Reviewing a game after it's been out for some time has both its blessings and its curses. For one, a reviewer has the benefit of reviewing a game after it's likely gone through a lot of post-ship testing and patching. Also, there is likely to be a walkthrough or FAQ to help out the reviewer if he/she gets stuck along the way.
On the other hand, since time marches on, reviewing yesterday's games means that you can't compare notes with today while still being fair to the game. For instance, Shadow Force: Razor Unit was never meant to compete with America's Army - AA hadn't even been announced until after Razor Unit came out.
Nonetheless, we shall still examine whether or not Razor Unit is worth your hard-earned cash, both then, and now.
Normally I'd begin with a background section on the game, but the fact of the matter is that there is little background to give. Being a valueware title, Activision shipped the game with little more than an insert giving installation instructions for the software. The game itself offers no background information on who your character is or what the Razor Unit is. Presumably, we can assume the oft-repeated line that Razor Unit is an elite highly-trained group of special operations soldiers that are tasked with getting things done when they otherwise couldn't be.
The primary focus of Razor Unit's gameplay is on a series of operations conducted in the Middle East. The game itself spins a nifty yarn from mission to mission about the war escalating all around you as you try to accomplish your objectives. There's even some twists to the story, if you'd call them that…but we won't spoil the surprise.
Storytelling is brief, but conducted throughout the entire game. Between-mission briefings fill you in on the details you need to know for each individual mission, as well as giving closure to prior parts of the story. Radio transmissions and a few conversations during the game are primarily what advance the plot, as you disable enemy targets and make checkpoints through the game. To be honest, there's not a lot of meat in the plot. It's just there to provide a guideline for the goals you must accomplish through the game.
Razor Unit can be played as either a first-person or a third-person shooter, and it works effectively either way. In third-person view mode, you have a visible crosshair placed in front of you relative to where you'd see it in first-person mode. Otherwise, there aren't a lot of jumping puzzles in Razor Unit, or any other similar dexterity tests which would mandate the use of third-person view. Therefore, it's largely your preference which mode you want to play in.
The most recognizable characteristic of Razor Unit is its attention to detail with regard to military weaponry. Razor Unit comes with a host of over 15 small arms and munitions armaments, all modeled after their real-world counterparts. The weapons have accurate report and kickback sounds, as well as stopping force, long-distance accuracy, and clip size.
The problem with this attention to detail is two-fold. For one, Razor Unit is likely to draw a lot of FPS players and action fans, who are most likely going to be more concerned with how much power they can wield at once, and with little regard for stealth and guerilla tactics. This means that they won't pay attention to the weapons, so much as they'll see "little gun", "little gun", "big gun", "big gun". On the other hand, the enemy AI doesn't seem to pay much attention to noises as they do to a proximity alert or an attempted (and presumably failed) shot. I've gunned down troops from 500 feet away that just stood there making their rounds while I popped them off one by one.
Ultimately, this is a game that should be experienced on Hard difficulty only, as it's the only one that will really give you a sense of urgency or determination. Hard difficulty introduces the possibility of one-shot kills on the part of your enemy (which isn't unlike how it works in the real world, of course), forcing you to work to keep your stealth and wits about you. And, of course, your patience. You will be doing a lot of reloading.
On the other hand, you don't need to play on Hard to test your patience. Just play the game until you get to the mission where you're rescuing the Ranger from the terrorist compound, and you'll quickly find an exercise in futility awaiting you. The terrorist compound is confusingly laid out and, like several missions you play in Razor Unit, you have no map. After you mess around inside the compound long enough to accomplish the two objectives you'll have there, you're to leave through the main gates and move on to the next mission. Good luck getting there, though. I spent an hour on the map running around all over the place trying to find a place to exit, but to no avail.
And his uncovers the game's worst problem. It's level design is just all over the place. Some maps are pretty decent, such as the catacombs early on in the game, and the refinery mission, but others, such as the terrorist compound and the outpost, are confusingly non-linear and unmapped, making the mission annoying as opposed to challenging. I had the maps mostly clear of tangos early on, but spent quite a bit of time getting turned around on myself or getting lost.
