This review is going to be a somewhat alternative read. Takedown: Red Sabre is a game that started out with the admirable ambition to bring back the hardcore tactical shooter. A game that would harken to the early Ghost Recons, Rainbow Sixes and SWAT titles. A game that would allow us to time travel back to the late 90s when the genre was booming. Long before Call of Duty had come to influence the design of all other shooters. Takedown: Red Sabre did just that, it brought us back to the late 90s. Just not in a good way.
Initially we'd assigned Mike with reviewing the game. He tried his best, but he simply could not manage to get online to experience the core component of the game (though it seems that there was a hardware clash). Afterall, this is a co-op game, and as the partner AI in singleplayer is missing in action or dead on arrival (basically your squad mates just serve as extra lives in singleplayer), it's where you will find any level of tactical gameplay. Another colleague, GRTV's Halldor, managed to get online only to find the players incredibly abusive, while also experiencing numerous gameplay issues that prevented him from enjoying his time with the game. Abusive language alone isn't enough to keep us away, so we tried, tried, tried and tried again to get some meaningful online games going.
After many tries that involved the Steam server browser (that's only been made to work with the game as a quick-fix for the in-game browser issues) and manually typing in some IP numbers, we managed to get online on the same server. Playing a game of Attack and Defend (one team defends a bomb, the other tries to defuse it) with just a couple of other players proved a weird experience. The almost complete lack of guidance meant we spent the first few rounds figuring out the game mode and how to differentiate between the teams (no coloured gamertags over the characters here). And while the lack of assistance is in part a feature, there could certainly have been some better set up to encourage tactical play and planning.
After looking through guides, forum threads and the like, I managed to understand why there were no servers showing up within the games menus in spite of enabling all ports and disabling my firewall. The multiplayer of Takedown: Red Sabre is, simply put, severly broken at this point, and getting online is a meta game in and of itself.
Speaking of travelling back in time, Takedown: Red Sabre almost completely lacks any sort of presentation. While this can be a positive given the random nature of the game and how replayability is at the core of the experience, it also makes each scenario resemble a training exercise rather than a real-life situation. There's a definite disconnect and while all players might not need a setting, a more detailed briefing is something I'm sure many would appreciate. The fact that there is no information about what guns each loadout contains in the menu is baffling, and it seems as if the developers confused the hardcore with a complete lack of useful information. You go in blind and form your strategy and tactics as you go. And death being permanent in Takedown: Red Sabre, any mistake is costly. As it should be.
The visuals also remind us of the games we played ten years ago, only in higher fidelity. Looking at these screens really makes it look a whole lot better than it looked while playing. The empty, dead, generic looking locations, paired with the stiff animations of enemies and their often strange placements in the environments is simply not on par with what you'd expect from a modern shooter. Then again I think this is something that could easily have been overlooked if the mechanics, gameplay and artificial intelligence had been all been there. As we make our way across a vast and hauntingly empty cargo ship it dawns on me that the maps holds some promise. The handful of maps included could have been the foundation for some interesting co-op and competitive play had it not been for a multitude of issues elsewhere.
The mechanics are solid enough and true to its hardcore vision there is little hand holding. Lean, crouch, and no cover-system. There are no co-op moves (like breaching doors) and while this may feel a little bit unevolved, it also is part of the design that seeks to have the co-operative and tactical nature of the game come out organically rather than through set pieces or contextual actions.
If you want to be good with grenades you better start using them and get better with experience. However, when you can't be sure that a grenade makes a sound due to the glitchy nature of the sound effects, it can be a total game killer. Listening for footsteps becomes a game of chance.
We've touched on the lack of partner AI and meaningful tactical teamplay when in singleplayer, but the poor AI also extends to the randomly placed enemies spread out in the levels. Within the first hour of playing Takedown: Red Sabre we encountered things like AI chasing us through a door, looking straight at us and then turning their backs. We've seen AI run down a stairwell past us while holding onto their assualt rifle without firing a shot. The random placement of guards is nice in theory, but some patrol patterns and partial scripting would have made for a much more enjoyable experience. The experience is different from map to map, and the more open maps clearly leads to improved AI behaviour. Seeing a guard standing midway on some stairs, blankly staring at nothing, at an angle where he's not guarding the staircase from either direction is off putting. And when you're spawned in one of two starting points in a map just to be instantly shot and killed by a randomly placed enemy you know that the product simply hasn't been tested enough or iterated enough upon.
When working on this review I spent what felt like a majority of the time trying to join games or reading up on the issues other players were experiencing and the potential fixes out there. That takes me back to the pre-Pentium days of my gamer life, and it's not the kind of experience I expected even if this is a comparatively cheap game (which in my mind only excuses a smaller amount of content, not an unpolished experience).
The developers are naturally working hard to fix the most urgent issues with multiplayer and AI. Hopefully they'll be able to fix some of the other flaws found in the game, but even then it is clear that Takedown: Red Sabre isn't the game that's going to usher in a second golden age of tactical shooters, even if there are parts of it that show some promise. I could insert a joke here about Takedown being a letdown, but that would just add insult to injury.