I love the smell of Napalm.
As a member of an elite mercenary group called Granite, you're sent out to the Angola coast to take care of some (ahem) business. However, after a particularly painful assault, you're left with almost nothing. Granite denies you reinforcements, then leaves you for dead. The surviving members decide to band together and form the Shadow Company, who's prime goal is to take revenge on Granite.
This is the premise of Shadow Company, a decent but buggy strategy game from Ubisoft. While it shines in the graphic, music, and gameplay arenas, it's brought down by its annoying camera and unpredictable game errors.
This game is similar in execution to Commandos: Behind Enemy Lines. You command a small band of mercenaries, who must sneak, hide, and shoot in order to complete each level. Of course, like most of these games, you can't just go into an enemy camp with guns blazing, and expect to survive. You must carefully strategize to achieve your goals. You can try to get to high ground and ambush your enemy; you can try to pick off border guards, throw a grenade to take them by surprise, set a C4 surprise when no one is looking, and so on. For any problem, there are lots of ways to solve it, making it more entertaining.
And you will be spending lots of time trying to figure out what is the best plan of action. Most of the levels will take over an hour and a half to complete, with at least half of the time spent trying to find the best position for your guys. It's really cool to form a plan, and then watch it work out the way you wanted it to.
Of course, with all of these cool things you can do, you need good controls to do them quickly and efficiently. Unfortunately, this game doesn't have the best. Although it's pretty easy to get your men to stand, kneel, or lie down on command, moving your party can be confusing and annoying. If you're moving four people, it's hard to tell exactly where they'll end up. They may go behind a hill where you want them, or in front of it, straight in the line of fire. Also, drawing a bead on your enemy or picking up items can be inaccurate due to fairly poor click detection on the screen. It's still possible to use your team effectively, but it takes a lot more work than it really should.
The same goes for the camera. Anyone who's played Mythwill recognize the basic camera movement keys: you can move it in the four basic directions, circle it left and right, turn it left and right, raise it, lower it, or tilt it. But, even with all these options, the camera doesn't turn well. When you circle the camera around a point, the point is much farther away than you'd expect, which makes you loose sight of your commandos quite often. This can be particularly annoying in the heat of battle, where it'll take you five seconds to adjust the camera so you can see your men. Meanwhile, the enemy is shooting you like fish in a barrel.
The graphics are decent, but not without flaws. The ground is well textured with grass, dirt, dead river beds, and so on, while the various bits of scenery (trees, tents, buildings, water) are detailed and very well rendered. Your commandos look pretty good, though their running animation looks sort of silly when they're running up hill. There are the occasional graphics glitches, and you can find guns and other objects passing straight through stone walls (Maybe it's some sort of special advanced military phasing device?), but overall these don't get in the way of gameplay. The sound is adequate with the standard bang-bangs, rat-a-tat-tats, and kablooies you're used to in this sort of game. The voices are a little annoying though, and occasionally unclear; for the first half hour, I though Lewis Underwood was saying "Nurse Underwood here".
Despite all of the good points, there is one thing which can make or break a game: whether or not it's stable. The first time I tried to play the game, the game refused to load. It just gave me a black screen, and didn't let me do anything. I was forced to Ctrl-Alt-Del my way out of it. Also, game glitches that kill off your men are frequent. Within half an hour of starting play, one of my guys got stuck in a wall, while a second was crushed/drowned while trying to get into a boat.
Although the game is pretty fun to play when it works, the loose controls and annoying crashes really bring it down. You'll have great fun for an hour before the game glitches and you throw your mouse at the wall. Shadow Companyis a good attempt, but sloppily done.