Have you got a warrant?
L.A. is a fine city isn't it? Pollution, drive-by shootings, sick Hollywood executives - it just brings a smile to my green face (psssst...that's where your editor is from. I think you'll review Extreme Paintbrawl next...- Ed.). Los Angeles even has one of the most despised police forces in America, second only to Chicago. LAPD - the name strikes nausea into the hearts of the free everywhere.
Sierra (also a name that carries some infamy) has in it's wisdom seen to create a tactical, first-person 3D action game based on fictional exploits of the elite SWAT division of the LAPD. Oddly, it's turned out to be the best thing anyone has made in the genre since Rainbow Six: Rogue Spear. Hmm, maybe this review was totally off base with the aforementioned dissin' of LA's boys in blue...
DISCLAIMER: Game-Revolution actually has nothing whatsoever against the LAPD and would like to thank them for time and time again bailing us out of yet another drunken rape/theft/larceny/unmentionable situation. We would especially like to thank them for saving us from the Pokemon tag-team vampires at least year's Electronic Entertainment Expo, which, as you all know, is held in the LA Convention Center.
SWAT 3 Close Quarters Battle casts you in the role of a SWAT operative in command of a squad during a chaotic L.A. week in the near future. An event drawing political and religious leaders from all across the globe has made L.A. an inviting snack for the masses of world terrorists. It is your job to put an end to terror, save your fellow citizens, bail out a few dignitaries, and kill some rancid tangos.
To those ends, SWAT 3 plunges you into a first person perspective and sets you off on some tension-filled assaults against nasty, un-American, political-fear-tactics inspiring criminal elements. Weapons, equipment, and situations are all based closely on the actual thing and the atmosphere is one of brutal realism, a feeling that creates a palpable sensation of drama and danger that rivals even the classic Rainbow Six games.
But unlike Rainbow Six, SWAT 3 makes you a cop, not a soldier. Your objective is not only to kill. Often it is preferable to shoot the gun out of a tango's hand so that you can cuff him - the boys downtown can wring him for information (not pictured in the game, but you have to think like a cop). You can go by the book and always call out for surrender before you attempt action. Or, you can ruthlessly soften up a room with a little machine gun fire and shoot through the walls (which is possible given SWAT 3's extremely accurate ballistics model) to kill any living thing inside - in the name of justice, naturally.
That extra element of protocol, duty, and mission focus makes SWAT 3 the FPS that finally gets you to think in a manner other than simply, "Killing is good, I like to kill. I have many posters of Duke Nukem. What would the Duke do here? I think he would kill. I think I should kill. The Duke would..."
If one word can describe the general focus SWAT 3's design, that word would be 'dynamic.' Before each mission, the enemies and hostages are randomly placed, which creates uncertainty and ups the replay value. The excellent AI for both the criminals and your squad-mates further completes the equation. There is also no complex strategic planning and waypoint system as in Rainbow Six, which forces you to react more to the moment and make judgments on the fly.
The environment is not stable, no two attempts are alike, and you can only win by being able to react to whatever challenges this uncertain world throws at you. That alone takes the gameplay in SWAT 3 to an extremely high level. Combined with the other complexities of your mission, SWAT 3 can at times be almost sublime.
In order to kill, or not kill, or save, or whatever, SWAT 3 employs a modified version of the graphics engine used first in Gabriel Knight 3 to power the game's in-mission visuals. Excellent animation, texturing, modeling, and a focus on close-in, tight environments create a feeling of almost total realism. The geometry may not be able to rival Quake 3, but SWAT 3 creates more of a feeling of actually 'being there' than any game since the original Unreal. This further helps to draw you into the action, and, combined with the excellent production values in the audio department, makes SWAT 3 about as immersive as it gets.
Although gameplay in SWAT 3 is meritorious, and your job is noble, it only your job alone - no one else's. For as good as it is, SWAT 3 is sadly maligned by an utter lack of multiplayer features. Although such an omission is acceptable in certain forms of single player gameplay (such as in the case of Omikron), it is completely unforgivable in a game such as this, which screams for multiplayer out of every orifice. Sierra has stated that they will be releasing a separate, multi-player only SWAT 3 product soon, but charging another $40 for something that should have already been included in the package is the height of the cynical corporate business model at work today in the gaming industry.
Complaints about Sierra's questionable ethics aside, SWAT 3 is a winner. The single player gameplay is varied enough to keep your attention for a good long time, and while it has you, you will be pleased. It is a sad fact that SWAT 3 is incomplete, as it would have been unstoppable if they had finished it. However, it still deserves your attention. If you only play multiplayer, then wait for the expansion. If you, like most people, really only play single player, then grab SWAT 3 with all deliberate speed. It may be truncated, but justice sure is tasty. Now only if they let me pull over motorists, beat them, and start riots....