Developer: Zombie Studios
Special Forces: Team X has a terrific name.
This third-person multiplayer shooter sounds like a Saturday morning cartoon, and for the record, it looks a bit like one too. Cel-shading can make a great game timeless or a mediocre one look superficially impressive, and the eyecatching art style really helps Zombie Studios' latest effort to stand out from the pack. It's a military multiplayer-only shooter, after all. Every little helps in the differentiation department. When presented with dozens of games that revolve around big burly men shooting each other with assault rifles in run-down industrial locales, hell, I'll pick the rotoscoped one any day. Especially since the developers behind Blacklight Retribution promised to place rampant squads of attack dogs at our disposal.
Looks will only get you so far, however, and Special Forces: Team X might need to work on its inner beauty in order to become a long-term success.
As a multiplayer-centric shooter, Special Forces: Team X doesn't waste any time with storyline or setting. You are a buff army-type chap, who needs to team up with other buff army-type chaps in a selection of broadly familiar gametypes (think team deathmatches, CTF and a range of objective-based modes). Grab a gun, some grenades and a killer dog to deploy at will. Now get on with it. Once you've gotten over your excitement at being able to create or join servers instead of matchmaking, chances are that you'll jump right into the action, spawn on one of your teammates and put your Call Of Duty-honed skills to good use.
At which point you'll probably be utterly annihilated. Special Forces: Team X is a third-person shooter, not an FPS, and comes with its own set of rules. Hilarious bullet spread and recoil means that you'll learn to stick together with your team, communicating effectively to ensure that at least some of your combined firepower ends up hitting home (or a barn door). On a more basic level, players are incentivised to cooperate with increased XP for staying close to comrades, and a selection of skills that temporarily buff your entire unit. A one-button cover system rounds out the package, making for an experience that's both fast-paced and surprisingly tactical.
This 'one for all' mentality really comes into its own in some of the more varied gametypes, and helps to lend Special Forces: Team X some much-needed personality. MVP and Hotzone continually force players to switch between offensive and defensive roles, and often throw in a third team just to make a joyous mess of things. It's a shame, then, that this ends up being the only innovation that Zombie Studios bring to the table... and the flaws quickly start piling up.
Mechanically, Special Forces: Team X ends up falling on the clunky side of third-person shooter design. Close-range engagements turn into confusing bundles due to the hopeless bullet scatter and weak melee damage, while the cover system ends up disgracing itself on an Xbox 360 controller. It's just so sticky; once you've hunkered down, it's often impossible to extricate yourself or relocate quickly. Worse, some walls and doorways won't let you enter cover at all (with no good reason), leading to some embarrassing and infuriating deaths as you blithely faceplant into what ought to be a safe haven. Or throw a grenade, only for your hapless grunt to lob it into the doorframe. These embarrassing moments occur more often than they should, along with odd spawn locations and bugged-out sprinting that can force your soldier into slow-motion.
Naturally you'll earn XP through kills, assists, wins and losses, which factor into a grindingly utilitarian upgrade system. You'll choose from a generic menu of identically-handling weapons as you gain levels, backed up by a tiny number of equally uninspiring optional attachments. Exciting armaments such as chainsaws, grenade launchers, airstrikes and RPGs only turn up in randomly-deployed crates while you're playing, leaving us with what is otherwise a grim list of AK variants and other guns that we've used thousands of times before. The only flavour comes from a versatile approach to skills, letting you choose between standard gear like grenades and more exciting things like deployable attack dogs, but inexcusably broken AI for your canine friends means that you'll soon learn to rely on the generic genre basics.
While we're at it, the upgrade interface could well be the worst I've ever seen. It crunches the entire list of guns, attachments, abilities and cosmetic items into a tiny pane that takes up less than a fifth of the screen, while totally wasting the rest of it on empty space. If you don't currently need glasses or contact lenses, you will soon enough. This, alongside the fact that players aren't told what they've unlocked when they level up, is gobsmackingly stupid.
I haven't talked about map design yet, and with good reason. Instead of shipping with a set selection of stages, Special Forces: Team X allows players to assemble their map before each round by voting on three separate segments, all of which offer different engagement ranges and geometry. Once the three sections have been chosen, they're stitched together into a single giant level. Each individual maplet has been well designed in terms of providing multiple elevations, cover points and opportunities for both camping, overwatch and flanking. It's an utter triumph, at least on paper.
In practice, though, a crushing lack of variety stops Special Forces: Team X from fulfilling even a fraction of its potential. To start with, there aren't anywhere near enough map sections at launch, meaning that you'll quickly feel like you're playing the same level over and over again. They're also incredibly bland in terms of visual design; with names like 'Barge Inlet' and 'Warehouse ,' it's difficult to care about which ones you end up fighting over.
Many of these problems can be fixed. Dogs can be repaired. New map sections can be added. But none of this, sadly, will make up for the fact that Special Forces: Team X hasn't brought enough to the table in order to compete. It's not good enough to just turn up and expect players to plonk down £11.99, and unfortunately, Zombie Studios have done very little to push the bar beyond the cartoony visuals. Considering that you can enjoy superior multiplayer experiences with Ghost Recon: Future Soldier, Gears Of War or Uncharted, not to mention any number of free-to-play FPS games, there's little to recommend here without some major patches.
Personally, I feel that Special Forces: Team X isn't a lost cause, and could well be saved if Zombie Studios shower us with fixes and updates. Its core of tight-knit teamwork on constantly-changing maps deserves to do well, and could still be a success if brought up to standard. It's such a shame that there's little evidence of the passion and drive that made Blacklight: Retribution such a compelling F2P proposition.
- Refreshing focus on teamwork
- Some fun dynamic gametypes and versatile abilities
- It's cel-shaded
- Clunky cover mechanics, numerous bugs and issues
- Generic and rehashed to the extreme; from map design to weapon selection
- Bland and repetitous Frankenstein maps
- Not enough content, polish or new features to warrant the price tag
The Short Version: Special Forces: Team X looks nice, but those cel-shaded visuals end up being skin deep. Some swift patches and content drops will be necessary to fix up this flawed and generic multiplayer shooter, and give its community a reason to stick around more than a few weeks.
A satisfying core of teamwork-fuelled fun might make Special Forces: Team X a game worth saving, but for now, it's not really a game worth buying unless you're desperate for more running and gunning.