Joint Operations: Typhoon Rising

5Joint Operations: Typhoon Rising, NovaLogic’s follow-up to Black Hawk Down, is both polished and frustrating. It does the hard stuff that most games neglect so well, but it either phones in or omits entirely the easy stuff. It combines rich tactical depth with a sleek, thorough interface and hours of large-scale multiplayer teamplay. Joint Operations gives you so many options and large maps to get the lay of that it may take hours, or even days, before you feel oriented, but patience, persistence, and sleeplessness eventually reap rewards made all the sweeter for coming so hard-earned.

Joint Operations is apparently set in Indonesia but no one would probably notice, or care, if it took place in Haiti, Grenada, or the Phillipines. Though having more players in a game than our ancestors dreamed possible is the game’s main selling point, you’re never fighting a battle of any historical significance; instead, they’re merely chaotic skirmishes over remote patches of overgrown countryside.

Single-player options are limited to a series of training missions and the soul-crushing opportunity to play co-op with dozens of bots against other bots that effortlessly pick you off the instant you blunder within range. Understanding that most gamers prefer getting instantly picked off by humans, Joint Ops features a variety of multiplayer modes ranging from such golden goodies as Co-op (against bots; see above) and King of the Hill, to the by-far most popular Advance-and-Secure, an update of Battlefield’s “conquest†mode.

There are a number of different skins to choose from, such as the German KSK or the Russian Spetsnaz, though the forces display much more cosmetic variety than the Indonesian insurgency. As in the Battlefield games, you pick a player class, each outfitted with unique weapons and skills. The versatile rifleman gets a rocket launcher that blows up tanks, the gunner a selection of hefty machine guns ideal for suppressive fire and coastal bombardments, and the engineer a Stinger antiaircraft guided missile or a powerful mortar that’s cumbersome to deploy and reload but can clear entire spawn zones with a single concussive blast. In addition to scoped rifles, snipers get a target designator that can “paint†distant targets for friendly mortars to rain down barrages with devastating accuracy. Finally, there are medics, who can heal teammates and resurrect fallen comrades on the battlefield (although, oddly, they can’t heal themselves).

Considering how easy it is to perish from a bullet, it’s amazing what a pounding a jeep will take without suffering a scratch (the game’s physics are at best inconsistent). While Battlefield’s frail firebombs were a few steps too extreme in the other direction, the vehicles in Joint Operations, albeit rightly vulnerable to armor-piercing rockets and claymores, take no damage at all from ramming full speed into the many, many palm trees covering most available terrain. Paradoxically, you can sometimes die simply by jumping off the prow of a sloppily parked boat. The vehicles as a whole—and there are tons of them, from amphibious ATVs to Strykers, Chinooks, and Zodiacs—are fairly easy to control but have a tendency to hydroplane and universally feel like they have the mass and suspension of paper gliders.

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The graphics don’t seem greatly enhanced since Black Hawk Down, but serve the material well, spicing up what could have been repetitive tropical vistas with rolling mountains, rice paddies, streams, and temples you soon come to recognize from the air and water. An accelerated day/night cycle goes quickly from being a visual novelty to a crucial tactical consideration as copters howl from the heavens, miniguns chattering, invisible in the blinding glare of sunset until it’s too late; after dusk falls, night goggles suffuse warring firefly clusters of muzzle flashes and tracers with an eerie moonlit glow.

10The daunting hugeness of the levels, the sadistic damage modeling, the finely calibrated respawn system, and the absence of parachutes all discourage stupid individual heroics, in theory forcing players to adopt skilled teamwork to control helpfully highlighted geographical objectives in a linear ebb and flow. The trick, of course, is finding enough skilled players to form two balanced teams. A sophisticated command map, replete with a number of tactical administrative keystrokes, allows players to orchestrate the efforts of their entire team.

Still, when it’s firing on all cylinders, Joint Operations delivers, if not the reinvention of the wheel, a heady rush no other team shooter has approached this year. As a result, NovaLogic has officially entered the jungle in more ways than one.

System Requirements: Pentium III 700 MHz, 256 MB RAM, 32 MB Video, WinXP

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