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'SWAT 3,' you don’t need gore for good gaming

swat3 screen shot

November 22, 1999
Web posted at: 3:50 p.m. EST (2050 GMT)

By D. Ian Hopper
CNN Interactive Technology Editor

(CNN) - Sierra's Police Quest series has gone through many transformations since Sonny Bonds' first escapade in the original "Police Quest." First an adventure series of the "learn by many deaths" genre like its brethren "Space Quest" and "King’s Quest," it later became an ill-conceived excursion into the full-motion video genre as "Police Quest: SWAT."

Then, it suddenly became a top-down real-time strategy hybrid by the name "SWAT 2," dropping the Police Quest title completely. That game was one of those most depressing situations of a great idea marred by bad interface and design decisions and horrid AI.

The series' latest incarnation, "SWAT 3," is a first-person shooter in the very new tradition of Red Storm's "Rainbow Six." With a boatload of detailed, useful team commands and little room for error, "SWAT 3" is an exciting game from start to finish.

SWAT game rewards non-violence

Movies of Swat3 in action:
2038k mpeg movie
4759k movie


The player leads a detachment of SWAT officers, from which a five-man team is formed for each mission. The other four AI-controlled officers are split into two groups that can be commanded individually to take simple actions, like mirroring a corner to see what's on the other side, to a complex series of actions such as breaching a closed door, throwing a flash grenade and clearing the room. The communications interface is easy to use and context-sensitive. The player also has to keep in touch with the command unit, reporting on downed officers, handcuffed suspects and the like.

The game's rhythm is similar to "Rainbow Six," with the exception of the planning interface. After receiving a detailed briefing on the mission, the player chooses which way to enter the game area –- if there is a choice –- then proceeds to sort out the gear and start playing. This is sure to appeal to R6 fans, who found that game's planning interface as a bit too tiresome and difficult to understand.

When you're ready to choose your gear, you'll find a host of weapons, gas and flash grenades, and gee-whiz gadgets like lock picks, mirrored wands and protective gloves. The SWAT officer can hold quite a bit of stuff –- certainly more than is realistic –- but it still increases the fun factor.

There is a diverse set of missions that can be played in order as part of the campaign mode or individually for practice. Most deal with hostages in some fashion -– family disputes, a home invasion, or visiting dignitaries kept by armed men -– but there are some more original ones like a couple of high-risk warrants and dealing with a freeway sniper. It's of course much harder to play the campaign game and dealing with the lost men and unexpected consequences therein, so it's nice to be able to play any sort of mission you feel like at the time. You'll also need the practice. There are a few missions that have a time constraint, and some of the maps are very large, with many open spaces to run into trouble.

SWAT box

"SWAT 3"
  • Sierra Studios
  • Requirements:
    • Windows 95/98/2000
    • Pentium 233, 32MB RAM
    • 400MB hard drive space

Most new first-person games have added a leaning option, and "SWAT 3" does as well. Controlling your player is easy, although you'll probably want to remap some of the keys –- particularly the leaning keys. Oddly, the keypad doesn't work for player movement –- you'll have to use the inverted-T cursor keys instead.

As is appropriate for the game's background, "SWAT 3" emphasizes the protection of life rather than the wanton "gibbing" that occurs in other shooters. The weapons and gear help to achieve that goal. While it's more difficult to take a suspect alive, it does increase your overall score. The key to this is managing the suspect's stress level. A combination of non-lethal weapons and yelling at the suspect can keep him from shooting or running, instead dropping his weapon and surrendering. Then you can cuff him and move on. It's much more satisfying to overwhelm the suspect with tactics and watch him surrender than to just fill the room with bullets.

However, there are some glitches in enemy AI that makes the goal more difficult. Particularly when using tear gas or a flash grenade, the suspect will become disoriented. The problem is that there's no way to physically subdue a suspect. You can't handcuff one until they surrender; you could bounce a terrorist around in the middle of five armed officers and just hope that he comes to their senses and drops the weapon hanging loosely by his side. This doesn’t happen all the time, but it does happen. Teammate AI is, for the most part, good. They'll occasionally stray off or go charging into a room, but that can be a realistic situation. You may experience the 'lemming effect' from "Rainbow Six," where one officer will be picked off going into a doorway, and one after another will walk blindly into the fire until you have a pile of dead officers on the floor. Again, it's not a common occurrence, and certainly not epidemic as it was in R6.

Topping off the almost always stellar gameplay are crisp graphics, interactive scenery (including some cool mirror effects), and immersive sound. Played on a GeForce-based graphics card, a Celeron processor and a very healthy bit of RAM, the frame rates were silky smooth even at the highest resolutions. The only problem with the higher resolutions is a tendency for the game to be too dark. Your rifle-mounted flashlight doesn't cover as much area at high-res, and can make the game much more difficult. It's safer to drop to a mid-level resolution for the night missions.

"SWAT 3" has succeeded in bringing the glory back to the "Police Quest" series, even though the games are hardly recognizable as a series anymore. This game has brought the thinking man's shooter, "Rainbow Six," and infused it with a healthy dose of respect for all life, even the kind that breaks the law. This unique emphasis not only makes "SWAT 3" a model for exciting gaming, but shows that you don't need rampant destruction or gore-on-tap in order to make a quality first-person title.

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