Few modern authors have had their stories so successfully translated to multiple forms of entertainment media as Tom Clancy. While his best-selling novels have inspired blockbuster movies, they have also set the stage for the innovative and influential line of Rainbow Six squad tactics first-person shooters. Based on the 1991 novel and released in time with the 2002 feature film, Red Storm's Sum of All Fears continues the team-based action gaming in Clancy's techno-thriller world.
An unthinkable yet believable attack brings true disaster to the United States of America, threatening the very foundation of the country. Gamers play as part of an elite three-soldier hostage rescue team to stop powerful conspirators before it's too late. The game boasts state-of-the-art graphics and physics, on par with 2001's lauded Ghost Recon, with tense, close-quarters gameplay in the established style of the Rainbow Six franchise.
You're in charge of a three-man squad and your missions are anti-terrorist operations. You'll usually have additional support during the game's 11 missions, but you'll only be able to control your three-man squad. You'll go from the hills of West Virginia where you fight inbred hillbilly terrorists to diamond mines in South Africa, then the Middle East, and finally Austria in a series of missions tied together by the thinnest thread of a story about terrorists. You have to save the world, of course.
The game itself only resembles the movie in the slightest. In fact, by the time you start the third mission, you've already eclipsed the events in the movie. This isn't a bad thing, as a game based on Ben Affleck trying to puzzle out the origins of a nuclear device would be harder to do and probably less interesting. Instead, Red Storm is making an obvious grab for the mass market with this title. Everything is simplified.
The Sum of All Fears uses Red Storm's Ghost Recon Engine, but simplifies the gameplay greatly. On "Easy," the game is just way too easy for anyone who considers himself a gamer. It's hard to lose (unless you play like an idiot) and you can zip through it in just a few hours. Veteran Rainbow Six / Rogue Spear / Ghost Recon players will almost certainly have to play the game on "Special Forces" mode to find any challenge, and even that might not be enough. The Ghost Recon Engine has been cleaned up a bit, but it's already starting to show signs of aging -- shooter fans who like cutting-edge visuals will not be impressed.
In another simplification aimed at the mass market, you can no longer customize loadouts in The Sum of All Fears -- you just pick loadout kits for your entire team. As you progress through the game, more loadouts are unlocked. The game has also replaced the RPG-light character development system featured in earlier Red Storm games with medals that serve no purpose other than to see how your individual squad members have performed.
The biggest complaint I have with The Sum of All Fears is the mission design. In a word, it's dull. For a game so short, I found myself playing 45 minutes at a time and stopping because the game couldn't hold my interest. Most missions are night missions, and most take place indoors, though there are some occasional outdoor components mixed in. Gone is the detailed pre-mission planning (introduced by Rainbow Six) to complete an assignment. Instead, you simply move along a series of navigation points indicated by a line on the mini-map, killing bad guys and usually grabbing something to fulfill your mission objectives. Following this line on the mini-map practically turns the game into a shooter on rails -- you still have the freedom to wander, and many times you can eliminate enemies by scouting a bit, but the line on the mini-map you follow always makes it clear where you eventually need to go.
The snap-to aiming system makes hitting your targets extremely easy. This is something veteran players will have to turn off if they hope to find any challenge, but even then, the AI simply doesn't react well. You generally have more than enough time to line up your shots, and if you're a slowpoke, the AI will usually miss with its first shot or two. The AI doesn't feel quite right, as if Red Storm wanted to make it easier but couldn't come up with a graceful way of doing so. So we get an easier yet more awkward-looking AI than we've seen in Red Storm's previous tactical shooters.
Is The Sum of All Fears a game you'll want to play? Hardcore fans will probably not find enough value in it, though you can toggle enough options to make it at least mildly challenging -- it's really aimed at casual gamers. Because it's so forgiving, it's a great way to introduce someone to the tactical shooter genre. If you're looking to try out tactical shooters for the first time, The Sum of All Fears is a good place to start.
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