Elite Forces: Unit 77 Review
You know, if I could give game developers just one piece of advice, I think I'd borrow the folksy wisdom of that old Head 'n Shoulders commercial and say, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” The first few minutes of a game are critical since they can either pull you into the game or turn you off completely. My first impression of Elite Forces: Unit 77 was not good due to some really substandard opening cutscene graphics. The characters in it looked as if they'd been drawn on a napkin—in the dark—and animated by someone who's never animated before. It was the artistic equivalent of being introduced to someone and getting one of those lame, dead-fish handshakes.
After this unpromising start, my expectations were pretty low but thankfully, the in-game art and gameplay were considerably more competent. Elite Forces: Unit 77 is about a four-person team of elite soldiers who have been called in to save the world from terrorism. As the story goes, a random collection of famous people from all walks of public life have been kidnapped and are being held in various remote locations by a terrorist group whose name we never learn. Unit 77 (named for an ingenious method of mission confirmation wherein they always get picked up at GPS coordinates ending in “77”) must infiltrate these remote locales, disarm the terrorists, rescue the hostages and save the world from nuclear destruction.
Elite Forces plays like a shooter but from an overhead, orthographic point of view. You control a team of four specialists: a sniper, an explosives expert, a gunner and a hacker, who appear in various combinations depending on the mission. Each soldier has a primary weapon such as a pistol, machine gun or assault rifle and a secondary “special” weapon such as grenades, mines, long-range fire or bazooka. Movement and and firing weapons is easy using the stylus, and secondary weaponry is accessed by pressing the DS's right or left trigger buttons. Depending on the situation, you may want to group your team members and that's done by moving them close to one another, then tapping the “group” icon with the stylus. Grouping is useful for the most part—except when overeager team members decide to cozy up to the explosives expert while he's defusing a mine. This clumsiness seems to be part of the overall clunky pathfinding which often has team members unable to move around each other or getting stuck behind objects.
Once you get past the shaky intro and into the first couple of missions, Elite Forces: Unit 77 feels like a fairly well done strategy/shooter. With its exploding barrels, switch gates, pickups and sniper fire, it isn't particularly imaginative, but feels balanced and polished. The environments are varied, ranging from deserts to jungles to arctic settings and in a nice touch, Unit 77's uniforms change color to match their environments. The music too is mostly good although at times the themes sound strangely out of place, like something out of American McGee's “Alice”.
The Abylight team deserves a thumbs up for managing to create a good mix of levels that force the player to think, strategize and recognize which weapons to use for specific situations. I generally had to experiment with several different approaches before achieving success, and that turned out to be both good and bad. The negative aspect reared its ugly head when I realized it was virtually impossible to recon a map without being killed a number of times and starting over. As immersion-killing as that is, I soon accepted it as something that had to be done. Another negative part of the game, and one that's a particular peeve of mine is infinite spawn. No matter how long you're on the map, the guys never stop coming. I'm not even saying that makes the maps more challenging; it's just tedious, trying to achieve your objectives while slapping down wave after wave of pesky terrorists.
Going hand-in-hand with that is the overall lack of objective feedback. Several times I'd complete an objective and nothing would trigger, leaving me to wander the map wondering what else I needed to do. This often led to me being killed and having to start again, which brings up the problematic lack of save points. Each level has only one save point more or less half-way in and in order to use it, all members of the Unit 77 team have to touch it. Considering the length of the levels and the nasty surprises appearing around every corner, it sucks to be killed repeatedly and repeatedly have to redo half the map. Pair that circumstance with limited health pickups and unlimited enemy spawn and you have a sure-fire recipe for frustration.
In the end, Elite Forces: Unit 77 is an uneven effort that takes you on a roller-coaster ride of lowered expectations, a reasonable level of fun, a bit of trouble with the clunky pathfinding, a note of admiration for the level design and finally a feeling of defeat at the seemingly built-in annoyances.