Matt Keller
23 Nov, 2005

Without Warning Review

PS2 Review | Without excitement, too.
Constantly working on one franchise can take its toll on developers as Adrian Smith and Jeremy Heath-Smith found at Core Design, having worked on Tomb Raider for a number of years. Taking 32 team members with them, the Core Design founders formed Circle Studio, and started work on Without Warning. With original titles not doing as big a business as they did in years past, especially those from independent studios the UK, does Without Warning have what it takes to make gamers take notice? The answer is rather cookie cutter – much like the game; no.

That’s not to say that Without Warning doesn’t try anything new – we have to give the developer credit on the concept upon which the rest of the game is based, even if said game isn’t that fun to play. Much like the popular television show 24, Without Warning is focused around showing a story from multiple perspectives across a timeline, though it would have been cooler if the game stole the real time element, but we’ll have to wait for Sony’s game for that. The basic premise is that a terrorist group, lead by a rather nasty French Canadian (probably a pesky Quebec separatist - Ed), has conducted an armed takeover of the Peterson-Daniels chemical facility. The facility is set up in a prime location for terrorist activities, given that any damage to the plant could claim the lives of millions of people and cause massive ecological damage for generations to come. With the terrorist group having taken several hostages, and making all sorts of threats, an anti terror unit is dispatched, and this is where the player comes in.

"Damn terrorists stole my doughnuts"

"Damn terrorists stole my doughnuts"
The anti-terror team’s entrance to the chemical facility is much like a similar scene in The Rock – they get completely obliterated. Three members of the team survive, but are stuck in separate parts of the facility – each must clear certain objectives for the others, so they can rescue the hostages and accomplish their main objective – assassination of the terrorist leader. Spread amongst the other parts of the facility are other important (and thus playable) characters – a veteran security guard (who happens to be an ex-cop), a secretary and later on, an overly enthusiastic camera man. While it seems like a good idea to have a wide variety of character types in this sort of situation, rather than the typical soldier grunts we’ve come into in generic military shooter games over the years, Without Warning seems to lose something in the process of putting these ideas into a compelling videogame.

The 6 characters can be lumped into two groups – those that can take the terrorists toe to toe, and those that need to use stealth. The guys who can bear arms have a distinct advantage when it comes to firepower, as the regular civilians are completely useless when it comes to weaponry – that is, when they actually get to use some. The stealth bits are ill-conceived and wrought with balance issues; there are just too many well armed soldiers to deal with, and the patchy mechanics are of very little assistance. The military guys’ and the security guard’s sections of the game are bog standard run and gun gameplay, made particularly easy by an abundance of health pickups and a lock on button. The game’s characters are restricted to the weapons they have on them at the start, which is particularly annoying – you’d think that the security guard who’s just armed with a pistol might want to opt for some form of automatic, especially the large number dropped by the enemies he disposes of. The weapons available to each character aren’t exactly balanced either; Rivers’ automatic takes about five shots to kill a guy, while Hooper’s takes three, yet Reagan, whose armed with an automatic shotgun, needs to use three to five shots to kill a guy.

Workplace bullying reaches new extremes

Workplace bullying reaches new extremes
The idea for multiple perspectives seems pretty good on paper, but Circle Studio has completely botched the execution here. Rather than having an organised flow to the series of events, the developer has decided to basically force you to play each section from every character’s point of view. This means having to sit through poorly conceived plot events and painstaking dialogue multiple times while you play through each person’s part – it’d have been better if they just left out the repeated conversations, and dropped your character off at the relevant points, or even switched characters mid missions so that you could perform the task that helps the other character get to their objective. Each character generally has objectives linked to their main role in the plot – Reagan has to dispose of various bombs and other traps, while the other military guys and the security guard have to eliminate the terrorist and secure the hostages; the two civilian characters just need to escape (or in the case of the camera man, get some footage on the way). Mini-games are spread liberally throughout the game, and generally involve unlocking doors and disarming bombs; while they’re nothing we’ve not seen before, they’re still functional, if unremarkable.

Without Warning doesn’t really have much to offer in the longevity stakes; the main game lasting only around half a dozen hours. The story never really gives you much of a reason to keep playing on – it’s just straight up, and rather generic at that. What about a few twists and turns and a bit of drama? Give me a reason to care about these people I’m trying to rescue! With only the one difficulty level, and no multiplayer to speak of, there’s very little to come back to after the main narrative has run its course.

Long pipes...green smoke...isn't this supposed to be a rescue mission?

Long pipes...green smoke...isn't this supposed to be a rescue mission?
The game’s strengths lay mainly with its presentation. The menu interface is easy to navigate, and the on screen displays are very useful, especially the map (which you’ll end up having on screen every 2 minutes). Without Warning does a good job of reproducing the scenery you’d expect to encounter inside a chemical plant, and gives everything a rather dark overtone, which makes for some good atmosphere. Character models are of a reasonably good quality with a few minor exceptions – the secretary has…rather deformed assets, and the variety of appearances for the terrorists could have been increased, given the number you encounter throughout the game. Sound is really quite mixed – the voice acting is awful, with each line of terribly written dialogue delivered with unnecessary levels of tension (regardless of the situation), and while the soundtrack is forgettable, the developer has really delivered with the game’s sound effects, which are crisp and intense, especially the firing noises and explosions. Without Warning features a 60 Hz mode, but no surround sound.

You have to admire the developer for trying to do something new in Without Warning – it’s just a pity they didn’t manage pull it off. The problem is that they’ve really gone the wrong way about implementing the timeline system they’ve envisioned by forcing players to replay the same bits over and over, while being force fed substandard bursts of action in between weak story segments. It’s frustrating, and over a bit too quickly and never really provides any inspiration for a second run through. Expect to see this one in the bargain bin in a month.
The Score
Without Warning is a game that had a lot of potential in its concept, but a few solid ideas can't make up for poor gameplay. 4
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

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  Capcom Entertainment
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