What do you get when you mix US Army Delta Operators, CIA paramilitary assets, regular Army units all vying for control and/or escape for themselves and a trapped civilian population in the desert that used to be Dubai? Apparently a lot of shooting, bad decisions and zero control from the chain of command.
Plot line setup
Six months prior to the game, the worst series of sandstorms in recorded history began across the Dubai Emirate. Dubai’s politicians and wealthy elite downplayed the situation before evacuating in secret, leaving countless Emiratis behind. Colonel John Konrad, the decorated but troubled commander of “The Damned” 33rd Battalion, U.S Army, was returning home with his unit from Afghanistan when the storms struck. Konrad volunteered the 33rd Battalion to help with international relief efforts, then deserted with the entire unit when ordered to abandon the city and its refugees by the U.S Government. As the storms intensified, a massive storm wall engulfed Dubai for miles, disrupting any satellite surveillance and communication, air travel, and all but the strongest radio broadcasts. The 33rd declared martial law, and struggled to maintain order amid 80 mph winds, riots, and dwindling resources. The last communication out of Dubai stated that the 33rd was attempting to lead a caravan of more than a thousand civilians out of the city. The caravan never arrived, and soon afterwards the UAE declared Dubai a No-man’s-land. All travel to the city was barred, the 33rd was publicly disavowed for treason, and no further news left the city.
Two weeks before the beginning of the game, a mysterious looped radio signal penetrated the wall. Its message was brief; “This is Colonel John Konrad, United States Army. Attempted evacuation of Dubai ended in complete failure. Death toll: too many.” The United States military decides to covertly send in a three-man Delta Force team to carry out reconnaissance. The team, consisting of Delta Operators Captain Martin Walker, SAW-gunner/aviator Lieutenant Adams, and translator/medic/marksman Sergeant Lugo, are told to confirm the statuses of Konrad and any survivors, then radio for extraction.
Of course you don’t simply radio for extraction after you determine that there are survivors and the game doesn’t allow you to. The story continues through all the series of events that bring you face to face with rogue US military members, fast and loose CIA paramilitary and locals who have formed an insurgency as they vie for control of what food and water can be salvaged.
The story pushes you into conflicted decision processes again and again but doesnt seem to want to offer you the routes that the games ending would seem to advocate for. While I applaud the story team for creating a narrative that shows military action isnt always clearly good vs evil, I certainly didnt appreciate taking it into full on insanity and having that point beaten over my own head repeatedly.
The exuberance in this story arc seemed to go too far. I wasn’t sure if this was the point or a failure. I tend to look for subtle and thoughtful and here I found myself thinking that someone had an ax to grind or was really trying to make a political statement. For me it wrecked a game where the winning aspect could have been wind and sand as a weapon and equalizer.
The visuals are for the most part a good piece of this game, the environment really plays a role IN the game not just as a place where things happen but in shaping how it happens. Some of the animation feels a little stiff but from what we’ve seen in comparisons, stays faithful across the various game platforms. On a PC with the graphics cranked up things were smooth, gritty and detailed enough that it represented the deserts work of reclaiming Dubai and it’s inhabitants pretty well.
If I felt that wind and sand was a potential hero in this game, sound would be another place where it’s teeth were filed flatter than a veggie lover. I was expecting that noise walking through sand, the hiss of falling sand as a telltale sign of movement or potential collapse and when the wind kicked up I was really looking for a rich depth that made everything else almost impossible to hear.
Weapons fire sounded weak, many of the rifles felt like air soft rifles with a distinct lack of pop. This was even more apparent when much of the game was inside enclosed spaces. The character dialog and some atmospheric content was very ‘echoy’ but you never got that high pitch ping in your ears that comes as part of firing a weapon indoors.
The voice acting was the opposite, I felt that the acting, the dialog and the depth (even the soundtrack that you get with the DJ) were all well done. Bruce Boxleitner was an excellent choice and you really got a feel for the internal struggles his character and the others were going through.
As expected, strap in, follow the prompts, don’t deviate from the path or you’ll be corralled by the environment. This was another place where a game that seems to focus on the choices you make failed to offer any. I sincerely wanted to find out that there were places where you could hammer through or sneak around but you had a couple clear choice areas (any of which still brought you to the same general conclusion) in the actual game mechanic they parked you in a situation and the only way out was through.
I ran into some issues with the AI that have been noted elsewhere and when the dust settles and you think you’ve finished the area you stand around trying to figure out what’s next only to find out that one enemy is standing doing nothing in a corner or against a wall. A quick end to his AI life solved the issue but pulls you out of that immersion factor further muddying up the experience.
At one point I was taking out two guys who run out onto a balcony, the game wants you to run and flank them but of course I have a clear shot at the guys outside so I drop them and watch as two clones run from inside and take up their spot. I dispatch the clones and tada.. more, this continues until I feel Ive killed a platoon sized element and decide the area has to be empty. I flank the position as I am clearly expected to and run into one of the games heavy armored members who was the point of placing me in that path and all the balcony troops were nothing more than a ‘go over there’ notice on which way I was to be fed into the grinder. Sorry but I feel like if you need to do that then either they figure your too stupid to know how to get out OR they might need to go look at the game flow and restructure in an effort to make it clear that this is the route.
The single player isnt going to get you coming back in for another round, even if you liked the challenge the ending seems to screw with your head and make you feel guilty for engaging the ‘good guys’ enough that going back for more almost seems sadistic. The only area that might be worth the trip through would have been to see the various ending scenarios based on the games conclusion decision process but you can surf to youtube and see them all for yourself but brace yourself because nobody gets to go home happy (if at all).
On the Multiplayer side, the sand as an equalizer and weapon mechanic still holds as the strong point but far too few players and no server browser (I was playing PC btw) made it frustrating to find a game and equally so when it creates a game with you as host and you can sit and wait to see if some interested soul wishes to play.
Once you do get to play MP, the zip lines for movement and occasional sand storm allow you to move around and even get yourself out of tricky places where you might have otherwise fallen to the enemy. I cant hammer home enough that the missed opportunity was wind/sand as here again the length of the ‘storm’ felt identical so you knew you could just find a spot, tuck in and hide and let it pass. if the storms intensity and length were varied you might very well introduce a situation where the tension would have been amazing as you weigh the option of staying put or venturing out.
Standard pricing model, a one time trip through single player campaign and shortcomings on the multi-player put too high a price on this title. With the way the game story lays out it doesn’t lend itself well to future DLCs without lamely looking at what happened before you got there.
Our friends in the military are likely to find the storyline dark and a little preachy about their chosen role in the military complex and while the exception and FAR from the rule, the game will bring up things military members wont appreciate acting out. The game prides itself on talking about crossing a line and the choices you make, we advocate that you draw a line and keep your money in your pocket with this one.