Review: Elite Forces: Unit 77 (DSiWare)

Definitely forcing it

On paper, Elite Forces: Unit 77 sounds great. A number of high-profile and wealthy individuals have gone missing all over the world, and it's correctly assumed that this is just the first step in a global terrorist plot. Desperate, the world turns to a renegade troop of no-nonsense butt-kickers: Unit 77.

Unit 77 consists of four unique personalities, each filling a decidedly cliché — but certainly useful — role in the team: there's the firearms expert, the explosives expert, the hacker, and the woman who wears revealing tank tops. Oh, also, she's a sniper.

Throughout the course of the game you'll need to use their disparate abilities to battle your way through various exotic landscapes, taking down waves of enemies and scouring the land for ammo and healing items. Sounds great, doesn't it?

The opening video serves to ramp up the promise inherent in that concept even further, each team member getting a flash of biographical text that punctuates a scene of them acting appropriately hardcore. Amusingly, Bill the hacker's scene involves him using his mad programming skills to score a free can of soda from a vending machine. It's all very over the top, and it's all very fun, promising a fast-paced, frantic outing with a team composed entirely of Brock Samson clones.

Unfortunately, the game disappoints you almost as soon as it begins, as the ropey gameplay is an enormous obstacle to enjoyment.

As stated, your goal is to battle — and sometimes, though not usually, think — your way through various battlefields, navigating treacherous terrain, cruising around in vehicles, disarming mines, and taking down enemies in a hail of explosions and / or gunfire. As you might imagine, with so much going on, tight controls are a must. And this is where Elite Forces: Unit 77 shows its weakness.

The controls use both the buttons and the stylus, and that gets overwhelming very quickly. Even if you do manage to commit all the control functions to memory — which requires a good deal of trial and error — it's unlikely that you'll ever quite master the stylus end of things, and as the stylus performs all the most important, lifesaving actions, that's a huge problem.

Elite Forces: Unit 77 seems to be trying to take a page from the book of The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass, but its execution here leaves a lot to be desired. Walking around is controlled similarly to that excellent Zelda title, and you fire upon your enemies by pressing on them, but the camera slides around far too much in the course of gameplay for you to keep steady aim, and with such small areas that become very crowded very quickly, your stylus may no longer be in the correct place, causing your character to stop firing without you realising it until he or she falls down dead.

The slower-paced sections of the game control well enough. If you're simply firing upon boxes or other stationary targets, there's little worry about accuracy. But Elite Forces: Unit 77 far prefers combat scenarios, which would normally be a good thing, but in this case it only forces you to depend more heavily upon an unreliable control scheme. In gunfights where every second counts, Elite Forces: Unit 77 makes fast reactions difficult, and you'll find yourself taking damage because your team is no longer obeying your commands. We'd like to think that that's just the Unit 77 crew reminding you how little respect they have for authority, but more likely it's just sloppy programming.

A game like this should shine at its brightest during combat, but here it all but becomes unplayable. Taking hits from minor enemy soldiers is more a nuisance than a real problem, but when you come up against one of the game's better-armed boss characters, it can result in one unfair death after another.

The vehicle sections are another weak point, as the controls feel loose and oddly disorienting. Kendra's sniper rifle handles like it's been coated with melted butter, and while we're sure the game is attempting to simulate the difficulty of accurate sniper shots, the swinging and sliding camera just feels like an unfair and unnecessary complication.

Elite Forces: Unit 77 isn't a total loss, though. The visual presentation is crisp, and though its muted palette might seem a touch lazy it's totally appropriate for its warzone setting. The music, likewise, is good if not memorable, and in a game with more satisfying combat it would serve well to get your adrenaline pumping.

It's also nice that the four protagonists are clearly enough delineated from each other that they actually feel like a team, rather than a simple group of soldiers. They each have different weapons and can collect and use different items, so strategising is a must, and in the non-combat sections Elite Forces: Unit 77 allows team members to assist each other in interesting ways. It's the fighting that's a chore, and, unfortunately, fighting represents the bulk of the game.

There's a multiplayer option available as well, which works well enough and will extend the life of the game for anybody out there who truly desires such a thing, but we think that most players will lose interest long before that becomes an issue. There's also an option to replay single missions that you've already completed, but it's unlikely that wrestling with such an unwieldy control scheme is going to be something you'll really want to revisit.

Conclusion

Elite Forces: Unit 77 is a game let down by its own control scheme. The concept is sturdy and the distinct personalities and abilities of the characters lend a small amount of rotating variety to the gameplay, but the overall experience suffers from unintuitive and unreliable controls. A multiplayer feature means friends who do enjoy it can enjoy it together, but it's more likely that you'll turn to a less frustrating experience instead.

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