Magnum Games enters the PC gaming market with Beyond the Law: The Third Wave, a squad-based strategy-shooter. Players find themselves responsible for choosing among 50 paramilitary specialists in order to create a super group -- one designed to operate beyond the law.
Merciless mobsters have gathered in New York City, armed with a criminal agenda composed of three phases. Players will lead their group on a series of 20 missions through hostile locations, in an effort to recover control and halt the criminal enterprise. Using bribery, black mail, and corruption, the mobsters have pocketed the city's officials and police force, and have begun operating illegal businesses ranging from prostitution to drug cartels, in order to fund their third and final phase -- a nuclear attack.
Together with a group of highly trained specialists -- such as snipers, ballistics experts, and technicians -- the team must operate in total secrecy to stop the mob from completing their criminal hat trick, and to save the nation's capital from a nuclear disaster.
Imagine, if you will, organized crime at a level where it threatens all strata of society - even to the point of taking over the national government! Imagine, also, that the only way to stop this imminent threat is through your efforts as commander of an elite group of paramilitary specialists - a band that is beyond the law. If you have a hankering for this kind of heroics and enjoy the prospect of a largely stealth tactical strategy game, in the Commandos mode, you may well find pleasure in Beyond the Law. This title from Magnum Games attempts to follow the formula of such classics as Jagged Alliance, Splinter Cell, Desperados and, of course, the revered Commandos series. Let's discuss the overall premise, execution and final outcome.
A haunting musical theme plays during your initial briefings. Graphics, locked at 800×600 resolution, present a 3/4 top-down view, much like the Commandos series, but with neither zoom nor map rotation. Movement around the map occurs with left and right mouse clicks, with arrow or edge of screen mousing displaying more of the environment. Each of the 20 missions, in five broad categories, loads completely, so that you have the entire location (ship surface, for example) on display at one time.
After choosing a difficulty level, you are given a briefing and asked to purchase or rent several mercenaries for your task. Your money is limited, and the amount changes, so you have to make some choices. These fellows have different skill sets, emphasizing such areas as sniping, tactics, and technical prowess. For any given mission, you may need particular areas of expertise. Unfortunately, you can't really guess this very well without failing at least once. Following mission completion, the game is automatically saved, and a quick save/load is possible during the mission. Several of the levels have a time requirement, adding to the tension (frustration?).
Beyond the Law is, primarily, much like the games after which it is modeled, a "sneaker." Usually, once your group is dropped into a setting, you can pause to look around and get your bearings - see where guards are patrolling, the location of objectives ("turn off the alarm"), and most of where you need to go. Your little group (typically two to four) can be moved individually or together, much as we might do in an RTS game. The puzzle is in finding the correct route, avoiding guards and alarms, and even doing this with minimum casualties. There may be more than one way to solve a particular problem, but discretion is usually the best approach. Unfortunately, those guards and alarms seen especially sensitive, and the game can be very difficult on "normal" setting.
Beyond the Law is a rather quiet game, with little other than ambient sounds during missions. Your group will respond to you, though, when directed to move, with comments ranging from "O.K." to "On my way," to the above organized crime response. Soon these become not only redundant, but a bit annoying. Indeed, let's discuss redundancy.
Although we have 20 allegedly different environments (and I've played each level), there is a sameness to it all that bogs the game down about a third of the way through. Whether it's decks of an old freighter or a construction site outside Queens, the goals and play of Beyond the Law are much the same, with even the settings just ending up like a different crossword puzzle in this week's Times. I don't mean to be unfair, but each level looks dark, shaded, with the same kind of rooms, goons, alarms, obstacles. The storyline isn't sufficient to motivate you along, and it is hard to maintain enthusiasm after the first few hours.
I found Beyond the Law to be an adequate effort, fun for a while. However, its graphics are outdated by at least five years, and gameplay pales in comparison to the titles it seeks to emulate (Jagged Alliance, Commandos). It's a bit ironic that the developer is entitled "Modern Games." Of course, you may say, it's a budget title - what do you expect? That's fair. And if I were a rabid fan of stealth/tactical games, I may well wish to add this to my library. However, one of the problems with budget titles is that they are competing with "bargain bin" games that may be in the same range or less. One thinks not only of the vaunted JA and Commandos series, but also such fairly recent (and better) games as Desperados, Freedom Force and Robin Hood: The Legend of Sherwood. All of these are tactical/strategy in nature, with varied and colorful settings and good storylines. The question becomes raised as to not only how you wish to spend your gaming money, but also how you wish to spend your valuable gaming time.
There is some fun to be had with Beyond the Law, at least initially. However, with dated graphics, redundant settings and gameplay, mediocre production values, I can only recommend this for fans only - those who have to play every tactical game that comes down the pike, whether its taking on the Nazis, Western bad men, a Nottingham sheriff, or runaway Mafia.
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