Brock Paper Shotgun: SWAT 2 and real-time terrorist motivations

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**You might remember my long-running weekend column DOS Boot. Well. Turns out the one time I thought of a pun and decided it was just too much, everyone in the comment section demanded that I lean in. (Also, I was overwhelmingly not playing games that were on DOS. Whoops.) So me taking a little time each weekend to revisit some ridiculous PC title is now called Brock Paper Shotgun. Fight me.**

I love getting smarter. I thought I was smart in my 20s and I was, decidedly, not. What have I done to change things in the interim? I stopped playing as many video games and I started watching a lot of documentaries that made me sad a bunch. One of the weirdest moments this lead to was a series of docs about the LA riots that informed me LAPD Chief Daryl F. Gates was not a hero. This was something of a problem, because LAPD Chief Daryl F. Gates helped make the Police Quest games, and I grew up thinking that’s what made him the Best Good Dude. I was, for some reason, shattered to discover that the guy I thought was The One Good Cop was actually not.

If I was smarter I should’ve seen that coming. There’s also an incredible deep-dive at Waypoint about this very issue that you should read.

But, the issues with the Police Quest series aside, there’s always been one title that stuck out to me. It took a chance on game design in a way that no one else had, and I’m hard pressed to think of anyone who has since. That game is Police Quest: SWAT 2 (1998).

SWAT 4 is, as we’ve written, perhaps Irrational Games’ finest hour. Police Quest: SWAT was an FMV nightmare and basically unplayable now… and was basically unplayable then. SWAT 2 takes a very real-time XCOM approach to police work, and in the process creates some of the most memorable video game levels I have ever played.

swat2_0

There’s a million different tweaks from equipment to training to how you can attempt to detain and arrest the baddies to dog companions to setting or diffusing booby-traps. The realism and attention to detail was perhaps too far ahead of its time, since often the game couldn’t keep up with its own systems. For example, there’s a throw phone that you should be able to toss at the baddies to allow a dialogue to begin with the hostage negotiator. Unfortunately, almost every time the terrorists just start shooting at you instead, so this entire game system is basically useless. Again: more ideas than they could make work.

Also, terrorist booby traps are plentiful and hard to detect and you can lose your entire team in a single movement. And there are usually civilians running around. Sometimes this civilians are actually terrorists and you might not be able to tell until they kill you. There’s a lot here that is so far outside the realm of your control it makes for a strikingly realistic set of unknowns. Maybe that’s why it’s my favorite police simulator?

PoliceQuestSwat2Demo

The thing that solidifies SWAT 2 for me in the echelons of PC history is this: once you’re done with the game, it turns out there’s an entirely different campaign. You can play the entirety of the game from the perspective of the terrorists. And you have all of the same game systems, including training your team, knowing what part of their backstory brought them to this cult, and even managing a set of entirely different weapons than what is available to law enforcement. This cult is based in a weird environmentalist nonsense thing that I absolutely adore, but what I love more is that the terrorist missions are wayyyyy more interesting than the SWAT missions. All the SWAT missions involve just stopping the terrorists, but for the terrorists you have to rob a bank or kidnap a millionaire or hide a bomb. It’s a much more complicated, engaging game for the bad guys. And now, knowing what I know now about LAPD Chief Daryl F. Gates being a bad guy, that makes hella sense.

Check out a video of some of the gameplay below, which shows off both sides of the same conflict on a single map.

In closing: actual Swatting is maybe the worst thing a person can do and you will get caught. Having to watch this play out in a city with people I know and love has been a traumatic experience to say the least. Revisiting SWAT 2 this week was really plagued by the knowledge that this is part of a thing we’re doing in games culture and it’s getting people hurt. Instructing my little cyber police men to kick in a door and go in guns blazing felt… wrong. And if you’re someone who feels as complicated about this as I do, maybe now isn’t the time to try this game for the first time.

If you’re into it though, give it a spin on Steam. It’s a couple of bucks and there’s (obviously) a lot there.

34 Comments

  1. Stillquest says:

    Yay for gonzo journalism. Err, wait. Actually, no.

