Microprose, they’ve been around for a while. Not just last weekend, I was playing the classic Geoff Crammond’s Formula 1 Grand Prix on my trusty Amiga. It looks like they’re still in the game and this time they’ve teamed up with Atari and developer Zombie Studios to create a third-person tactical shooter.

Load the game and you’re presented with a neat little menu, the first of which, strangely, is the loadout selection screen. One of the very next things you’ll notice is that the menus seem to be on the small side. You may also notice that there is no tutorial mode and no campaign mode as such. This is pure adrenaline-fuelled one-on-one combat.

The squad in question.
The squad in question.

So, set your loadouts, you get two to choose from initially, and then find a game to join. Be warned though, this will throw you straight in. There is no gentle slope to learn the ropes with. The chances are you are going to get slaughtered a fair amount of times before you begin to find your feet. There’s not even a quick tutorial to get you going. You are literally straight in at the deep end, against players who’ve probably been playing this for the last few days at least. This presents an initial problem. You get the choice of a couple of Kalashnikovs, when your higher ranked foe can choose a FAMAS or a Mossberg  500. No problem?

The graphics look pretty polished. Your character has that slightly darker border, stylised like in Borderlands and your first few short attempts will mainly be used to discover the controls. The character moves well, with ducking, running, leaping over rails and just plain hiding, all done in a third-person perspective. Think Metal Gear Solid without Solid Snake or the cardboard box. The scenery is well drawn, with a three-stage arena. These three stages can be selected and voted on in a timed system which reminds me of Mario Kart’s online course selection system. I only managed to get involved in this once, as the majority of games I joined had already gone through this process.

Hop the wall!
Hop the wall!

The arenas themselves are vast, with lots of hiding opportunities and lots of places you could camp. The heads-up display shows your team, red or blue, the weapon you’re wielding, the number of grenades you have and a map/radar that can act as your saviour. Sometimes though, the radar doesn’t seem to pick up the opposition correctly and I found myself on the end of a blade kill more than once as I thought I was alone and relatively safe. Ultimately, this was frustrating.

Don’t despair though, there’s no need to be alone. The lower part of the HUD is your team bonus status. No bonus is gained for Lone Wolf status, but join a few members of your own team and your bonus multiplies. This earns you more XP and allows you to level up faster. This would be made better had I been able to communicate with the other members of my team. As it was, in the heat of battle, I was shot at a number of times by my own team-mates and after respawn it took me an age to find the other members.

The sounds around you are pretty commonplace, the onslaught of weapons belts out a steady staccato until you need to reload, punctured by the occasional grenade or chainsaw’s spiteful buzz. If you’re lucky enough to have levelled up sufficiently, you can grab an attack dog and set it upon your enemy, and they make a whole new noise of their own. Every now and again, you’ll get a snippet of crackled information, as if, in all of your state of the art equipment, you have a Tomy shortwave baby monitor for a radio.

I think he's dead.
I think he’s dead.

The controls are simple to pick up, once you’ve had the opportunity to get used to them, whilst hiding in a corner and trying desperately not to die. But die you will, and how you ask. You’ll be sniped, riddled with semi-automatic fire, despatched with a pistol, savaged by dogs, stabbed in the neck, nearly sawn in half with a chainsaw and blown to bits by a grenade or a rocket. There are also some boxes that contain some bonus weapons. I managed to pick up an air-strike, which was quite confusing to use, and a Terminator-style minigun. They are all carried with ease, and the size of the weapon doesn’t hinder your speed or movement.  Use your weapon wisely and you’ll earn some kills. The more kills, the more XP you’ll earn. These, as you level up, will unlock more carnage inducing weapons in the hope of earning more and more kills.

The fact that this doesn’t have a campaign mode, or a tutorial really does limit its life-span. It’s okay for short gaming bursts, where you don’t want to invest the time in something along the lines of Call of Duty, but I’m finding it hard to see where this will lead to returning players time and time again, other than the fact that it’s 1200 MS Points and you’ll feel you need to play it to get your money’s worth. Even taking into account the five game types: Hot Zone, High Value Target, Capture The Flag, Team Defence and Control Point. The latter is quite entertaining; your team has to control a number of points on the map, while avoiding the enemy and trying to not die in many, many ways.

One of the more interesting features is the customisation option for your character. You can change his entire appearance, customise your weapons and skills to suit your playing style. Mix and match to get the best combination and you should be on to a winner, until you come up against the guys and girls who’ve been playing it for a while.

In conclusion, Special Forces: Team X, or STX for short, is a good, fast-paced, brutal firefight romp that you will initially find incredibly frustrating. If you can stick with it, through the mysteries of finding your way around the controls and the incessant, constant dying, then you’ll find a decent alternative to playing the seemingly endless Call of Duty online games. The graphics compliment the game even if they are let down by the slightly tinny sounds, which almost seem like an afterthought. Simply put, you’re either going to love it or hate it. It’ll appeal to the COD: Black Ops and Modern Warfare onliners, just to give you a little bit of something different, without the complications of a campaign. Spawn in and die, change your loadout, spawn in and die. It was all quite fun, but I do so wish there was more to it, a campaign and a small tutorial would’ve given the title just that little bit more lastability. I’m not saying this is a bad game, it’s not, everything works just as it should, it’s just that maybe, I was expecting just a little more than it offered.  An opportunity definitely missed.