Elite Forces: Unit 77 (DS) review
"Considering that the enemies pose no threat, basic ammunition is unlimited, and you virtually trip over medkits around every corner, you’d think Elite Forces is an easy game, right? But it isn’t, simply because things go wrong. Maybe Bill will die because he got caught in front of a gatling gun and the constant stream of bullets prevented him from using a medkit. Perhaps Kendra will decide on her own to move forward a couple of feet and detonate a mine that T.K. was disabling. Weird flukes in the design and AI contradict Deep Silver’s effort to keep the interface clean and intuitive, and above all else, Elite Forces strikes me as a very inconsistent game."
Whenever we see a DS game that utilizes the touch screen significantly, especially in a genre that wouldn’t normally call for it, the ultimate question is whether stylus control was necessary, whether said control works for or against the game’s functionality. Just because the platform presents such an innovative feature doesn’t mean it must be put to use in a game that would benefit from a more conventional control scheme. The touch screen should really add something to the experience; it’s when we’re forced to pull out the stylus just to take advantage of the hardware that games seem to suffer.
I say this because Elite Forces: Unit 77 probably would have been more enjoyable if I were given more direct control over my characters. That’s not to say the touch screen setup is particularly flawed – for the most part, I have no qualms with the game’s functionality. But given the bland, repetitious nature of Elite Forces, the process of issuing commands to on-screen troops only works to further distance players from the action at hand. Deep Silver were evidently under the impression that they were developing an RTS, when Elite Forces is nowhere near sophisticated enough in design or interface to warrant such a label. One might loosely call it a tactical shooter, but even that’s a stretch, because there’s nothing remotely tactical about it.
You might surmise from the title that Elite Forces centers on a group of, say, four mercenaries called in to answer the threat of a hostile terrorist group when no one else is fit for the job. (That’s about as much time as the game spends with its plot.) The only area where the game offers the slightest bit of depth is in giving each of the four characters a unique ability. Dag is the patented “heavy weapons guy” whose bazooka can be used to take out targets too beefy to bring down with mere bullets. The interchangeable Bill and T.K. specialize in electronics and demolitions, respectively, and T.K. can operate vehicles as well, leading to some painful driving segments that I don’t want to talk about (but eventually will). Then there’s Kendra, who’s the sharpshooter of the group and must be on the lookout for enemy snipers or other targets that are out of others’ reach. She’s also the only female of the group, which is likely a move on Deep Silver’s part to instill political correctness in the title… but then she’s also the only member of the Elite Forces to wield a pistol instead of an assault rifle, because for sure her delicate frame is too fragile to handle one of those big, masculine automatic weapons.
Levels progress as you might expect them to, with the four members of your team juggling their abilities accordingly: Bill pushes buttons and opens gates, T.K. disassembles landmines, Kendra picks off watchmen from a distance, and Dag blows up tanks and eats raw meat (probably). All commands are issued via the stylus, and thankfully, Elite Forces’ interface avoids clutter and doesn’t give players “too much to do.” A sidebar makes it relatively easy to select characters, activate secondary attacks or use medkits, and your team distinguishes targets from destinations well. For the most part, Elite Forces has an easy learning curve and plays just fine.
It could be so much more engaging in practice, though. Despite giving each character frequent opportunities to shine, level objectives are rarely more complex than walking from one point to another and shooting anyone who happens to be standing in your way. Your adversaries are boring, unvaried and dumb, blindly stumbling into your line of fire and barely making a dent in one’s health bar before dropping dead. Your squad never runs out of ammo for their default weaponry, and an endless sea of supply crates will have you up to your neck in medkits and grenades wherever you go. Each mission plays out with the team sauntering over to their objective, stopping every few seconds to allow a few of the red dots on the radar to creep within shooting range. Elite Forces even allows you to divide your team into smaller groups or individuals, but never gives you a compelling reason to do so unless it’s required. Frequent changes in scenery (there’s a desert, a snowy mountain range, etc.) do little to distract from the monotony of the gameplay.
Considering that the enemies pose no threat, basic ammunition is unlimited, and you virtually trip over medkits around every corner, you’d think Elite Forces is an easy game, right? But it isn’t, simply because things go wrong. Maybe Bill will die because he got caught in front of a gatling gun and the constant stream of bullets prevented him from using a medkit. Perhaps Kendra will decide on her own to move forward a couple of feet and detonate a mine that T.K. was disabling. Weird flukes in the design and AI contradict Deep Silver’s effort to keep the interface clean and intuitive, and above all else, Elite Forces strikes me as a very inconsistent game. Your mercenaries can shoot enemies through certain solid walls, yet their bullets bounce off shrubbery. Your team’s AI will happily attract attention when it’s not needed (say, when Bill is tinkering with a control panel) but will hesitate to attack back when left alone and fired upon. Sometimes enemies stay dead; sometimes they’ll respawn in full force, packing areas you’ve already cleaned out. Elite Forces is a frustrating experience because it pulls you in with its simplicity but never functions the way it ought to.
The final nail in the coffin is the save system, which typically only grants players one checkpoint per level, so just getting there can be a struggle, and then you’ve got to decide when you should use it. (This will be one of those games where you'll die, realize that you've lost a half hour's worth of play time, and throw the game across the room in anger.) The final, final nail becomes apparent during those few instances in which you’ve got to operate vehicles. Navigating with the stylus can be awkward enough, and all of the vehicles tend to stop dead if you attempt too sharp a turn. What’s worse is that they’re incredibly fragile and buckle to bullets at an alarming rate, which makes them a useless mode of transportation when they’re optional and an absolute chore when they’re required. You’ve think an armored vehicle would be a little more, I don’t know, armored than this. Since there’s really no practical method of defending yourself while driving, all you can really do is race to your objective as quickly as possible and pray that you don’t die along the way.
What’s really sad is that the rest of Elite Forces is largely so bland and repetitive that I welcomed any effort on Deep Silver’s part to mix things up. The levels that have Kendra sniping enemy lookouts generate tension. Gun turrets and tanks aren’t particularly engaging to battle, but at least they force you to formulate new strategies. And yes, as much as the vehicle segments aggravated me, at least they were something different. It’s a shame, because the slick 3D graphics and stylish cutscenes suggest, at first, that a great deal of effort went into making Elite Forces. Too bad the bare-bones plot and bleak, inconsistent gameplay point in the other direction.
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