On paper, Special Forces: Team X should be great. Take Gears of War multiplayer, add Call of Duty-style perks and loadouts and give the whole thing a Borderlands paint job. All three of those games are enjoyable, but when you mash them together, the end product just ends up feeling bland, and like it started its life as a free-to-play game whose transition to full title was never really completed.
A typical round of Special Forces starts with choosing a loadout. So far, so good. Customization is fun, and character options give players greater feelings of ownership over their avatars and accomplishments. Next is map section selection. In Special Forces, there are no real maps. Each arena is composed of three separate pieces, and players vote on all three of them simultaneously.
While on paper, this is an interesting idea, in reality it makes learning a map impossible and properly coordinating with teammates extremely difficult. Players knew how to control a map in Halo 3 because it was static. Valhalla certainly wasn’t the only map, but knowing what it was every time allowed for implementation and iteration of strategies. Special Forces: Team X makes this impossible because of the way maps are pieces together. What should be exciting is frustrating.
After the map is created, it is time to spawn. It’s not uncommon to be spawned near the enemy and immediately killed, because Special Forces promotes teamwork and encourages spawning on teammates. This should make the game faster and keep players in the action more often. What it ends up doing is keeping players staring at the respawn timer, getting killed and staring at the timer again. In the chance that doesn’t happen, everything else that is broken comes to light.
Attack dogs simply don’t work. Players can and do walk by them regularly without being attacked. The cover system feels antiquated; you have to leave cover to attach to a new point. And when players inevitably drop from games, there is no automatic team balancing. When a match ends up being six against two, nobody is having fun. The winners are bored, the losers are frustrated and nobody is really having any fun.
As players participate in matches they earn experience, gain levels and unlock new weapons, customization options and perks. Everything is slow to unlock, though. There are no microtransactions here, but it feels like there used to be. Leveling is a slow process, and every time a match is complete, it feels like a box reading “for just $1 you could already be level 10!” is missing. On the weapon selection screen, it feels like some things used to be gated by money or level, and now only the level that takes too long to reach remains. There’s a fine line between rewarding the player for time invested and driving the player to quit because everything takes so long to accomplish, and Special Forces lands squarely in the “too long” category.
At its base, the shooting is competent, and when a group gets together and works together against another team that is working together, there is fun to be had here. Special Forces goes out of its way to hide it, though, with no team balancing and features that simply don’t work. Hopefully a patch hits soon that corrects, at a minimum, abilities that malfunction. Design choices, like the map system, are one thing; features that don’t work are another.
Pros: Shooting feels good, interesting concepts
Cons: Poor execution, pacing and balancing problems