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Review by: Chris Harding
Published: October 22, 1999
Take notice, folks — Shadow Company is a great game. Like no other, it brings guerilla warfare to the digital screen in epic proportions. While the anti-terrorist mercenary theme has been done before, it’s never been done like this. Until now, it was best depicted in Sir-Tech’s involving Jagged Alliance 2. Like that title, Shadow Company puts you in control of a modern times mercenary-for-hire organization. You control up to eight soldiers at once and have a pool of up to sixteen from which to choose. Each mercenary has a specific skill set, background and personality, and his cost is dependent on the sum of his values. The game totals nine campaigns broken up into segmented missions, which adds up to an enormous gameplay experience. While the premise and style of play is very similar to Jagged Alliance 2, the execution couldn’t be more different.
Whereas Jagged Alliance 2 used a two-dimensional, turn-based approach for handling the complex actions and orders associated with its delivery, SC incorporates a real-time setting into a fully 3D, completely controllable, utterly irresistible engine that somehow manages to obtain the same sense of depth and features as its turn-based counterpart. Some may even compare this to Commandos, but in truth, the core competencies of the two titles are very different. Commandos is a fairly static tactical real-time strategy game that has obvious tools embedded to aid the player. SC is much more complex in that it presents the player with more realistic tactical scenarios, and does so in a way that the player is required to create his own tools of aid through the implementation of strategy. Take the line of sight factor as an example. In Commandos, the player is arbitrarily given the knowledge of where all the enemies are and what their specific field of vision may be. This aid, while very helpful in establishing position and strategy, is not at all realistic and, for some, lessens the appeal overall. On the flip side, SC has no such built in auto-aid tools. Instead, it is designed from the ground up with giving as much control to the player as possible. By using the wonderfully detailed 3D terrain in combination with the fully controllable camera system, players move individual mercs into positions where they can gain a superior line of sight. Not knowing if the enemy can see you when you’ve hidden behind a tree or wondering what lies beyond the hill in front of you are both part of war, and these elements are beautifully simulated here.
But the beauty of the design doesn’t end there. For instance, combat and mission design are on par with Hidden & Dangerous. So many strategy and action games nowadays resort to the standard mission designs we’ve seen too many times. SC, though, brings a fresh style by giving the player gripping scenarios that evolve and continue from mission to mission. In fact, within a campaign, the map doesn’t necessarily change; rather, it gets bigger as the squad moves over new terrain, often revealing structures and areas specific to the new mission goals.
The graphical presentation is similar to Myth 2. The same undulating terrain and fully rotatable camera are present, and while SC’s interface could certainly stand a few tweaks, if you’ve played either of the Myth, games, you have an idea of the challenges presented with such a design. But what really tops off the graphics are how they interact with the environment. Take vehicles, for example. Boats, tanks, snowmobiles and Hummers are all affected by the terrain they travel over. Ripples and waves in the water will alter the path and speed of the boat, while inclines and declines in the slopes of roads will dramatically affect how fast a vehicle travels up or down it. The sophistication of this model is absolute. The real-time setting is dynamic as well; as the weather changes, so do the conditions of the environment. It’s spectacular!
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