IGN Review of Secret Service
The ever-popular first-person shooter genre is far from stagnant, as releases like Valve's online co-operative title, Left 4 Dead, so clearly prove. Yet along with titles big and small that remind us there's so much more to the genre than barreling down a corridor spraying bullets, there are just as many that do nothing interesting or novel. The latter is certainly the case with Cauldron's Secret Service; when it's not blatantly ripping off Infinity Ward's Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, it fails to escape tedium's event horizon.
Perhaps the game's most interesting aspect is its release date. In early November 2008 it hit store shelves, just in time for the Presidential election. Considering it's got a narrative enveloping a potential assassination, a vice-president with a distinctly Cheney-like appearance, and threats from a militant foreign power, perhaps Activision thought it the best window to publish. As it turns out, the release represents pretty bad taste, particularly because the game does not attempt to resolve or present its issues or themes in any sort of elegant manner. Instead it's very much a crude, bumbling mess of a conspiracy plot on a level of ridiculous that occasionally exceeds even the preposterous exploits of Jack Bauer.
From locations like the Lincoln Memorial to the terraces of the White House you'll battle wave after wave of terrorists and, eventually, groups of US secret service agents. If you're anything like us and the thought of executing American agents makes you uncomfortable, don't worry, the game forces you to reload for a checkpoint if you shoot to kill rather than use a stun gun. That is, at least, until it gives you the all clear to kill agents.
But let's for a second wipe away the offensive narrative and potential patriotic conflict of interest and focus on the game itself. The PC and Xbox 360 versions look decent for a budget priced game and, at least on the Xbox 360, run fairly smoothly. With the PC version and the settings cranked, our system (Core 2 Quad 2.4 GHz CPU, GeForce 8800 GTX 768 MB, 2 GB RAM, Vista 32) was running into some fairly serious chop in a few of the stages, which is mystifying considering how little was going on in the game. The PlayStation 2 version, on the other hand, is an absolute visual disaster. The framerate is poor, even with sensitivity sliders we couldn't find a comfortable control setting, and it looks like somebody forgot to add in textures in spots.
In terms of the Xbox 360 and PC version you're still going to find the experience to be frustratingly limited. It is a budget-priced shooter, but that doesn't mean it has to be as bland as it is. Throughout the course of the game you'll engage in sniping challenges, a helicopter shooting sequence (like CoD4), and plenty of monster closet-type scenarios where as soon as you enter a large space you can expect enemies to jump out from behind doors and pillars. In many cases you're forced to repeat the exact same challenge several times (a White House balcony defense comes to mind), and in no case will you be anything but mildly entertained.
Enemies do exhibit a degree of intelligence, as they'll step back and forth, charge your position and run to cover in some cases, so the combat isn't totally without challenge. Foes do, however, just as often exhibit predictable hide and peek routines or just stand in pre-determined spots, making engaging them in battle more of an exercise in routine than something thrilling or dynamic.
Mixed in with the vanilla shooting action are various hacking minigames which those who played BioShock might find familiar. In this case, you're switching around tiles of circuitry instead of pipes, and though the boards increase in complexity, there's not much to them. Still, they're occasionally a nice break from the repetitive shooting sequences.
The game tries to keep things varied by adding in sentry turrets, night-vision sequences, 'laser trip bomb' detection in dark tunnels, and a particularly annoying timed deactivation sequence, but none of these mechanics come off as original or interesting. Instead, it feels more like the developer looked at Infinity Ward's work and sloppily imported bits and pieces, including the narrative presentation.
As for audio, you'll find awkward and forced voice acting, music that fails to enhance anything other than your desire to shut the game down, and tinny gunfire effects. Also, as a general rule, horribly annoying intruder alarms do not increase the sense of tension during a firefight. Either make them distinct (see: Star Trek's red alert sound effect) or get rid of them.
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