Takedown: Red Sabre | Hands-On: ‘A Tactical Blast from the Past’

Published on September 17th, 2013

One hit kills? Random AI spawns? Just what the doctor ordered.

We may sound like the old buggers that we are when we say this but, squad shooters have gotten a lot easier over the years. Back in the day the likes of Ghost Recon, Rainbow Six and our personal favourite SWAT 3 pushed more than just a gamer’s reflexes when it came to quashing terrorist/criminal threats. Gamers had to use their brains and genuine tactical nous to overcome scenarios by checking corners, choosing the right equipment and watching carefully for potential flanking manoeuvres in levels which were large, open and full of different combat potential.

For whatever reason, these kinds of experiences slowly faded away with twitch-centric, corridor-orientated Call of Duty-a-likes taking their place, but for one game at least that tide has been turned. Takedown we hope is the first in a new breed of hardcore tactical shooters where one bullet often means the difference between life and death.

The core game is split into two components – a scenario-based co-op  mode where players take part in objective-based missions, and predictably enough competitive multiplayer. Serellan recently took us through both areas of the game during a press demo last week and we were shocked at just how fast-paced this shooter was.

As part of a five-man team with developers in tow, we took on a couple of missions. The first took place in an office complex and involved recapturing kidnapped civilians while the second featured three bombs that needed to be defused before our team could be audaciously extracted via helicopter. Despite working as a closely knit combat unit – communicating often, clearing rooms cautiously and watching entry and exit points – we were still rumbled by the AI at our first attempt and picked off one by one.

Takedown: Red Sabre | Hands On: A Tactical Blast from the Past

Like the original Rainbow Six games, before Ubisoft got obsessed with Vegas, Takedown features enemies which randomly spawn whenever a level is loaded, and as you’d expect they react intelligently to sight and sound, and accurately appraise when is right to attack and when is best to retreat and regroup. We saw this finely tuned simulated intellect in action multiple times during our playthrough, and it proved surprisingly eerie taking part in protracted gun battles against multiple enemies where we advanced on enemy positions to find that they had retreated elsewhere. The huge nature of Takedown‘s level design means that this is a viable tactic, enabling enemies to are hang patiently waiting for the perfect moment to attack. Of course the sneaky AI are governed by the same objectives as you are, effectively funneling both parties into mission critical areas faster, but still Takedown‘s mission parameters and unpredictable AI design promises a lot of flexibility.

The mechanical nature of the game world also impressed us, with players having to be wary of not getting  too close to cover endangering the end of their rifle getting caught on walls and the ever present danger of a bullet penetrating whatever cover they’re cowering behind. We got shot through walls, doors, glass, wood and indeed concrete multiple times, and while this may sound annoying or even unfair when compared with other modern shooters, but here it only feeds the hardcore vibe of the game.

Takedown: Red Sabre | Hands On: A Tactical Blast from the Past

The immediacy of death, especially from a bullet passing through a wall other games would deem impenetrable, made missions feel genuinely tense. There’s no downed states or respawns, so every move needs to be carefully calculated. Wandering up the stairs without checking the gaps above? Your dead. Don’t have a team mate covering your six? Yep, your dead. Takedown is indeed punishing in the extreme, but it’s been deliberately built that way. These missions are meant to be played dozens of times and the level design, AI and randomly spawning enemies and objectives lends itself to that. The UI is noticeably minimalist too, only showing an ammo counter, weapon selection and prompts when appropriate for opening doors, defusing bombs etc.

The second part of the hands-on session featured competitive multiplayer in the guise of two modes – Team Deathmatch and Attack/Defend. Team deathmatch involved respawns, but attack/defend followed more of a Counterstrike-inspired setup with one team defending a bomb point while the other attacked it. Regardless of which flavour of multiplayer selected, matches still only lasted a few minutes with map sizes shrunken down  resulting in more frenetic action. Players who could penetrate scenery with high powered rifles ruled the day, and the same went for those who could opportunistically flank warring players for easy kills.

Takedown: Red Sabre | Hands On: A Tactical Blast from the Past

Throughout Takedown‘s development, Serellan has preached the virtues of shooters which challenge intelligence rather than routine and their debut game absolutely does that. Guns feel like the murder machines that they are in the real world and it’s great to see a modern game communicate that efficiency to such an unsettling degree. Sure death can come in a flash and after that inevitably comes a series of expletives as you wonder where the kill shot actually came from, but the result of this intensity is that kills feel sweeter and deaths feel as though they’re the product of your own recklessness.

If nothing else, Takedown is a winning antidote to the dumbing down of modern shooter design. There aren’t any needless equipment buffs or perks here, instead it’s only the player’s ability and their choice of weapon, attachments, grenade and gear choice which rules the day. That simplicity is undoubtedly welcome and allows the more nuanced elements of teamplay to shine through.

There are some caveats that betray Takedown‘s quick development cycle however like squad-mate AI that cannot be ordered around, instead they just follow the player wistfully, and the lack of any real compelling story components, but then players should keep their expectations in check for what is a budget-priced experience (around £10).

Takedown is undoubtedly a throwback to the squad shooters of yesteryear and as a result it won’t appeal to everyone. That said, this niche is something new and old gamers shouldn’t hesitate to try as it may give them a new perspective on what kind of entertainment the humble tactical shooter is capable of.

Serellan’s debut is released for PC on Friday, 20th September via Steam. An Xbox 360 version is also in the works.

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