Razor Unit uses the Quake II engine, and it shows. The maps even seem to use some of the brushes from the single-player game in Quake II. Oddly enough, however, Razor Unit's framerates seem to be a bit slow for the low-detail environments. This can most likely be explained by the fact that the majority of the maps are outdoor areas, and the Quake II engine is known to be best-suited for rooms and contained environments. Many of Razor Unit's maps, however, have mountain ranges, foxholes, or city buildings, which are in the same "room" by game logic, and so they're all loaded into memory.
One thing the game tries to make use of is situational lightning. One of your standard pieces of military equipment is a set of night-vision goggles. The intent is that you can use your pistol (or any other overpowered wasteful rifle you have handy) to blow out room lights so that you can take out guards in the dark. The danger of using this tactic, however, is that during the few opportunities you have to do this, you're often facing soldiers equipped with barrel-mounted flashlights, which blind your vision while you're still wearing the goggles. And to be quite honest, I don't have any gamma problems on my monitor, but even after killing the lights in a room, I could still see quite well. On the other hand, the guards generally could too, so I guess we're even.
The sound used in the game is really one of its biggest focuses. The wind whistles through the plains as you make your way through the terrain, and you can hear the whispering of troops in Arabic tongues (I presume it's authentic, but I'm American, so what do I know?) as they march their patrol routes. The game doesn't play background music very often, but when it does, it's generally to accentuate the emotion your character is likely feeling at the time. It's often a good sort of modified Middle-Eastern-themed chant or requiem, and it doesn't get in the way of the action. However, it often does get in the way of the voiceovers, which, while few, are generally too quiet to hear, whether or not you're in a silent area.
The individual weapons all have their own sounds, so if you train yourself on it, you could likely tell what a tower guard is shooting you with even if you can't see him. This was a nifty touch. It also makes you selective of what weapons you pick up from the ground. If you're armed with a noisy close-action shotgun and you need to take some people out without getting a lot of attention, you might want to drop it in favor of a low-report assault rifle, or maybe even switch down to your pistol. Again, however, the AI in the game seems to pay little attention to these variances that would make more difference against human players, so the benefit may be little for the players to do this.
Multiplayer options in Razor Unit are rather scant. Proving its Quake II lineage once again, Razor Unit offers the exact same multiplayer connection options as Q2 did - Local LAN, or direct IP connection with a server favorites list. Given the low-key release of Razor Unit and its lack of multiplayer matching features, I would have opted for a GameSpy Arcade pack-in for helping to find the players that did purchase this game.
Then again, there's not a lot of configurability to the game options as it is, short of weapon availability and balancing. All in all, you'll likely get a very similar experience spending a few hours playing Counter-Strike. You might be missing out on deathmatch gameplay, but the gameplay in Razor Unit isn't designed to be fast-paced, so it would all end up being a drawn-out game of tag, with laser-guided bombs. There's also the fact to consider that at least ten times as many people are likely playing Counter-Strike as Razor Unit at any given time anyway, so you're much more likely to find some people to play with.
Pros & Cons
I must apologize to Activision for the delays it took to get this review done, but I think that the time delay does little to change the results of how this game turned out. It really could have been quite good with a slightly different approach, I think. The aspects of this game I liked the most were the stealth/sniping parts of it, and I really wished there could have been more of that. I played quite a bit on Hard difficulty just so that I could force myself to employ stealthier tactics to stay alive. With some evidence-hiding mechanisms in place (Like Thief and Metal Gear Solid 2), or a larger "team presence" with some missions carried out alongside other members of Razor Unit (Like the militant rebels in the rescue-the-ranger mission), I think this game could have separated itself quite well from others in this genre.
All in all, I have to wonder if FUN Labs got cut short during the development of the game and had to push it out the door without a lot of the features they wanted. To be quite honest, I really do wish I had the chance to speak with one or more of the developers of the game, because I would be very interested to see a sequel or a similar game with the above features I noted. Unfortunately, with the release of America's Army, any thunder FUN Labs could have hoped to get in the near-term is likely stolen now. However, I don't doubt that they have the potential to do something far better than the status quo. The underpinnings are there, but things just didn't work out.
In short, it's all right for valueware, but don't spend any time worrying about this game taking up your gaming schedule instead of Duke Nukem: The Manhattan Project or Jedi Knight II. It may be a good total conversion of Quake II, but ultimately, it is still just a TC.
Graphics & Sound: 7.0
Fun Factor: 8.5
Lasting Appeal: 6.0
Final Score: 6.5