    • Sarfrin says:

      Your comment seems like a complete non sequitur. This article wasn’t gonzo journalism, nor was it attempting to be.

      • Stillquest says:

        Does it? Yeah, maybe you’re right.

        See, I strongly dislike the beginning of this article, but didn’t feel like going into detail – I like the Brock-bashing that’s been going on lately even less.

        It’s very, very hard to be critical on the internet without massively overstating one’s point and/or coming off as a prick. I thought a snarky comment alluding to what’s bothering me would be best. Possibly I was wrong.

      • Stillquest says:

        OK, I’ve reread the article and realized I dislike the ending as well.

        But here’s a thing: the rest of article – where Mr. Wilbur is actually discussing the game – is fine, well written, good enough to make me sorry I’ve missed SWAT 2 way back when.

        The difference is quite startling, really.

        • Babymech says:

          Still – no matter what you liked or didn’t, this isn’t gonzo journalism. Go read Hells Angels: A Strange and Terrible Saga.

        • eldoran89 says:

          Well the only thing in common with gonzo is the subjectivity. But thats the same with new journalism too. So you wanted to be snarky but failed due to improper term usage. I quite like this personal approach, its why i like (B)RPS

    • SaintAn says:

      How can it be journalism if it’s a blog post? I don’t get it.

  2. ajaxpliskin says:

    Love these articles, thanks. I never did SWAT 2, but I did get a huge amount of enjoyment out of the FMV one just because it was so ridiculous!

  3. Rashism says:

    I played the piss out of this game when it came out. Even the demo.

  4. cwoet says:

    Good article, but saying Gates “helped make the Police Quest games” is a bit misleading, though it’s true he did work on some of the later entries, something many of the staff at Sierra were less than enthused about.

    link to waypoint.vice.com

    • April March says:

      Did you just try to contradict Brock by posting an article he also posted?

      I had alredy read that article, and I’d say they make the case Gates definitively helped make those games.

      • cwoet says:

        No, apparently I’m just an idiot and somehow missed his link. I remember seeing PQ4 on the shelf when it came out and was taken aback seeing his name on the box after enjoying the first three (I’m old). So was attempting to point out he wasn’t always associated with the series, which I realize Brock never said.

        But yeah, should have read the article more closely before posting. Apologies, and please disregard above post.

  5. DatonKallandor says:

    SWAT 4 really is the highlight of Irrational Games. A wonderful take on an FPS where you want to be shooting the least amount possible and the most dangerous enemy is forgetting to report in a weapon, cuffed suspect or hostage.

    I used to think that kind of proper adherence to procedure where any wrongful shoot or mishandled evidence is an auto-fail was just how police worked, but sadly we know better by now. Now SWAT 4 is window into how Police should work, not how it really works.

    • Pharaoh Nanjulian says:

      The trouble with it is that there is little possibility of using anything other than the pepper-ball (what a silly idea!) or ‘less lethal shotgun’ as a primary weapon, despite there being a number of other guns. Perhaps this is Game Finger-Wagging on the Militant Nature Of The Oppressive Police.

      Does anyone else think that ‘Special Weapons And Tactics’ is about the worst possible name for a police unit? Is it a backronym, do we think?

      • Smion says:

        Gates wanted it to be “Special Weapons Attack Team” at first but then someone convinced him that that would be an even worse name for a police unit, PR-wise. But yeah, he probably liked the acronym too.

  6. Babymech says:

    I played SWAT 2 a bit when it came out but never made it far, and had no idea they let you play as the other side as well – consider my mind blown. I remember I had inchoate, dumb-kid plans to remake SWAT 2 in the Jagged Alliance 2 engine; I still think that would have been amazing. I remember when negotiation missions would go south in the first ten seconds because the terrorists were setting up booby traps and failed, meaning that the explosive went off, killed a terrorist, and killed any chance we had of negotiating. Pretty great.

  7. StAUG says:

    I played this with a mate when we were 12-13 years old. Was fun for a bit, but way too hard for our pubescent little brains.

