Friday, January 23, 2004

Secret Service: In Harm's Way (PC)

Rating: 3 out of 5
Pros: Good variety of missions, maps, and weapons
Cons: Bad menu navigation and horrible AI

Secret Service: In Harm's Way, was the second game by the Romanian company FUN labs, who are mostly know for their various hunting games. They also have a couple 4x4 Off-Road Adventure games under their belt.

Released in late 2001 by Activision Value, Secret Service is a realistic, first-person shooter. It uses an in-house developed 3D engine to render the feature-rich environment, and the large levels made to be as life-like as possible. Bullet behaviour is affected by the physical properties of all the different materials in this game, as well as being affected by impact speed and distance.

The rich environment sounds feature complete support for DirectX, EAX 2, EAX 3, and Aureal 3D, if you have a compatible sound card. This makes for some pretty good sound effects, like the different weapons firing. It's not all good though, many of the effects still sound fake, like the glass breaking, or bullets pounding into wooden doors.

The gameplay it's self is pretty good. You control a Security Detail, which contains multiple agents in most maps. You have to plan, and choose where to place each agent. You can shoot out lights, shoot through certain types of walls, and even move furniture around to block path ways or provide yourself with cover. Shooting out lights does not make you invisible, but it makes it harder for the enemy to see you, and thus reduces their accuracy.

There are multiple types of gameplay, depending on the map. Some are search and destroy, where you just run through blasting. Others, you must employ stealth to survive. My favorite ones are the ones that require you to protect someone else, such as the vice president or the national security advisor.

The first mission in the game is a protection mission, and I got discouraged with it after not being able to get very far after about twenty tries. Stupid me, didn't bother to read the instructions. You can access HUD commands by pressing the numbers 1-4, which allow you to interact with other members of your team, or your protectee.

I kept trying to keep him from dying over and over again, and didn't get very far. All I had to do was use the HUD commands to make him follow me, go to a safe place, then use another HUD to make him stay. After that, it was a simple matter (almost) to go around and kill all the terrorists, then take the protectee across the street.

You must deal with terrorists on the ground, usually armed with various machine guns or sub-machine guns. To make it interesting, there are civilians thrown all around, and if you kill too many of these, usually 2 or 3, you automatically lose and must start the level over again. You must also deal with snipers, who like to stand on roof tops or shoot from second story windows.

There are 16 large single player maps, and about 25 multi-player levels, giving you plenty of play time. Secret Service features over 100 different characters, and 26 different tactical weapons. Each mission has different objectives and dangers, so it does not get boring as fast as some other first person shooters I could mention.

The controls are pretty much standard for a first person shooter. Too many buttons, haha. That is my only qualm about the entire genre, way too many buttons to deal with. Your character can walk in all eight directions, then you have the normal buttons for jumping, strafing, crawling, changing weapons, displaying the map, turning the flash light on or off, etc. I guess I've just gotten too spoiled by playing all my role playing and sports games.

Some of the menu screens are a bit hard to navigate though, which is one of my few complaints. Sometimes it is down right difficult to find what you are looking for. I went through the first four missions before I found out that you could even change your character's equipment.

Climbing down ladders is also a pain. The help file that comes with the game states:

Going down vertical ladders can be a little bit tricky. To make it safer be sure to approach the top of the ladder when walking. Use small little steps until on the verge of falling. Then make an 180 degree turn and press the forward key while looking down. If you are in the right spot you should go down the ladder.

They aren't far off either, it is more than a "little bit tricky". Sometimes, even when you are right on, you still fall off and hit the ground. This usually does a good job of sucking away half of your life, which leaves you little room for error when taking on a swarm of terrorists.

My final problem with this game, is the incredible stupidity of the artificial intelligence. On one hand, they do duck and move when you try to shoot them, which is good, but then five minutes later they will be stuck, not being able to figure out how to walk around a box. Or two computer controlled characters will be walking towards each other, and they will get stuck standing face to face.

Minimum system requirements are modest: 
Pentium II 333 MHz
64 MB RAM (128 for Windows ME/2000/XP)
Direct 3D compatible graphics card with 4 MB of VRAM
4x CD-ROM, Keyboard, and Mouse
450 MB free Hard Drive space
DirectX 8.0a or higher
DirectX compatible sound card
56k Modem or LAN for multiplayer games

Overall, there are more positives than there are negatives, and I would recommend this game to anyone who likes first person shooters. If you like this game, other games you might enjoy include Doom, Duke Nukem, Tribes, Gods & Generals, and Medal of Honor.

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