Special Forces is a top-down arcade shooting game with a dash of strategy.
It is the sequel to Airborne Ranger.
When times are rough, the American people rely on their army. And when times are rough, the American army relies on their special forces. A small group of highly trained, superbly skilled, well-armed and clean-shaven elite soldiers boldly go where no man has gone before. At least no honest man.
Special Forces let's you control a team of four in a top-down view and setting reminiscent of Jagged Alliance, only that the time ticks continuously. Consequently, strategy and stealth stand back behind Gauntlet-style arcade action. Moving alone or in squad formation, you shoot enemy soldiers and blow up bunkers, always quick to go in and quicker yet to go out. Goals vary from deploying laser targeting systems for air strikes to assassinations to rescue missions; some assignments take place under cover of darkness, with night vision systems coloring the landscape a gloomy green.
16 missions take you to four different parts of the world, from the terrorist's arctic ice to the drug cartel's native jungle. Before hopping into the helicopter, you may choose four soldiers out of eight, each with different special abilities, and equip each one. Reading the text briefings is crucial, as the game won't warn you if you go on a bombing raid without any explosives. Also, the higher the difficulty level you choose, the less accurate is the info that you get on your targets, so you'll have to search the area. Luckily, a detailed map provides an overview. As enemies respawn and ammo depletes, some men may not make it back. Those who do can be awarded medals and promotions, which will boost their morale and increase their stats.
Microprose was a company well known for creating decent simulation games. However, in addition to this main business, they developed and released several other titles. One of them is called Special Forces. Being a mix of several genres, this game is to a certain extent an arcade shooter in the style of The Chaos Engine, but it also shows some strategic elements, which makes it rather unique. The game was announced as a sequel to Airborne Ranger, but instead of being developed by the same people, it was made by a new company called Sleepless Knights. However, even though it was quite successful when it was released, Special Forces seems to be the one and only game this company has developed.
You are in command of a special operations unit and have to accomplish four different campaigns with 16 missions in all. While every mission can be completed independently, you should complete them in the correct order, as they are connected through a story and mission briefings, which also refer to prior missions if they have already been completed. While the first campaign leads you into the tropical rainforest, there are also scenarios in desert, arctic, and Mediterranean environments. The campaigns are typically themed for the early '90s - you have to fight against drug barons and other warlords. Before you go on a mission, you can select your squad of four from eight commandos with various abilities. There are snipers, explosive specialists, and camouflage experts available, along with several other professionals. Depending on the type of mission, you can benefit from their abilities in using the different types of weaponry.
Once you have chosen your squad members, their equipment needs to be selected from several types of weapons, grenades, mines, and electronic gadgets. Depending on your strategy, you can give different equipment to each soldier, so you could use some of them to distract enemies by doing severe damage with their heavy weaponry, while others are lightly equipped to sneak into the enemy installations in order to retrieve mission critical objects or to free prisoners. Be careful to choose the correct equipment for each assignment. The game doesn't warn you, and it may happen that you head out to mark targets for an air strike, and you find that you left your laser designator at home.
Upon the start of your mission, your soldiers are flown into the combat area by helicopter. In most cases you will have preset drop-points, but sometimes you may choose them yourself. Once you have arrived on the battlefield, there are different methods to control your squad. The controls are a bit tricky, so you will probably need a bit of time to figure them out. First, there is the overview, which shows the whole area and lets you assign directions to your squad, which can be grouped into a full team of four, pairs of two, or single soldiers working independently from each other. You can also choose between stealth mode and conventional attack for each of your soldiers, so sneak attacks are possible as well as straight-forward assaults on a target. If the situation gets too hot, you can take direct control of any soldier. The others will follow his lead depending on your group settings.
Altogether, Microprose did a respectable job when developing Special Forces. The graphics are fairly well done, except for the night assignments. However, there are only a few sounds and no music. The functional elements are more or less randomly spread around the keyboard, but you get used to it after a while. And once you have found out the possibilities, you realize how many there are. I would rate Special Forces with a moderate score, as it combines good ideas like tactical and action elements, but has some flaws with their implementation into the game.
This game is suited for people who like to think before they shoot. Its tactical elements outweigh the action by far, but nevertheless there are 10-50 kills per mission. All you hobby strategists and action gamers should give it a try. Just remember that you will probably need some time to work your way into the controls. Once you have mastered them, however, this game can be real fun!
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