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X Squad
Platform:  Playstation 2
# of Players:  1
Developer:  EA/Square (Japan)
Publisher:  Electronic Arts
Features:  Analog Control, Vibration Function
Ratings:  Teen
Memory Req.:  8MB Memory Card- 280 KB
Review: X-Squad

The first third-person action game on the PS2, Electronic Arts' X-Squad is a pretty decent action adventure saddled by a generic B-movie plot and too few levels. The story has your characters taking on a pack of terrorists who've captured a top-secret military base. The game combines loads of run and shoot action with you controlling the leader of the X-Squad, Ash, and issuing tactical commands to the other members. Think Rainbow Six with a dash of Syphon Filter, and you get the idea of what the game plays like.

The controls are well thought out and quite responsive, especially if you use the analog sticks for moving and strafing. It seems as if EA borrowed a few moves from Syphon Filter's Gabe Logan, as Ash has a handy roll maneuver, as well as the ability to peek around corners to see what lurks ahead. You start the game out armed with a standard issue pistol, and you'll find ammo and weapons as you go along. You can also buy better weapons at the end of each mission, which I've always found odd in games like this. But then again, EA/Square Japan programmed this, so I guess they had to get some RPG elements in the mix somehow. The game also borrows a bit from the classics, as you'll run into a number of heavily armed end level bosses, each with its own weak points.

The game starts you out controlling Ash, and you're walked through the basic moves gradually until you meet up with another one of your team, Maya, and get to practice your order-giving skills. It's a semi-real-time system in which you call up a menu and the action stops while you issue commands, change weapons or use items. You can assign her or the other members assorted offensive or defensive commands, and here's where the game becomes interesting. You'll have to pay careful attention to things like spacing your agents carefully so that they don't shoot each other or take more damage from enemies than they should, and you have to keep an eye on their health as well. Things get a bit hectic, especially on the Advanced level, but if you keep focused, you can make it through most of the levels with all four members alive. If Ash buys it, however- it's Game Over, and you'll have to start the level you died on from the beginning. The enemy AI ranges from pretty dumb (it's easy to sneak up on most guards in the corridors) to infuriatingly precise (you'll get caught in quite a few crossfire ambushes if you rush into rooms), but overall the game is fairly challenging. And as the manual says, "Only true Hot Shots will make it through the Expert difficulty setting".

The graphics are nice- nothing show stopping, just clean and functional environments to run about in, with some nice lighting and smoke effects. All the characters here look like well-animated action figures, and I actually felt like I was playing with some really cool toys as I made my way through the game. The game uses the same slick-looking engine for the movies, which is a nice touch. Certain areas have walls that can be blown open or items that can be destroyed in them, which adds an additional element of danger to the proceedings. Those pesky terrorists seem to have placed TNT in all the desks, computers and a few other places, as a few well-placed shots will make them blow up real good. You'll want to be standing back somewhat if you decide to shoot one of those well-armed, innocent pieces of furniture- the blast will eat a good chunk of your health, if you're too close. The sound effects are nicely done as well, and the voice work is competent most of the time. The music tends to repeat a bit too much for my tastes, but it's nothing that'll drive you crazy.

The main problems again, are the ho-hum plot and short length- a good player can finish the game in a day, but I guess that makes this one the perfect rental. Some may find the gameplay too limited, but I guess you can think of X-Squad as Metal Gear, channeled through a UPN budget. A few of the more picky folks out there will wail on about how the game isn't really pushing the PS2's limits graphically, but this is a first-generation game, so better things will come. Hopefully, if there's a second X-Squad game, the developers will put in some sort of multi-player missions, and make it a few levels longer. As it is, what's here is like (cliché time, kids) an order of Chinese food- you'll eat it up, but be hungry for more a few hours later.

Greg Wilcox

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