Open doors, shout loudly, zip tie everything, be back in time for donuts.

The SWAT team. Though seemingly every police officer looks like they belong to one these days, the highly trained and disciplined unit makes for quite the depiction in film, TV, and video gaming. Specialised team members all reading from the same page, acting as one to strike hard and fast to apprehend a suspect or bring a situation to a close. One part military force, one part psychological chess match, there's a certain appeal about the way they go about things.

In theory, at least. Perhaps. If you ascribe to that way of thinking. What am I trying to say here? That a properly trained SWAT team is an incredible asset, and that SWAT 4 is here to show you how tough they've got it. Yeah, let's go with that.

First-person shooters are usually all about going in guns blazing. SWAT 4 is about never having a reason to shoot. Can you make that switch?

Fun Times

I knew very little about SWAT 4 before playing it but could make an educated guess as to what I was going to be getting up to because of the title. This would be a first-person shooter, sure, but it wouldn't just be a first-person shooter. There'd have to be more to it than that.

All SWAT officers need training, especially me, so I headed into the training mission to find out how capable I'd be with this game.

I'm, uh, just testing the flashbang's effectiveness. It is, uhm, effective, yes. SWAT 4 has the tools, and it has the attention to detail. Firing modes for your weapons, multiple grenade types, a delicately slow walk but a determined run toggle. I wouldn't say this was simulation territory, but it's heading there.

There's a lot of chatter from your instructor, and a lot of tooltips to read up on, but the general feel of the game is fairly simple. Every action you do preparing to enter a room is slow and deliberate, then there is a burst of activity as you shout at suspects to surrender or quickly incapacitate a threat before things calm down again and you methodically check off the to-do list: equip zip-ties, secure suspect, report it over the radio, set up for the next room.

I'm sure time-limits will come into play during the actual game, but until then, SWAT 4 plays not like a puzzle, but like something that requires planning in the same sort of way. You could charge in, I suppose, but you'll have a much better time not.

To prove that so, SWAT 4 brings your four squadmates into the range for you to order about. The right mouse button brings up a contextual menu of orders for your team to execute, and if an order is already cued up and the team is in position, the space bar will put the plan into action, your unit breaching a door, chucking in a flashbang and mopping up the scene.

At least I hope that's what happened. I couldn't see any of it. Everyone blinds themselves with a flashbang in the training mission, right?

As the mission continues, you learn to split up your squad and command both the Red and Blue team, sending team members elsewhere and watching their actions through their helmet-mounted cameras. A press of the Caps Lock key will zoom into that window and allow you to spin the view around a little as if you're controlling them like a puppet, and you can get to ordering them in more detail.

They'll enact their orders as best they can, leaving you free to boss about the other half of the unit. You could sit back and bark orders to each, letting them do most of the work. It probably won't be as effective or speedy, but at least you're less likely to flashbang yourself in the face.

There's even a police sniper who will chime in when he sees something of note, and again you can switch over to his view and pull the trigger yourself if that helps with your plan of attack. By the time this training mission was over, I was pumped to get these guys into the real world and put them through their paces.

After doughnuts, of course.

A lengthy briefing adequately explains our first mission (take that, Chaos Theory), where we can browse through the available information and get an idea of who we're going to approach these armed individuals. I'm not terribly sure what the best set up for each team member is, so I stick with the defaults and hope that I've remembered all my buttons as we get going.

Emerging from the SWAT van, I immediately split up the squad and send Blue team around the back while I get Red team to knock politely on the front door, by which I mean just bust through and shout loudly until the room is clear.

Already, SWAT 4 feels cool. I get the impression I'm going to be taking things much slower than intended, but I'm learning, and may even be on Easy mode, I can't remember.

In your usual first-person shooter, your main focus is on the middle of your screen, with the occasional darts to the minimap or your health and ammo indicators. In SWAT 4, you're going to need to dart over to the radio chatter to find out what your team is up to, and if you've split the teams, their view of the situation. Your eyes just can't be in all these places at once, and so you miss things, like this armed guy lying dead next to a van. At least I know Blue team are capable...

Upon noticing that there's more action going on in their area than mine, I focus on them for a little bit, noticing a civilian in need of restraining. You're told to tie everyone up, innocent or not, for your own safety. We'll sort out the innocent folks later. Until then, get zipping. But remember, you don't personally have to press the 'H' key to get your cuffs out if the Blue team are ones doing the cuffing. That's just me confusing two first-person views going on at once.

You'd have thought that all this commotion would alert the rest of the establishment, but apparently not. We make our way through the rooms and corridors at our own pace. So long as you do things right, you'll be fine. Again, I'm sure there will be time constraints eventually, but not here.

