S4 League (PC) review
" S4 League (which stands for Stylish eSper Shooting Sports), while although hailing from Korea, is probably one of the easiest games to get into and has a surprising amount of depth compared to most other free MMO games. The game was recently released in Europe and is identical to the Korean version aside from a few features like the Fumbi Shop, the Cash Shop, and a couple of weapons, skills, and maps that have yet to be added but that are being included in periodic updates. "
S4 League (which stands for Stylish eSper Shooting Sports), while although hailing from Korea, is probably one of the easiest games to get into and has a surprising amount of depth compared to most other free MMO games. The game was recently released in Europe and is identical to the Korean version aside from a few features like the Fumbi Shop, the Cash Shop, and a couple of weapons, skills, and maps that have yet to be added but that are being included in periodic updates.
The core of this (3rd person) shooting game revolves around using teamwork in just about every circumstance as there are only 2 modes to choose from and there is no free-for-all death match mode. This may at first come across as a bad thing, but once you actually start playing the game you quickly forget about the lack of a pure free-for-all mode as you start to focus on helping your team wipe out your opponents. There are no special power ups, health packs, or weapons to pick up hidden throughout the levels. You choose your own weapons at the start of each match, and all of them have unlimited ammo (except for the Sentry Gun which limits you to 3 stationary, mechanical shooters per spawn) but, depending on how strong or useful each one is, have a varying reload time and max ammo amount per reload. The 2 modes you have to choose from are Team Deathmatch (abbreviated as DM in the lobby) and Touchdown (TD), and the max amount of players per game is 12 (6 per team).
Team Deathmatch is self explanatory; you are either on the Alpha team or the Beta team, and you battle it out in a stage for the most kills before the time runs out, or until the target kill count is reached for a team. Touchdown is the S4 version of the now standard capture-the-flag scenario where you need to grab an object and transport it to a certain area of the enemy base, except in place of a flag there is something called a Fumbi, which is an actual character of some kind that seems to be there for the sake of adding some additional means to make the game stand out; they are short, stubby guys that look a lot like dwarves in yellow and white space suits with a single, giant eye covering the front of their helmets. Some people love them and others hate them, but they don't affect the actual gameplay at all aside from a 25 second break when the halfway point of a game is reached called the Halftime Show (where there is a set of 3 dancing Fumbis), and 10 of these seconds are allotted to give players a chance to switch their character (players can have up to 3 characters per account) if they decide they should use a different weapon/skill combination for the 2nd half of the match.
Both of these modes, while simplistic, provide a very enjoyable experience especially when your team works together well. Since the game is very team oriented players typically cannot maul down countless opponents on their own and then grab a health pack and keep on going like in some other games. The characters in S4 are fairly weak and will die quickly with a few good hits to the upper body or head, further highlighting the importance of working alongside your teammates, and although there are no health packs to be found there is a "weapon" which allows a player to restore the health of a teammate in close range (beware though that these healing players tend to be targeted with a higher priority by the opposing team for obvious reasons). There is also a weapon that absorbs the health of opponents (not quite fast enough to refill the health bar while being continuously attacked, but which, with some smart maneuvering, can be surprisingly effective) and this, like all other weapons, takes up slots in your weapons hud which can hold a maximum of 3 weapons and 1 skill.
The weapons used in S4 League are typically either swords or guns; exceptions to this rule are the Storm Bat (which is another melee weapon like the sword, but shaped like a baseball bat), the Sentry Gun (used to deploy robot sentries which shoot in a certain direction where players see fit), Mind Shock (capable of draining enemies' health), and Mind Heal (for healing your teammates). Once you start the game and go through a quick tutorial you are immediately equipped with the Plasma Sword and the Sub Machine Gun, along with the HP plus 30 skill.
Skills are a little different from weapons as they don't do any direct damage and a few of them (like the HP plus 30 skill) are passive and need not be manually activated while playing; others, however, require hitting the Shift key to activate and grant players an extra move or ability. Skills include Flying (for getting to difficult, or otherwise impossible, to reach places but that also causes players to become easy, slow moving targets while airborne), Shield (which can block gunshots but not sword attacks), Invisible (self explanatory), Detect (for seeing those players with the Invisible skill active), and Anchor (similar to flying for getting to hard to reach places, except with faster movement once activated and a considerable motionless pause while the anchor attaches to an object). Each active skill that requires hitting Shift to use drains a bar called the SP bar (which is directly above the HP bar) and which refills automatically when skills are not used and when a player is not dashing as this will also drain the bar.
** All of the weapons and skills in S4 are available to try or to purchase from the start of the game and each one (aside from the passive HP plus 30 and SP Mastery skills) has a quick tutorial to make sure you know how to use it before taking it into actual combat.
The stages are simple and well designed, providing an opportunity for just about any combination of weapons and skills a player chooses to use (as long as they know how to use them well). They are not massive by any means, but they do their job. In the earlier levels it may seem that many of the areas are reachable only by using the Flying or Anchor skills, but this is not true as just about any area of the stages can be reached by placing jumps, or combining a series of jumps, in the right places. In Team-Deathmatch-only stages spawnpoints can be in any number of locations, but are generally on one side of the stage per team, and switch over to the other side of the stage after the halftime. In Touchdown-only stages the spawnpoints are fixed, but the stages are pretty much symmetrical so once you know what your side of the stage looks like you know what the opponents' side looks like as well since these levels are mirrored (or reverse mirrored) down the middle with the Fumbi exactly in the center.
