Scanning down the list of new features available in SWAT 4: The Stetchkov Syndicate - the first expansion pack for last year's crackingly good tactical shooter - my reactions went something like this: "Who cares, so what, should've been in the first game, big deal, ooh that's quite good, who cares." In other words, it's not all that impressive, on paper at least.
Some particularly redundant additions include delights such as 'new armour type: no armour' - a negative option presumably offered for madmen who'd rather lighten their load than stop a bullet entering their chest cavity. Along similar lines are new enemy pistols and machine guns (only Americans care for such things), a vague semblance of plot and some minor server browser improvements.
In practice, however, it's a more promising story. Yes, in the most part Stetchkov is just your basic, contractually obligated mission disk with a brace of new levels and a handful of petty changes that could easily have turned up in a patch. But despite the initially lightweight impressions, there are two or three features here that are actually pretty great, and (assuming you've already enjoyed the main game), will bring new joy to your law
Of course, there's also quite a bit of material that falls under the category of 'quite good things that should've been there in the first place', including proper voice comms (hoorah), nightvision goggles, an ammo pouch for carrying extra clips, a skinchooser for multiplayer and, answering one of our biggest beefs with the original game, the option of selecting a team leader in co-op games - a crucial addition that brings a badly needed dose of order to the online chaos. You can even vote for a new leader mid-level - especially handy if your man breaks down and reveals a history of alcohol abuse.
HOLD THAT THOUGHT
In single-player, the big news is 'held commands', where you can set delayed orders for your teams and then initiate them later. So, if you've got a room with multiple entry points, you can set the red team at the front door poised to 'open, gas and clear', stick the blue team on the back door ready to 'breach and clear', while you either take another door, control one of the sniper views or just mill around shouting things. Once everyone's in place, you give the go-command and your lads pile in with clockwork precision and arrest everyone (hopefully).
In reality of course, things can still go tits-up. In particular, the system is strangely flaky, often managing to forget your first order by the time the second is in place. If you treat it gently, however, it's a wonderful thing and genuinely changes the way that you play the game. Not only does it let you indulge in more tactical and devious manoeuvres, it allows you to exploit your resources much more fully, revealing for the first time the true value of having two fire teams.
Other additions include chemical lightsticks that can be dropped in cleared areas (like a sort of fluorescent breadcrumb trail) to help avoid backtracking - quite useful in the
larger levels. The bots also now respond to some voice commands, much as in the Rainbow Six games.
BETTER WITH TEN
Given the success of SWAT 4 online, it's no surprise to find a few crowd-pleasing embellishments to the multiplayer arsenal as well. For a start, the superb co-op mode
has been boosted to ten players max, which allows for two teams of five. Unfortunately, this doesn't make it twice as good, and in practice very few levels are big enough to cater for such a hefty police presence; but it does make the game's best mode that much more flexible.