Raven Squad: Operation Hidden Dagger Review

By Darryl Kaye on September 11, 2009

Raven Squad is the debut game from Hungarian developer, Atomic Motion. After seeing a gap in the market, they decided to take the popular first-person shooter genre, and mix it with real-time strategy to create an interesting blend of gameplay styles. Is Raven Squad a strategic victory for Atomic Motion, or have they walked into a minefield?

The game focuses around the exploits of six mercenaries that are lead by a man named Paladin, who seems to have the obligatory conscience. After undertaking what appears to be a relatively simple mission, they are shot down and shortly after lose communications with their OC. Fortunately there is a civilian on-hand who offers them intelligence on the condition that they rescue her from the camp she's stationed in.

It's all very generic and forgettable, and while this type of game doesn't necessarily need a blockbuster script, it would have been nice to see a storyline that was slightly more original. This isn't aided at all by characters that are almost lifeless and devoid of anything that would make players want to be remotely interested in why they're doing what they're doing.

Gameplay in Raven Squad is probably the most unique aspect. Players can switch between playing the game in first-person mode where they can take control of one squad member at a time, or in a top-down mode where the two squads can be ordered around like in a real-time strategy game. It actually works pretty well as a basic premise, but neither mode is particularly good on its own. The controls in the first-person mode are very unresponsive and sometimes having the extra level of control is more of a hinderance than aid. It also seems that when entering in first-person mode, the rest of the squad seems to be completely incapable of doing anything remotely useful. There is also a severe lack of squad commands available, as it's only possible to do a movement command that places the other squad on top of the squad the player is in control of.

When using the top-down mode it's possible to be much more strategic, but victory generally depends on the competancy of the AIs shooting. Sometimes it's possible to get completely wiped out when it's all six of Raven Squad against three generic soldiers and it will leave players wondering what just happened. When trying to use both of the modes together, the game can become quite frustrating, as tactics must be set in motion in the RTS mode, and to be carried out effectively, the FPS mode must then be engaged. However, changing tactics on the fly is much more difficult than it needs to be as it involves switching modes constantly due to the inability to perform any strategic commands in the FPS mode. It really detracts from the action and promotes the notion that just using one mode will be more productive.

Each of the soldiers has their own unique weapons and a special ability. The special ability has a limited use, but it can be stocked up throughout the level. It makes every soldier necessary and it's a good aspect of the game, as every soldier is good for something, they aren't just there to make up the numbers. However, having so many soldiers also has disadvanges. If a soldier is downed in combat, they can be revived and this isn't much of a problem. However, if multiple soldiers are downed, it can take a considerable amount of time to revive them all and when in FPS mode, the AI can't be commanded to do so. This means the player must use RTS mode, which then means the soldiers are more vulnerable to the opposition due to their suspect AI.

From the perspective of presentation, the game has numerous problems. This ranges from filters in the FPS mode taking too long to render when using precision aiming, to there being frame-rate drops during cutscenes. Bugs are also quite prevalent in the game, and it's disappointing to see. Soldiers killed inside vehicles warp 3-4 metres away and appear on the floor, while sometimes bodies just disappear through the floor. Sometimes allied soldiers that are downed also get stuck in ridged upright positions. The enemy AI is also very questionable. Sometimes they don't even realise a player is standing directly in front of them, they run into dead-ends and they will sometimes shoot in completely the wrong direction. The animation of characters is also very poor, especially in cutscenes. When speaking, literally only their mouths move and it honestly looks like something that would be expected from a PlayStation One game. The voice acting is equally terrible, and some of the accents will just make players cringe. Xian, the character who provides intelligence, is probably the best example of how bad the voice acting really is.

To compound the flaws this game has, the campaign is ridiculously short. It only took just over 2 hours to complete, with missions on average lasting between 10-15 minutes. Upon completing missions, items are unlocked such as concept art, but there's nothing for players to really get their teeth in to. There is also the option to play through the campaign co-operatively with a friend via System Link, or online, but there isn't really any incentive to do so.

Final Thoughts

Raven Squad tried to do something different, and it should be commended for this. However, the result is a poorly constructed game that will leave players with very little satisfaction. It's bad example of a first-person shooter and a bad example of a real-time strategy game and it's difficult to recommend this title to anyone.

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