It’s 2037, and terrorists have taken over a secret military complex. Your team of four covert operatives is tasked with eliminating the enemy and regaining control. Buy your weapons and equipment and suit up for your mission, because like it or not, you’re about to do battle. Stealth is your ally, though tough times often call for full-scale assaults. Should you order one of your teammates to recon the area or take the risk yourself? It’s up to you, as team leader, to assign roles to your squad – the X Squad, the toughest and fastest group of elite soldiers we have.
One of the less hyped PS2 launch titles, X Squad could yet prove to be a sleeper hit. While it hasn’t exactly been lighting up the sales charts, it has deservingly been receiving positive press and word of mouth, with all-around solid gameplay and visuals in a genre that’s generally been under-represented on game consoles. X Squad is a hip take on tactical squad-based simulations, a Gen-X (hence the title) version of Rainbow Six that caters specifically to the console demographic and pulls it off well.
If you’ve never played a game like this before, X Squad makes it easy. The learning curve is extremely low and barely even requires a glance at the manual. There are two broad styles of action – stealth or assault – and several specific commands that can be assigned to teammates: recon, follow and stay during non-combat situations, with the additions of attack and spread during combat. Pretty self-explanatory, and in general the team AI is handled pretty well. Missions are fairly varied if straightforward, though all of them involve quite a lot of old-style switch-finding – something we’d hoped to see die after the original Doom, but oh well. Most missions end with boss fights, though a few end in other ways, including full-scale frontal attacks that are a real sight to see – with tracer fire and rockets whizzing by throughout the arena, and true strategic squad combat in evidence. If only there was a cooperative multi-player mode, as the game practically screams for it – but alas, single-player is plenty fun as it is.
The pre-mission interface, so important in Rainbow Six and many other PC games in this genre, has been streamlined down to the bare essentials in X Squad. Weapon and equipment selection are still important depending on the mission, but there’s little else to do besides that – just pick your stuff up and off you go into battle. Equipment must be purchased based on payment received for previous missions – if you do particularly poorly several missions in a row, you may find yourself unable to afford the equipment needed to complete a mission down the road. In general it’s a system that works to keep players honest while rewarding them for doing well, but it’s sure a pain when you find yourself severely outgunned with no hope that even a restart will help.
The game looks great, easily one of the more impressive PS2 launch titles in the visuals department. The action moves at a silky 60fps with no noticeable slowdown during heavy action (if there is any, there’s honestly too much going on to care), and some of the aforementioned end battles are truly amazing to look at given the frenetic pace of the goings-on. The character models are well-rendered as well, and in fact about the only problem is an annoying lock-on pause whenever your cross-hair passes over an interactive object – something that happens often while just moving around.
All We are Saying Is Give X a Chance
Probably one of the top five PS2 launch titles in both graphics and gameplay, X Squad shouldn’t be passed up. It’s a quality game among a launch lineup that’s filled with uninspired efforts, especially in terms of the single-player gaming experience. If TimeSplitters and Unreal Tournament are too multi-player heavy for your tastes, give X Squad a try.