Matt Keller
26 Feb, 2006

SWAT4: The Stetchkov Syndicate Review

PC Review | PALGN's continues its war against crime in the world's first review of the SWAT4 expansion.
Unlike their console equivalents (Dynasty Warriors not withstanding), PC games have long enjoyed the benefits of expansion packs, particularly for more popular games. The offerings in expansion packs tend to be dependent on the genre in which the original game is based, but most developers tend to add a sizeable amount of content to their title for a reasonable price. Some developers over time, however, have treated their expansion packs as an excuse to get players to cough up money for what is essentially a glorified patch with minimal new content.

Irrational’s SWAT4 was the company’s second first person shooter effort in all of about 6 months (the rather competent Tribes: Vengeance hit in late 2004). The game was a big success for Sierra (well, Vivendi really), spawning a sizeable community and picking up a lot of good ratings – including a very respectable 7.5/10 from yours truly. With an active community, it was only a matter of time before a SWAT4 expansion pack was developed.

SWAT4: The Stetchkov Syndicate is a bit of a return to the roots of the series, with one of the main additions being an overriding plot which connects the missions. While the lack of a plot was one of our favourite things about SWAT4, many fans of the earlier entries in the series felt that a plot was necessary, and Irrational were happy to oblige. Fortunately, they’ve done a decent job of assembling a plausible storyline – players will start off taking routine missions, but will begin to find evidence of an increase in illegal arms activity driven by the Stechkov Syndicate.

SWAT discovers Luke's stash

SWAT discovers Luke's stash
Seven new single player missions have been added for the expansion pack. Novice SWAT4 players are going to find themselves overwhelmed quite quickly – these missions use the final mission of the original game as a base for difficulty, and build from there. The first mission is routine, with a barricaded hostage situation taking place in an arcade, but once players arrive on the scene, they’ll find that the gunmen are much more heavily armed than expected. The second mission flows much like the first, making them not unlike the missions offered in SWAT4, but once gamers catch on to the trail of the Stetchkov Syndicate, they’ll find that the proceedings become increasingly complicated, and a greater level of care needs to be taken in dealing with the stronger threat. The variety of mission locations has been pumped up, with the SWAT team venturing to arcades, subway stations, church missions, drug labs and even a good ol’ warehouse.

The Stetchkov Syndicate also expands the commands that the leader can issue. The new Hold/Initiate command is excellent for increasing the synchronisation of multiple entry assaults on a single room – players just need to hold control when issuing an order to make their sub-team wait for further orders. In combination with the improved AI from the 1.1 patch, this extra command should make the difficult new missions go a little smoother. Another crucial addition to the game is the melee attack, which helps subdue those who are resisting arrest without the risk of exceeding the damage threshold and killing the suspect. The disappointing thing about the melee attack is that it lacks any real sense of impact when you hit a suspect (there’s no sound attached), and the animation is rather horrid. You’ve got to use it to pull them into line, especially when a few perps tend to get fresh with you, and pick up the weapon they’ve dropped if you don’t keep an eye on them, and restrain them.

PALGN's offices are looking a little worse for wear

PALGN's offices are looking a little worse for wear
Weaponry and support items have also gained a boost, with seven new weapons and three new gadgets added for deployment. The new weapons include the 5x7x28mm sub machine gun, which offers a good compromise between weight and firepower (lighter than your bigger machine guns, but enough power to put down an armoured perp – a personal favourite), the Colt accurised rifle, 5.56 light machine gun (which is more of a military weapon), a 48x46mm grenade launcher for the Rambos out there, a 9mm machine pistol, the Mark 19 .50 semi auto pistol – for the Bullet Tooth Tony wannabes, and finally, the Cobra stun gun, which fires two little wires into the suspect, and then sends a lovely little surge of electricity into the system (Not good for those with pacemakers – Ed.). On the accessories front, lightsticks are now available for the torch haters, while the ammo pouch can be used in place of a grenade slot (handy if you’re a little trigger happy). Finally, night vision goggles are available for those still afraid of the dark.

Multiplayer hasn’t been ignored in The Stetchkov Syndicate, with the new Smash and Grab game type, in which the Suspects must find a briefcase within the level and secure an exit for it, while the SWAT team tries to prevent the case from leaving. Unfortunately, we didn’t have an opportunity to try this out at the time of writing due to a lack of multiplayer servers. Co-operative play has been greatly expanded, with up to 10 people now able to participate in missions. Customised missions can also be played in co-op mode now, greatly expanding its long term value. Voice over IP has also been integrated into the game, making the discussion of strategy that little bit easier, provided you’ve got the bandwidth to handle it.

SWAT4: The Stetchkov Syndicate is a very competent expansion pack which offers a decent amount of new content for those who weren’t quite finished with their SWAT adventures. The new missions are tough, and should give the more experienced fans something to challenge themselves with, while the expanded accessories and arsenal are quite cool. It’s a bummer that the new melee attack is so limp – we’d really have expected a bit more force behind our police brutality. Nevertheless, if you enjoyed SWAT4, chances are The Stetchkov Syndicate will facilitate further enjoyment for some time to come.
The Score
The Stechkov Syndicate is an expansion worthy of the praise of SWAT4 fans, even if it is a little prohibitive for newcomers. 7
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

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