the difficulty level from the default simulation to the arcade mode, which is somewhat easier, providing a more generous health bar and HUD aids such as a crosshair and ammo display. Or they can sign up for a stint in the multiplayer co-operative and "sabre team" modes (the latter being an interesting variant of team deathmatch which pits a small squad of better equipped SAS against a larger terrorist force). It’s still early days, but there are precious few servers running and some of these are plagued with lag spikes. This is probably due to the host’s slow machine and/or connection, but the half broken in-game server browser doesn’t exactly inspire confidence in the net code.
If Rainbow Six is the thinking man’s action game, then The Regiment tries to be the action man’s thinking game. But while Konami's first stab at tactical action delivers a furiously paced take on the genre, it's an all-too brief one which stumbles on the bootlaces of AI issues, laggy multiplayer and frustrating mission design. Not shockingly awful, but certainly not shock and awe.