When we receive a new RTS game in the office, we’re usually scared of what we’ll find inside. Sometimes we’re pleasantly surprised (as with COC), sometimes we know what to expect (as with Q3A or UT), but usually we just have to load it up and hope for the best. While there are some good things about this game, the flaw monster raises its ugly head within the first few minutes, and it doesn’t stop growling and yapping until you turn the game off.
The game takes place in a 2020s alternate universe, where time has been warped and there’s a very strong Russian military hellbent on taking over the world. Although all the free countries of the world have formed an alliance to fight this empire, you’re apparently the only guy on the front line; everyone else is pushing papers back at the office. The main character, named Red, is a James Bond-ian Brit, complete with Ms. Moneypenny (called Goggles here) and Q, who provides the mission briefings. There are even some coy attempts at some sort of love interest between Goggles and Red, and the dialog is more predictable than snow in Alaska.
The game starts simply enough. The player is supposed to use covert tactics to sneak into a heavily armed base and steal plans for a new missile. After knifing the first guard and stealing his weapon and uniform, the player is introduced to all sorts of flaws. First off, if another guard is killed, every other enemy on the map suddenly knows not only who the killer is, but they also know his exact location. On the other hand, if no other guards are killed, then the enemies are completely oblivious to the player. Red can destroy boxes for ammunition and such without even getting a blink from the guards. Remember, this is a realistic covert operations game.
Next, Red has the ability to pick up full-plate body armor, giving him “200% armor.” What? OK, this is a game, but it’s losing its realism quickly. Continuing with this trend, Red cannot shoot a guard through a chain-link fence. These fences are apparently made of the strongest metal on Earth, because even driving full speed into them in an armored tank will harm the tank but not the fence. Neat. Once Red finds the secret plans, every guard is immediately aware of his infiltration into the base. How covert is this? Red must now kill nearly every guard on his way back to the start point of the mission. The player actually has to jump a destroyed bridge in a tank to win this mission. Huh?! Remember, this is a realistic covert operations game.
Each subsequent mission is equally lacking. Part of the problem is the inventory system, or lack thereof. While the player can cycle through the inventory easily, there’s no description of what the inventory is. There’s also nothing to tell the player when an item has been added to inventory, and this can make for some extremely frustrating gameplay. (The church key on the assassination level will drive players insane; it’s picked up without the player knowing it.) On top of the poor inventory control, each gun uses the exact same ammunition; Red can’t save his sniper gun bullets when he wants to use the machine gun. Remember, this is a realistic covert operations game.
The enemies on each level tend to emphasize the “artificial” part of AI. While some of them will act almost believable, most tend to stand around or run in circles. If there are two guards five feet from another, Red can kill one, and the other guard won’t bat an eyelash. When in motion, the guards will run somewhat toward the player, shoot, then run sideways, shoot sideways, then repeat. The worst-case scenario is when a guard starts shooting at Red and said guard cannot be seen on the screen. The player is getting shot (by a machine gun, no less) from so far away that the only option is to run in several directions, hoping to see the bullets. Yes, see the bullets. Remember, this is a realistic covert operations game.
Graphically, the game is a mixed bag. We get a lot of fog in the San Francisco area, but early 20th century Russia apparently had it worse. The graphics do look rather nice and the explosions are, in fact, colorful, but the depth of field allows the player to see about 50 feet into the distance before the fog creeps in. Enemies have different dying animations, which is a nice touch, although they all have the same vocabulary of four or five phrases. We weren’t overwhelmed by the graphics, but we’ve also seen a lot worse than this.
The game has support for multiplayer, although we were not able to confirm this. Since we were given one copy, we went to the net looking for a few good men. Unfortunately, every time we attempted to find an online game, there were no servers available. We would’ve liked to play Boom Beach online, as its multiplayer may have held some redeeming qualities, but we were out of luck.
Overall, Boom Beach hack is an average game tool in an overcrowded RTS market. Its otherwise okay gaming experience is overshadowed by the frequent letdowns. Guards can come out of buildings, but the player can’t go in most of them. Guards can be sniped in the head and not die or even notice the bullet. Move in a few feet and retry. This time the guard dies. The plotline forces the player to act in very specific ways, not allowing for exploration of other alternatives. The current kings of RTS (Q3A and UT) have a rabid following, so it’s difficult to break into this genre. COC did it with innovation and a sense of style. Boom Beach really wants to run with the big boys; too bad it shot itself in the foot.