Black Hawk Down: Team Sabre
Take down drug lords on foot and in the air in this tactical shooter...
Black Hawk Down from VU Games Mobile is the latest in a long line of top-down action titles to grace handsets - nearly every publisher has gotten into the act. I was pleasantly surprised by this one, however. It doesn't radically depart from the formula, but its varied gameplay and team dynamic did keep the experience feeling fresh and fun.
As the Black Hawk Down moniker implies, half of Team Sabre's action takes place in air. From your chopper you control the aiming reticle of a perpetually-firing machine gun, taking out land-based targets including tanks, anti aircraft, and plenty of Iranian or Cambodian grunts. The chopper itself circles around the level on it's own, on a pre-set path. None of the chopper missions are particularly difficult or deep, but the arcade-influenced action does a great job of breaking up the more tactical on-foot sections.
Team Sabre itself is made up of three individuals - a engineer, a sniper, and an assault-rifle toting grunt. As expected, each has his own special strengths. The engineer is the only team member that can see (and defuse) mines, and use medpacks to heal squadmates. The sniper can case the entire level, as well shoot enemies from long range. The grunt acts as an all-purpose lead dispenser and damage sponge.
Unlike most of BHD's mobile peers, levels are designed in such a way that you really do feel naked and at a disadvantage if one of your squadmates is killed. Without the sniper you have no choice but to get up close and personal to deal damage, and you can't see what lies off-screen. Without your engineer you just have to guess where mines are placed. And a sniper/engineer combo leaves you without the necessary firepower. It's still possible to clear missions down a man, but it's a harrowing experience. You really will need to utilize all three repeatedly.
The on-foot gameplay itself is hampered by a strange design decision, unfortunately. Instead of moving your selected character with the movement arrows, this instead moves an on-screen cursor. Press the center button, and the player moves to the highlighted spot. If the cursor is over an enemy, exploding barrel, etc., you can fire your weapon, assuming you're in range.
This makes simple tasks like moving all three teammates over one screen an oddly complex process. Move the cursor to the desired spot, hit ok. Press 0 to toggle to the next teammate, move the cursor over again. And then repeat a third time. This system makes combat equally awkward. I would frequently move my grunt into position in front of an enemy, only to learn that I was slightly out of range. So then I had to drag the cursor to a closer spot of land, hit ok to move, then back over the enemy, finally allowing me to fire at him. Frustrating.
It's good to see a mobile developer not automatically defaulting to an auto-aim system like virtually every other title out there, but unfortunately this cursor-control seems equally half-baked. It keeps the action more tactical, with frequent teammate switching, instead of being a run 'n gun experience, which was most likely developer Damoni's intention, however.
Still, Black Hawk Down is an enjoyable tactical action experience. It's lengthy, to boot. The helicopter and on foot segments could probably each stand on their own as a mobile release. I'm not quite willing to entirely forgive the cursor clunkiness, but at least it prevents the game from being "just another shooter."
What's Not: Awkward Movement. Repetitive objectives