Recognising this suspect, I make sure to tie him up before he escapes. He mutters something to me, probably pleading his innocence, but now is not the time to engage in conversation. There's plenty more work to be done, and I set about ordering the team to keep moving.


Or I tried to. They were smart about stacking up and getting ready next to a door, but absolutely useless when it came to opening it. Maybe I issued the wrong order, or perhaps they don't have the right tools to get through (surely everyone is packing a lockpick, no?). Whatever the reason, it looked a little clunky and resulted in me doing most of the work on the safe side of the door, and them doing the work on the other.

Once I spotted it happening, it seemed to be the case with every door I dared look at and going through the rooms I noticed that my squad had some trouble pathing around the place, too, getting caught on the scenery until I wiggled them out of it. Not exactly a good look for a highly trained specialist.

Checking our objectives, we've just got to find a MAC 10 that these guys have been making even more lethal, and then the mission is complete.

Only it doesn't complete. I run back to the SWAT van and it still doesn't complete. Turns out you just head into your pause menu and hit the Debrief button when you're done. Most unusual. I didn't get a perfect score, but I got more than I needed and that's good enough for me.

I enjoyed that. It seems I've enjoyed a lot of the games I've been playing recently. I can't get enough of them. I'm going into the next mission. Hostages! Clearly described hostages (another dig at Chaos Theory there, don't know if you got that).

Further Fun Times

This woman absolutely refuses to be arrested, to the point where it almost looks like she's bugged, which is sadly something I suspect, seeing as my squad got stuck on a garden wall just trying to get to the back door. If you resort to violent methods when arresting someone, your score drops, but I couldn't figure out a way of actually dealing with her.

Chucking a rubber pellet grenade crossed my mind, I will admit, but I thought there must surely be a better way. Until I worked it out, I had the Red team stare at her while I took the Blue team through the rest of the house.

The suspect gave up quite quickly, showing more concern for his mother who still refuses to be arrested. It's a line of dialogue you can easily miss, but it shows that these folks, flawed though they may be, are human and that even in a high-pressure situation like this, you've got to try to treat them as such.

It's not long before we start to find hostages, with one that we are looking for in particular.

The main hostage secured, we need to sweep the rest of the house and find out how to arrest this old lady. Maybe she's the mastermind behind all this. I doubt it. I highly doubt it. But the book says she needs cuffing.

Remember when I said that your eyes couldn't be in three places at once? Sometimes your ears can help you out. They, nor my eyes, helped me out on this occasion. It was only after the fact, when combing through these screenshots, that I noticed a male suspect spoke out, clearly notified of our presence in the area.

Where he was and what he was up to I obviously had no idea - I didn't hear him amongst the chatter of Blue team shouting that the room was clear, and obviously didn't read the chat log, even with its different text colours to indicate groups of speakers.

And so, this happened:

He shot me. I actually saw him grab and raise a gun, but I was doing so well on the not shooting anyone that I refused to believe it was happening. That and all of this was taking place in just a few short seconds (or regular seconds, but they felt shorter). After all that care, all that planning, I stumbled into a room after making the mistake of thinking it'd be safe, then looked the wrong way at the wrong time and paid the ultimate price.

And I want to do it all over again. Apart from the ending, obviously.

Final Word

SWAT 4 has me hooked. Twenty or so missions, multiplayer modes, five-player co-op campaign, and an expansion that gives you even more, including the capability of ten players joining forces into one super SWAT unit...? Yeah, SWAT 4 has me hooked.

I doubt I'll ever get around to playing it with anyone other than myself, but what a package for those who wanted a tactical first-person shooter that required teamwork.

It's a shame that there are some pathing issues and teething troubles, but I think you'll learn to overcome them. I hope you will, at least. I'd hate to lose a mission because someone got stuck in a bush at the start of the level, though the Wikipedia entry does quote a few reviews regarding bumbling AI.

SWAT 4 doesn't wow in every aspect of what it does, but it offers so much to sink your teeth into that it really is worth a play regardless. I don't want to say there's nothing like it because I assume there are at least 3 other games that are like it, and I know there are some modern top-down takes on kicking in doors, appropriately called Door Kickers.

Being in a SWAT or SWAT-like unit isn't new, then, but it's done so well here that you shouldn't care.

Fun Facts

SWAT 4 is actually part of a larger series of games dating back to 1987's Police Quest.

SWAT 4, developed by Irrational Games, first released in 2005.
Version played: SWAT 4: Gold Edition, PC, 2006.