Tactical Intervention Preview -- Tactically Countering Counter-StrikeBy Dennis Scimeca - Posted Mar 16, 2012
Minh Le is the creator of Counter-Strike, which began as a Half-Life mod over twelve years ago and has grown into one of the most popular online military shooters ever, setting the stage for modern games like Call of Duty. Counter-Strike is so popular that Valve is expected to release Counter-Strike: Global Offensive sometime this year. Le has been out of the design game for a decade and is making his return with Tactical Intervention, the spiritual successor to Counter-Strike.
Tactical Intervention is a free-to-play PC shooter. Players will break into Terrorist and Counter-Terrorist teams and face off in scenarios like hostage rescues. When I sat down with Minh for a preview at the Game Developers Conference last week, I asked him to skip the preliminaries. I wanted to know right up front what Tactical Intervention was bringing to the table, and how it was going to carve itself a slice of the highly competitive modern combat shooter market that eats up games which don’t sufficiently iterate, like Homefront.
Le showed me terrorists rappelling from a helicopter onto a moving car in an attempt to kill the V.I.P. being protected within by the counter-terrorist team. I wanted to see something I hadn’t seen before in a modern combat shooter. Le delivered.
Tactical Intervention will make its money off micro-transactions. Players will earn points to unlock new weapons and kit but certain items are purchase-only, like the dog Le demos for me. “One way I like to use the dog is if I’m a camper, I can set him down as a defensive sentry,” Le says. “He’ll watch my rear, and then I can worry about one cone of fire.” Dogs can take a player down. They’re not just a distraction, they’re something that players will have to pay attention to and deal with. Considering the dog is also a paid item, I ask Le about the danger of “pay to win.”
“People are telling me, ‘I don’t want to play [against] someone with a really big wallet, because he’s just going to overpower me.’ We’re fully aware of that,” Le says. “This being a team play game…we’re really paying attention to how much of a factor the guns are playing. We try not to have guns that are too overpowering.”
“How about the dog?” I ask. “That dog seems like a pretty significant advantage.”
“In a sense he is, but he’s not super powerful,” Le says. “He takes some time [to take a player down]. It’s just a matter of balancing out.” It’s a stock answer to a stock question I feel obligated to ask of any micro-transaction-based, online first person shooter having had my experience with Battlefield Free-To-Play which clearly favored the paying player. Through the course of the Tactical Intervention demo the sum total of Le’s bevy of tweaks and iterations makes it clear that he knows what he’s doing when it comes to shooter design. I’m willing to suspend disbelief regarding pay to win being an issue when the game is released.
The radar, for example, isn’t a map tucked away in a corner of the screen that requires players to take their eyes off the action. It’s a circle set around the reticule, with friendly and enemy locations represented as dots. It’s a design inspired by the heads-up displays on modern jet fighters. “The reason I decided to do that is because I found that our action is really fast paced,” Le says. “It’s kind of chaotic; it’s close-quarters, right?”
Le has instituted a navigation system to quickly get people back into the fight. Players can activate a path on the ground that leads them to the most common hotspots on the map. “If you ever get lost, you can find your bearings really, really fast,” Le says. I express my concern that the navigation system will quickly be learned and gamed by veteran players, the paths leading new players like lambs to slaughter.
“Those are pre-defined paths that get randomly chosen at the beginning. Routes, like Rainbow Six,” Le says. “The player gets to choose where he spawns, but the path is randomly chosen. They’re all really good routes; they all equally give you a chance to win. The reason why we have them is to keep the terrorists guessing where the Counter-Terrorists are going to come from.”
“Chaotic” is an understatement for the action in the demo. In one of the missions, teams exchange fire through a crowd of hostages. “[The hostages] react to the firefight. They run to the safe spots,” Le says. “Their AI is very dynamic. They do their best to avoid dangerous situations.” Both teams want to avoid killing civilians. The best the Terrorists can manage is a draw if they kill the hostages, and all players lose points by killing civilians.
The next demo level showcases the rappelling feature. Le’s playing as a Counter Terrorist. He hooks up to a post on top of a tall sky rise and drops over the edge. The terrorists are on two floors, the positions of the hostages shown in blue outlines a la team members behind walls in Left 4 Dead. Le spider-walks his CT around the outside of the building, chooses his entry point and shoots in the window.
It’s the little details that make the Tactical Intervention demo enticing. Some of them are a return to classic form, like the lean function that most modern shooters have gotten rid of. “I understand why,” Le says. “I find that a lot of players feel that when people are leaning it’s too easy too easy to just lean and shoot…so I made the recoil insane. It’s more about getting a peek [into the next room]. It’s just a balance thing.”
The individual books in bookcases are destructible. A stainless steel table in a kitchen is lined with food and a rack of pans hangs above it, and when CTs and Terrorists exchange fire through the kitchen debris flies everywhere. “Our environments are really immersive,” Le says. “That’s something that I wanted to improve upon from Counter-Strike. Just having everything blow up, it affects the way firefights go down. I wanted to encourage that whole, crazy insane firefight, Hollywood style.”
The debris isn’t just for show. It obscures vision. Players can shoot fire extinguishers on the wall to create thick clouds of CO2. Those fire extinguishers will also come in handy when fire grenades set levels ablaze, and teammates need to put each other out. Le has tried to throw in as many props as he could to keep the levels chaotic. Players can shoot propane tanks and send them flying through the level, knocking players over.
While the game is designed for insane firefights, players will be given plenty of tools to navigate the chaos besides running-and-gunning. Players can blind fire, and use breaching charges on doors. There’s a lot of focus on mobility, like rolling through doorways. Equipping a riot shield prevents players from shooting, but they can throw the shield at an enemy and bowl them over. Le demonstrates the technique with a smile. “These little things all add up to make a very different firefight, as opposed to just straight-up shooting people,” he says. “I thought the firefights in Counter-Strike were kind of stale, or just predictable.”
“I think that was the key word, predicable,” Le says. “I wanted to focus on stuff that was unpredictable. I think that’s what we achieved with this game: Unpredictable firefights. Controlled chaos.”
The final map for the demo is the aforementioned helicopter level. The Counter Terrorists have to drive the V.I.P. to a drop-off point and the Terrorists want to kill him. Tires get shot out and replaced. Passengers lean out of cars and have 360-degree shooting mobility. Le’s car gets totaled and he rips a civilian out of a truck to continue the chase.
Tactical Intervention is built in the same engine as Left 4 Dead 2 so the action is very smooth and quick. The PC beta begins in two weeks Le tells me, dropping this point as he takes control of the helicopter and hovers it just above the ground to form a roadblock for the V.I.P. car. When a group of hardcore first person shooter players get into Tactical Intervention I think the insanity of the game will be more than just a selling point on the Expo floor of GDC. The game might actually be completely insane, which is just the way hardcore shooter players like it.
Dennis Scimeca is a freelance writer from Boston, MA. In addition to feature writing and event reporting for G4, his work has been published on Kotaku, Ars Technica and Gamasutra. His weekly column First Person runs on The Escapist, and you can follow him on Twitter: @DennisScimeca.