  8. A_Rude_gesture says:

    I remember playing this game when it first came out. A friend of mine bought it and I remember borrowing his copy when he grew tired of it. However, I was torn even back then (at the tender age of 16) between game mechanics that was every thing I loved (being an avid player of X-Com and JA1) and the problematic (for someone with a political conscience) setting.

    In the end I stopped playing because I found it hard to stomach killing people I in part sympathised with. I could never shake the feeling that the terrorists were driven to this extreme by a state that didn’t take their concerns seriously and I genuinely felt that I just couldn’t go on playing. But a year later, Jagged Alliance 2 came along and that’s a game I still play to this very day.

    • Jakkar says:

      It’s remarkably comforting to know I’m not the only person bothered by these sorts of thoughts while playing these games. Occasionally enough to quit games entirely because my immersion/motivation/sense of involvement in the plot is just knocked too far out by my personal conflict with the subjectmatter.

      • A_Rude_gesture says:

        I think there might be sizeable minority, that might not be very vocal, but who feel an uneasiness when being forced into a certain narrative. I myself, an avid strategy-gamer, have even started finding the idea of playing the Axis in WW2 games somewhat repulsive. In my case I think it’s because of the new wave of fascism, racism etc. that is currently rearing it’s ugly face again. Perhaps it’s easier to disconnect when it’s something that happened half a century ago and that ostensibly got dealt with?

        Either way, what most strategy games and war games fail to represent is civilians.
        War is a horrible bloody mess and it victimises civilians. We all know this; Yet most games present a clean battlefield with your forces on one side and the enemy on the other, with no civilians to be found anywhere. And while games tend to present themselves as “the most realistic”-this or that, making certain every nut and bolt is modelled onto the Tank, they omit the one big thing that is present in all wars; Civilians.

  9. Asokn says:

    This article is strangely written and a bit jarring to me, the final paragraph seems to go off on a complete tangent. I appreciate that my feedback may not be relevant or helpful but it’s very rare that I feel compelled to comment like this!

    • Babymech says:

      It’s not so much a tangent, since it’s directly about the game experience, but obviously it could have been restructured somewhat since a couple of people are reacting.

      The gist: SWAT 2 is an interesting, fun, and flawed game, which is worth checking out as a game.
      – Caveat: The game was designed by Daryl Gates and mirrors real-life events in LA during his tenure, which might turn some players off;
      – Caveat: The game features situations that call to mind ‘swatting,’ (though all the calls in the game are for real threatening situations) which might turn some players off.

      I think both of those caveats are worth mentioning, so that people have a heads up, and then the rest of the game can be discussed separately.

      • Stillquest says:

        My apologies to Brock, possibly everything he wrote was heartfelt and I’m a cynical old bastard, but I would suggest the best restructuring would’ve been to remove both “caveats” altogether.

        The beginning of the piece reads like a clumsy attempt to write oneself into the article while making absolutely sure readers know you are One Of The Good Guys. The ending reads like G.I. Joe PSA, which frankly I felt is a mildly offensive tone to take when addressing adults.

      • Thankmar says:

        PQ 1-3 are from Jim Walls. 4-6 from Daryl Gates. They have different caveats, stemming from these personalities and then-contemporary and now-contemporary events.

    • Archonsod says:

      Might have flowed better if the conclusion was switched around (i.e. starting with “Revisiting SWAT 2 …” then following it with the link to swatting rather than the other way around). It’s a bit jarring at the moment because we switch context twice (we go from the main body about the game to what seems like an aside about swatting then back to talking about the game).

  10. Richie Shoemaker says:

    Sure, drop ‘DOS Boot’ if restricts the games you want to cover, but it’s by far the better pun IMO

    ‘Rock Paper Shoemaker’ – now there’s an idea…

  11. Jernau Gurgeh says:

    ISOMETRIC BLUE LIVES MATTER!

  12. bonuswavepilot says:

    Typo pedantry follows (hopefully in a less patronising tone than I have been accused of using previously – no Brock dogpiling intended):

    “…setting or diffusing booby-traps…” – Defusing

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