S4 League, while similar to Gunz, does have its differences, the first being the graphical style. Those who may have played Jet Grind Radio for the Dreamcast or Jet Set Radio Future for the Xbox will probably find a lot of similarities in the look and feel of this game even though it is of an entirely different genre; the images are crisp and sharp and the look as a whole definitely suggests the developers had the 1st "S" in mind during its creation. In fact, you could even add some Jet Grind Radio music to specific levels if you so chose, as the game supports fully customizable soundtracks; if you don't like the music specifically made for the game by DJ Max Portable you can convert your many .mp3 files into .ogg files, go into the game directory and add them to the BGM folder, launch the game, and pick which songs you want to hear and for which stages. The next noticeable difference is the Cash Shop.
The Cash Shop is one of those often disliked parts of free MMO games as it causes many players concern over how much (if any) of an advantage it can give those players who use it over those who don't. In Gunz there were weapons only Cash Shop users could get, while in S4 League there are no such weapons, and of course, all the weapons and skills are available at the start regardless of what level you are if, and when, you choose to buy or try them. The S4 Cash Shop offers things like EXP bonus and PEN bonus (which isn't really necessary if you use your PEN wisely), and Cash-Shop-only clothes which, unlike standard clothes, do not have level restrictions on them. All of the clothes in S4 have the option of adding an extra stat to them (for a higher price of course), and cash clothes do not have any stat advantage over standard clothes. Stat enhanced clothes offer additional defense against certain weapon types, increased damage for specific weapons, and HP/SP raises, none of which are necessary either but can give a player a slight edge if, for example, an attack that would have otherwise killed them instead left them with 4 HP.
**Another difference from Gunz is that players cannot side dash (or half step) perpetually without end; additionally, reload times can't be shortened by switching weapons to decrease the reload animation time- if you switch weapons while trying to reload in S4 League the animation will have to be started all over again when you switch back before your ammo will finally refill.
Even though the European version of the game is pretty much the same as the Korean version, the sign up process is not, which is a huge relief if you don't want to give out 3 versions of identification to play the Korean version. All you need for the EU version is a login name, a password, an email address, the country you are from, and your birthday (and it is extremely easy to keep making new accounts if you decide to do that for any reason). The client download (relatively small at about 300 MB) is hosted directly on the Alaplaya site - which also has links to download it from Filefront, MMOsite, and 2 other sites if you would rather do that. I used the Alaplaya download and had no problems whatsoever with the signup or the download processes.
The Fumbi Shop is, as of yet, unreleased but due out before the end of December (along with a 30,000 PEN bonus for players to try it out). From my understanding (as I did not play the Korean version of the game) it is basically a shop based on chance where you can potentially spend a small amount of PEN (the in game currency) to get superb weapons or clothes, but that more often than not ends up costing a vast amount of PEN to get anything you actually want. What this will do to players in the EU version remains to be seen so I cannot review this part of the game.
Although S4 League is an above average addition to the free MMO game library it is not without its flaws. One of the major ones involves lag, intentional and unintentional. When in the lobby there is a bar next to every listed game which shows how good the connection is, when you actually enter, however, there could be 2 or 3 players who have connections that are not very compatible with yours, and will have a red bar above their heads. If you see this bar over the head of a certain player it is highly unlikely that you will be able to kill them, or that they will be able to kill you as this bar works both ways; some of your teammates may be able to, just not you. A lot of players don't seem to realize this, and if they can't kill someone with a bar like that over their head they will simply shout "lagger!" when in fact they will also appear as a lagger to that person. This can become incredibly frustrating especially in Touchdown mode, for example: imagine that the enemy is about to score and you are the only one close enough to stop them, you empty your Revolver (basically a shotgun) point blank at them, watch their HP fall to 0 and still score, fully alive! Intentional or otherwise it can be a huge problem.
Another problem is the shoot-through-walls glitch. In S4 League your character is either on the left or the right side of the screen, facing the target reticule at a slight angle, so if you get in the right spot next to a doorway or on a roof looking down you can shoot opponents who can't shoot you back (at least from the spot they are in at the time) or their shots will just hit wall (or roof) because although your reticule can target them your character is not directing facing them. Fortunately, this only works next to edges and there are always other ways to get into a position where these players are vulnerable.
The last 'flaw'? of this game is the PEN. Unlike the Korean version players do not receive an automatic PEN bonus of 1,000 to 5,000 PEN per day in the European version, and the starter weapons and skills are not indefinite. You should never continue to rent weapons or skills after the first free 5 hour trial (5 hours spent playing the game using that specific skill or weapon) obtained when completing the tutorial. Even after purchasing permanent weapons they need to continuously be repaired or they will break, and if all your weapons and skills are broken or expired you won't be able to enter any games anymore at all because you need at least 1 weapon and 1 skill to enter any game, unless of course you make a Cash Shop purchase of clothes which, for example, come with varying amounts of PEN with them. Still more expensive than upkeeping weapons are clothes; even those without stats need repairs, and unless you are a fairly good, high scoring player, trying to keep clothes repaired will likely end in in-game bankruptcy. A basic rule of thumb is to complete the starter and weekly missions as fast and as often as possible, try out all the weapons and skills you are interested in, and decide which ones to make permanent before ever spending any money on clothes or rentals. By buying 2 weapons and 1 skill you can make a steady profit in most cases even while paying to repair for all of them, and then you can decide how to use the funds you are saving up later.
Despite its flaws, all in all S4 League is worth playing if you are a fan of the shooter genre or team based games, or if you would just like to try one out. It is easy enough to learn how to play and to enjoy even if you have never played an online shooting game before as it is very beginner friendly. The solid look and feel of the game is a nice change of pace from the overly common and overly dark atmosphere of the typical shooter and is also much more inviting. I would definitely recommend it. 8/10.
Community review by Lusio (December 15, 2008)
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