Deadly Dozen: Pacific Theater Download (2002 Arcade action Game)

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The action in Deadly Dozen: Pacific Theater shifts from the focus of the original Deadly Dozen to 1942 Japan. The gameplay and interface is nearly identical to the original game, but Pacific Theater contains two more missions than its predecessor (12 total), multiplayer action via a LAN or the Internet (supports GameSpy), and diversified locales such as the jungle, beach, and swampland. The budget-priced title offers 12-25 hours of gameplay with missions averaging one to two hours each.

Players can change perspective from first to third-person, utilize a "save anytime" feature, and build squads from a dozen commandos with unique abilities and skills such as toughness, infiltration, side arms, blades, rifle use, sniping, machine guns, throwing accuracy (grenades), explosives, and medicine. In addition to the standard-issue weapons of the original game (machine guns, pistols, rifles, etc.), players can now use machetes, bayonets, demo charges, swords, and flamethrowers.

The Deadly Dozen consists of commandos from the Army, Navy, and Marine Corps with a variety of specialties covering machine guns, demolitions, sniping, radio, artillery, scouting, intel, and covert operations, all led by USMC Colonel James "Bulldog" Barringer. Three difficulty settings allow easy, medium or hard gameplay, and a tutorial offers basic training on controls, equipment, vehicles, and weapons. Options include arcade-style play (characters absorb more damage) as well as the default campaign mode, with slower-paced, more detailed tactical warfare.

The original Deadly Dozen was a value title aimed at capitalizing on the recent wave of WWII-based first person shooters. It took place amongst the deserts of North Africa and on European soil as it tracked twelve daring commandos in their fight against Axis forces. That game, however, suffered from some noticeable flaws that made it look more like a value title than anything else. But it held promise. Now, a year later, Deadly Dozen: Pacific Theater delivers on that promise and fully realizes the true potential of the franchise.

As a first person shooter, Pacific Theater is two games in one. On the one hand, you have the run and gun style of games like Wolfenstein or Battlefield 1942. On the other end, Pacific Theater is a slow-paced realistic game where one shot to your head causes immediate death. The fun thing about Pacific Theater is its ability to switch between both modes on the fly, even when you're playing co-operatively. In fact, you can switch between the more console-like third person mode and the more PC-like first person view with the touch of a button. Each has their own strengths and weaknesses. Obviously, your aiming suffers in third person but you get to see more of your surroundings.

By default, Pacific Theater is one of those games that bear more resemblance to Ghost Recon rather than the popular Medal of Honor. Often, you're sent deep within enemy lines alone and there's little to no cinematic sequences throughout the game. Mission objectives never change during the game itself and you never see a friendly soldier beyond your own squad.

The objectives doled out to you, however, are often pretty free-form. With the exception of one mission in the arctic, you're allowed to alternate between a violent forceful approach and a silent stealthy one. Either one suffices, as long as you complete the objectives on hand.

WWII was arguably one of the first wars that legitimized the necessary use of specialized forces. And the objectives given to you will highlight why. Typical tasks require you to rescue friendly forces trapped in enemy territory or clear out fortified positions that might be a bottleneck to the main attack force. The developers of Pacific Theater have added some tense moments to the game though. In some cases, you'll be going in with indiscriminate bomber support; indiscriminate only because you might get hit yourself. With allied planes zooming above your head, the battles don't feel like it's you vs. world.

Because of updated friendly AI routines, you won't feel much of that at all. There are only twelve soldiers you can choose from. Each of them specializes in something: demolitions, fire support, anti-armor, etc. They come pre-configured but Pacific Theater lets you individually assign equipment from a small, but satisfactory, pool of military hardware. The AI is particularly useful in foggy jungle settings. More often than not, they're able to pick out ambushing soldiers hiding within the vegetation faster than you can. Using some simple commands, you can issue orders for them to fire at will, hold up, or follow you. There aren't any waypoints or sub-squads like in Ghost Recon but in the event everything goes awry, you can still assume direct control of each member of your squad.

The original Deadly Dozen was known for its fogginess. The draw-in has been extended in this game, although the fog is much more realistic in a jungle setting. There's one lone arctic level where you have to raid a Japanese base on the Aleutian Islands in Alaska. But that mission appears contrived. Your soldiers wear the same uniforms to Alaska as they do to the Philippines. The facial textures aren't particularly well developed but everything else looks as it should be, particularly the vegetation which consists of a swath of reeds, tall grass, shrubs, trees and bushes.

The audio in this game is right on the mark. Effects are crisp, clear and most importantly, fairly authentic to the era. Firing out eight rounds on the M1 Garand will lead to the trademark plink sound. There's good use of 3D surround and the engine that powers Pacific Theater has support for a bunch of sound codecs from the venerable Aureal to the latest EAX. A lot of the guns, like the BAR, certainly sound better here than in EA's Battlefield 1942. And the Japanese even have its own cast of authentic weapons.

Without a doubt, the most revolutionary addition to the game is the inclusion of co-operative play. You're allowed to bring along a full squad of four for each human player that joins. Furthermore, there's support for respawn options and like I mentioned earlier, you can toggle difficulty and arcade/realistic modes on the fly; a feature I came to like myself. Out of the box, the multiplayer can be a frustrating affair with more than a few people. Playing with one other person is almost flawless but with more than a couple of human players, you should expect some serious lag.

The developers didn't stop there. There's also a "Mission Mode" that is team competitive with one group of players assuming the Allied forces and one group of players assuming the role of the Axis. The latter will fight to prevent the Allied forces from achieving the objectives laid down in single player. Deathmatch and Capture the Flag round out an outstanding cast. Now only if you could get more than half a dozen people in here without it crashing or lagging and we might be looking at an uber-hit on the net. Some multiplayer patching will definitely be needed ex post facto of the retail release.

Holistically, this is such a polished package that you never get the sense that you are compromising by buying a cheaper title. It does have its faults. Chief amongst them are pathfinding woes that leave fellow squad members behind. The vehicles included in the game aren't really all that useful either for transport or combat. Some of the missions are reduced into a two minute drill of stop, scan, snipe and go. This type of play makes weapons like the flamethrower fairly redundant. I'm eagerly looking for a follow-up, where close quarter combat and scripted sequences will spice things up. Banzai charges should really have been added to the game.

On the technical side, the EAX sound effects disappeared a few times during multiplayer sessions and the draw-in fog is a little disconcerting. However, those flaws are mainly minor slip-ups. Most value titles have glaring defects that cause them to fall flat on their faces. This title hardly falters anywhere and while it only features a dozen missions, its varied modes and multiplayer features should keep you busy for quite some time.

On a final note, I often review value titles for the PC platform. Most value titles try to capitalize on what's hot in the industry today. Clearly, the first person shooter and the WWII theme are topics a la mode. In dishing out low review scores, I often get criticism from developers, some friendly, some not so friendly, that I'm unfairly judging their product against something that was developed with millions of dollars for five years and a cast of one hundred programmers. When I point out the lack of features like multiplayer (besides the fact that they use engines like LithTech where you know multiplayer is there), they cry out it would take too much time. Let Pacific Theater serve as a shining example of a value title done right.


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