Reviews
Takedown: Red Sabre
Picking a Scab

By Seán O'Sullivan - March 2nd, 2014

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Takedown: Red Sabre has been designed to scratch a very particular itch. The late nineties saw the emergence of the squad-based tactical shooter, a genre well served with games in the Rainbow Six franchise, and Irrational’s sublime Swat 4. The hallmarks of the genre were an emphasis on careful planning, steady execution, and a sadistic lack of leniency. If your player character was lucky enough to survive a single bullet wound, his effectiveness would be so impaired that progress would be severely impacted.

By the time the HD console generation came around, there wasn’t much happening in the tactical shooter space. Sexed-up spinoffs like Rainbow Six Vegas made the genre more approachable, but the core loop of intense tension and planning punctuated with bursts of exactingly performed violence was a casualty in the “consolification”. Takedown developers Serellan LLC clearly shared my dismay at this wonderful genre falling by the wayside, and in their (successful) Kickstarter pitch, they dropped the right names, and espoused the right values, so I was keen to see what they delivered, almost two years later.

Takedown doesn’t make a very good first impression. After an inept menu system, I threw myself into the tutorial section. The tutorial itself is utilitarian and confers little knowledge; it’s bereft of imagination, taking place in the same “kill house” style law-enforcement training shack we’ve seen in every other game involving army bros or police dudes. I thought maybe the second training mission would be better, but confoundingly, it’s the exact same map, but with a different spawn point.

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Higgins immediately regretted taking Clarence out for Mexican earlier that day…

So, I start the first mission. The briefing tells me that we’re entering a “BioLab”, and that the bad guys are “dressed like” lab security, a conspicuous detail that made me think maybe this was going to be the start of a story of double-cross, misinformation, and intrigue. Moments later, I’m in a parking garage, clapping eyes on my first enemy, who has his back to me. My body tenses, I’ve got him dead to rights, and I can probably take him non-lethally. Just as it crosses my mind that the tutorial didn’t cover non-lethal take-downs, my squad-mates chime in. “Tango spotted” one of them cheerfully calls out – before they pump him full of lead. I review the controller mapping again, and see that the “Squad Rules of Engagement” toggle is a lie (yes, the controller map includes a feature that didn’t make the final game). Your only obligation is to kill them on sight.

After this bad first impression, things get worse. The game manages a level of game-play and graphical fidelity that seems to belong to its source inspiration from 15 years ago. For a game that stresses realism (or more appropriately, is marketed in such a way) it commits some egregious game-play sins. The enemy AI oscillates between suicidal stupidity and godly omniscience. Sometimes, a bad guy will be looking at their buddies flopping down dead around them as bullets crash through glass and flatten themselves against the furniture, but no instinct for self-preservation will kick in. Meanwhile, some guy across the map toting a pistol will hear your armor rustle from 800 metres and kill you and your squad-mates with one magic bullet. This lack of predictability makes the game feel more like it adheres to the whims of a random number generator than a reliable set of systems.

The technical issues also compound quickly. Your squad-mates can’t be issued commands, and are subject to the same AI SNAFUs as the enemy. They’ll bumble along behind you, often trapping you in tight quarters – on one occasion I was left with no choice but to execute one of the three who trapped me in a corner. A later mission involves rescuing hostages, which I knew would be an exercise in misery owing to the game’s inability to communicate what it wants of the player, in addition to its inability to play by its own rules. On my umpteenth try, when I successfully had rescued my first hostage, my AI squaddie announced “Tango Spotted”, and let rip with a hail of bullets that brought an end to the unarmed civilian in question, as well as my mission. These are just the standouts – there’s myriad pathing, clipping, audio glitches, and bugs in which weapons refuse to be raised after a player has walked too close to a wall (pro-tip: repeatedly grind up against the wall until your weapon reappears).

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That single, overturned chair ended up losing the team their quarry.

There is a “moreishness” to the game’s punishing game-play, and I got some enjoyment out of trying to exploit my way through a capriciously unfair opening section of a mission. This was a specific sort of masochistic pleasure that comes from limited success in an unfair game, and it was short-lived, giving way to tedium before long.

The game’s hapless mission design, and dearth of originality in its environmental selection would be acceptable if it had a solid game-play foundation; but the game offers little incentive to persevere, and there’s no narrative thread to entice the player along (even the menus are complicit – complete a mission, and you must “Exit Game” to cue the next mission). For every glimpse of the game that Takedown: Red Sabre could have been, there’s a dozen unfair deaths, a laundry list of technical issues, and the constant reminder that this game falls well short of the goals that it set for itself.

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7 + = nine