I want to start this review by stressing that I really enjoyed playing Raven Squad. You may not be able to tell by the score, but just about every game that attempts to blend to genres into one cohesive experience usually ends up fumbling its freshman effort. Raven Squad is a blend of first-person shooter action and real-time strategy. While it sounds absurd, the combination actually makes perfect sense in practice. Being able to maneuver and plot out strategies from a birds eye view really changes the dynamic of the game. However, what sets Raven Squad back from being on top of either genre are simply some typical mistakes attributed to both genres. Trying to combine both genres while balancing both was a huge task and developer Atomic Motion did a good job for their first effort, but still come up short in some areas.
The core game gives you access to two teams in the Amazonian jungle after their plane is shot down. After the crash your squad is split up and you gain control over three members on each team that each possess their own abilities. The problem that arises is that the developers thought that giving each team member a standard ability such as tossing a grenade would make the gameplay diverse. What this does in practice is make simple tasks in other FPS games a chore here. The first-person mechanics feel dated and sluggish, and one of the reasons I spent the majority of the time playing in RTS mode.
This was a surprise for me as I fully expected to spend the majority of my time looking through the sites of the gun. Unfortunately the RTS mechanics make the game almost too easy as you can plot out your routes, see enemies, and gain tactical advantage with little effort. The developers obviously realized this as this mode is disabled during some sequences throughout the campaign. The enemy AI is also absolutely atrocious by design, making playing from the top-down view a breeze as your squad can take down hundreds of soldiers before ever being taken out.
The mission structure feels like it was designed for a portable system. Each level lasts only a handful of minutes, and each one feels strikingly familiar to the last. Being as the game is set in a jungle environment the scenery also suffers. What I did like is that you have the option to play through the entire story in co-op mode over Xbox Live. The game does take on a more enjoyable feel when you pump up the difficulty and play with another person instead of leaving one of your squads in the AIs command. Unfortunately in our review tests the online community is, well it is non-existent. If you intend to play the game co-op you better have a friend that also owns the game, otherwise you would have to head to the message boards and find someone else who is looking for a teammate.
I guess the biggest problem with Raven Squad is that neither of the genres is even standard in their respective areas. The shooting is slow and inaccurate, meaning that playing in this mode will likely induce frustration for anyone looking for a new shooter. The RTS controls are so simplified that playing in this mode almost becomes a snore fest at times when in conjunction with the substandard AI. Even with these problems I really appreciated what the developers were trying to do, and I still found myself playing through the missions, as monotonous as they are, to the end.
Raven Squad is the type of game you want to love if you have any regard for both of the genres. It feels like a testing ground for future projects. For instance imagine if the Halo franchise would combine the exquisite gameplay of Halo Wars and combined it with the award-winning first-person shooting the series is known for. I found a lot of enjoyment in the game, even with its massive amount of problems.
Visually the game takes on the appearance of an older PC game, and not in a good way. As I mentioned the jungle vistas tend to make every level feel exactly the same. Enemies suffer from repeating model syndrome and the animations are nothing short of embarrassing. The menu system also feels forced and lackluster. Figuring out which menu you should be paying attention to more and more complicated, and performing “special skills” become extremely tortuous because of poor design.
With visuals being a downfall you might think the dialogue and voice acting could be superb; you would be wrong. I would be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy the cheesy humor contained here, but some of the writing is absolutely laughable by today’s standards. According to the press release it is supposed to possess the same vibe of 80s action movies, and by that standard it achieves its goal. Some of the lines used during the game would feel at home coming from the likes of Arnold and Sly Stallone. It is obvious that the guys hired to do the voice work for this game were not at the top of their class.
Raven Squad is a hard game to review for me because I really like the idea, I really want to like the game, and I did manage to stay entertained long enough to finish it. Of course it only lasts about five hours, I am a sucker for action games, and I love the idea of something that breaks the mold. I recommend renting the game if you have even the slightest interest in either genre or if you find it at around the $30 mark then don’t hesitate to indulge. However, don’t expect it to change the way you play either type of game.