SWAT 4 is unusual for me, in terms of First-Person shooters. It is perhaps the only such game were I specifically load it up to try not to kill people. One might think that for a game all about guys in armour and guns, some killing would be inevitable but in my case, the game doesn’t really come alive until you stop shotting bullets, and instead start shooting beanbags. SWAT 4 is a game about a SWAT team which is called into a number of situations that require their situation – a hostage situation at a nightclub, an apparent serial killer in suburbia – and attempt to ‘bring order to chaos’ – a fairly ambiguous phrase which actually appears as one of your objectives in each mission. If everyone is dead, is that order? There would certainly be less chaos…
Frighteningly ambiguous directives aside, the best thing about SWAT 4 for me was the way you could always select a non-lethal to a situation. For example, there’s the worryingly named ‘less-than-lethal’ shotgun, which shoots beanbags which incapacitate enemies for a lengthy duration, or better yet the ability to simply shout ‘POLICE! GET YOUR HANDS IN THE AIR’ is sometimes enough to scare some criminals into submission. After playing the game for a while, these kinds of encounter were what the game became about; In fact, on returning to it, I never once selected an actual gun for a mission – instead, I would automatically go for the beanbag shotgun, or the pepper-ball painball gun, or the tazer. I found it was much mroe fun to burst into a room, incapacitate and handcuff the enemy than simply gun them down.
Obviously, this is a kind of simulation of how the police work, so with each takedown you need to handcuff the suspect and report their status. This is a nice touch, but it can be aggrevating for the perfectionist who has completed the mission, but has forgotten to report the status of one of the suspects and as a result has to traipse round the level trying to find which one it was. Similarly, you can secure the weapons the suspects were using, and report hostages. While this doesn’t make much of an impact on gameplay (in fact, it’s more of a little break from the main gameplay), it gives a feeling of authority to a game that without it would feel more like a bunch of hugely overequipped vigilantes coming down on a few small-time criminals. As it is, you feel like the developers meant you to feel: like the leader of a well-trained team of official operatives.
Graphics-wise, SWAT 4 still holds up pretty well against more modern games, and can still very much capture an atmosphere for a level which really helps the entire feel of the game. There’s no real story in SWAT 4, as each level is a self-contained story in itself, so having each level feel different is an important tool in making the player feel like they aren’t just replaying the same situation over and over again. There are also little touches to the game that tell a sub story to the one you’re currently in – in the serial killer’s house, you find remnants of past crimes as well as the one you’re there to stop. The attention to detail in many of the levels tells me that the developers really did the research for the situations – they looked up exactly how a serial killer’s house might be set up, and adapted it into their own game – and it definitely works.
The problem with revisiting SWAT 4 for a post like this is that die to the simplicity of its’ game design, I run out of things to say fairly rapidly. It does exactly what it says on the tin – it’s a fun shooter which allows for more varience in tackling objectives that most games even today do. It’s not an epic which will take hours from your life and get you hooked, but it will keep your interest and make you think about shouting ‘POLICE, GET DOWN ON THE GROUND’ when you’re in public spaces. After all, isn’t that what gaming is about?