Very few things bring a smile to my face more than a good rail shooter. Perhaps it's the simplicity and familiarity of them I respond to. No matter the setting, no matter the interface device, they're all basically the exact same game. The screen shifts around, looking at the scenery, an enemy pops up, and the player shoots them. Some people have comfort foods, tastes that relax them and make them feel at home. Rail shooters are my comfort games—they don't have to try very hard to make me like them. Give me a chance to kick back and relax by blasting a few dozen (or hundred) enemies at the end of a long day, and I'm happy. If the game happens to do something a little new, different or compelling with the genre, well that's just gravy. Terrorist Takedown offers a surprising amount of gravy for a budget title.
Terrorist Takedown is a realistic rail shooter set somewhere in the Middle East, where there are many, many angry people with guns that just need to be shot by the player. The realism factor provides something of a challenge from a design standpoint, as it means that the player will basically be shooting the same people throughout the entire game. Generally rail shooters avoid this problem by including many different varieties of enemies, as well as clever boss battles. Obviously that wouldn't work here, so the developers chose a different, and somewhat inspired, tactic—constantly changing play styles.
I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of different gameplay modes they were able to generate using a fairly simple engine. One level the player might be blasting away out the side of a helicopter, or from the top of a HMMV, then only a level later they might find themselves firing artillery to delay an armored column, or using an anti-aircraft missile launcher to destroy incoming helicopters. From level to level, I was never completely sure what I was going to be doing next (except for the relative certainty that shooting would be involved)—there aren't many full-priced games I can say that about.
This variety in gameplay styles also leads to wild shifts in the difficulty of the various levels. The manual doesn't offer much preparation, and there isn't any training, so a sudden shift from 'point and shoot' to calculating how much lead time to give an artillery shell can be a little daunting. There's a level right near the end of the game where the player is asked to take on a plethora of helicopters with a single AA missile truck that borders on the impossible. I'd complain a little more strenuously about the jump in difficulty the game takes, but that's actually par for the course when it comes to rail shooters—all the great ones get unbelievably frustrating right at the end.
The graphics are good, but certainly nothing to write home about. They live in that grey zone between realism and abstraction. I can tell what the game wants me to think that I'm looking at, but the graphics are never so good that I could forget myself for a second and believe that I was actually using a heavy machine gun to decimate a group of soldiers with rocket launchers. I wasn't expecting anything more than this from a budget title, though, so it's not really disappointing, but I'd be lying if I said that the graphics couldn't look a lot better than they do.
The only real problem I had with the game was the unfortunate and opportunistic misuse of the word 'terrorist' in the game's title, as well as peppered throughout the game. I know it's a popular term to throw around these days, but it's just not appropriate based on the game's content. The enemy force battled in the game seems to be organized into a coherent armed force. They have tank platoons, for gosh's sakes! More than that, the American troops in the game are clearly invading enemy-held territory, suggesting that this is the army of a sovereign nation they're fighting. Since the game is clearly themed after the Iraq war, I can't help but wonder why they didn't just go ahead and admit it, rather than use this pretense of fighting 'terrorists' in the 'Middle East'. I mean, it's not like they have to obtain the rights to a war. Or is the American government charging for use of the intellectual property now? I haven't really kept up.
On the back of the Terrorist Takedown box, the publishers promise that fun is guaranteed. "Love it or we replace it"! That's quite a promise to make. Is it a legally binding contract to put that on the back of the box? They're not offering a refund, so what exactly does 'replace' mean? Another copy of the same game, another game from their roster—a game of the player's choice? Perhaps the biggest compliment I can give the game is that I never once considered looking into any of these questions. I was just plain happy with Terrorist Takedown, and given the cost, and I think there are plenty of action game fans people who'll feel the same way.