(content warning: Depictions of violence and war within.)
In 2021, it was announced that the previously canceled game Six Days in Fallujah was being brought back. With some of the original development team handling development, it naturally got a lot of backlash now just as it did back in 2009: by glorifying a specific military conflict as a good thing, and feeding into middle eastern stereotypes of them being nothing but terrorists. So much so that the Council of American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) asked for major publishers to drop support for the game. It will likely come out to poor reception, if it actually comes out this time.
Seeing this made me think a lot about the glut of military games made in a post-9/11 world. While war games existed before that tragedy – Novalogic’s Delta Force franchise was modestly popular around the late 1990s – they ballooned to being rather ubiquitous once the War on Terror started. We got games like SOCOM, Conflict, lots of Tom Clancy stuff, even Battlefield dipped its toes into modern warfare. There were so many that actual US military organizations started getting involved, with games like as America’s Army and PRISM: Guard Shield. Nowadays, the only franchise from that period still around making similar war games is Call of Duty, but that might be considered a stretch by some.
Why all this preamble? It’s so I can talk about one of those games made by a budget label that cashed in on the War on Terror, and is a bad game, not just on a technical level, but a moral one as well. One game I’ve had for several years, going back to 2013, and this has lately been a year of looking back, so let’s travel to 2003 and look at one of the more bad games.
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Terrorist Takedown is the first installment in a franchise made to capitalize on the war on terror. Developed by Polish developer City Interactive, this would be one of their early breakout hits. Nowadays they’re known as simply CI Games, but their overall message has been consistent: Make games based on war conflicts old and new, and sell them in bargain bins everywhere. For Terrorist Takedown however, City Interactive didn’t have much of a presence outside of Europe, so another budget publisher, Merscom, handled the release here in the United States. Merscom even touted that some of the profits of the game would be donated to the Special Operations Warrior Foundation, which I think is a conflict considering this game’s premise.
There is no story to Terrorist Takedown. You play a bunch of no-name, faceless soldiers as you’re sent from one conflict zone to the next, taking down terrorists left and right by any means necessary. The “Terrorists” in this case are generic middle-eastern soldiers presumably meant to stand in for Al-Qaeda insurgents, but it’s kinda hard to tell in this game.
The missions themselves are rather varied: The first mission has you in a helicopter gunship mowing down anti-air emplacements and random soldiers. The second mission has you protect a convoy from enemy soldiers and RPGs. Each mission is similar in structure: Survive a conflict of terrorists while protecting objectives and not dying. At least it spices things up a bit, from using machine gun turrets to flying a helicopter, to controlling a targeting reticle on a surface-to-air-missile.
Notice that there’s no movement like a contemporary FPS. It’s all designed like a rail shooter, with the mouse controlling a cursor on screen where one shoots targets. The only exception to this are a few helicopter missions, and controlling the helicopter is so bad and unwieldy that most of the time I was attacking targets it couldn’t see on screen. That’s even with a “helpful” picture-in-picture missile cam in the upper right.
While the game plays terribly, it’s also terrible in another way. The game is not shy in treating these people as bonafide bad guys. You’ll have a commanding officer spew lines like “Waste those assholes before they can blink” and compliment you for killing lots of enemies. While I’m not expecting moral ambiguity out of a budget game – This isn’t Spec Ops: The Line, after all – it does make me feel uncomfortable in retrospect, especially since this game’s release there’s been lots of reports of US soldiers spouting similar nasty messages, as well as the Abu Ghraib prison incident. While City Interactive probably weren’t deliberately being offensive with that dialogue in Terrorist Takedown, it’s just one of those things that’s pretty gross when you look back at it.
Now, I usually try to beat the games I’m writing about for this site. I’ve beaten the budget schlock I’ve written about here like Elite Forces WWII: Iwo Jima, Alpha Prime, and Enemy Front. I even beat Battleborn before it shut down. The last time I couldn’t finish a game for an article was Stacked with Daniel Negreanu, the infamous “Halo with Chips” game. And just like that last time, I couldn’t finish Terrorist Takedown for this article, due to its crushing difficulty.
The sixth mission required me to destroy helicopters by having a hard-to-see white crosshair lock into a box until I could fire missiles. If the crosshair stepped even a pixel outside the box, I lost the lock-on and had to reacquire. If I let too many helicopters escape my explosive wrath, the mission fails and I have to start all over. A lot of these missions don’t give the player enough leeway to pass, which I assume is deliberate design, as each mission is no more than 2-5 minutes each.
With that SAM turret being so frustrating to control and with all the particularly questionable design decisions that City Interactive decided to attempt for this, I honestly felt that I’d seen enough of the game to justify writing about it.
Even after looking ahead by watching playthroughs on YouTube, I see that the mission variance doesn’t really change all that much. The following mission has the player shoot down helicopters with a rocket launcher with the same lock-on mechanic, more sections involving flying helicopters, machine gun emplacements and artillery strikes like the last six missions I played. Honestly, I don’t think it’s worth suffering through this game to see everything.
To further support my argument, I found a GameSpot review written by Erik Wolpaw – yes, that Erik Wolpaw, writer of the award-winning Psychonauts and Portal – where he couldn’t get past the final stage, and he yet still gave it a review, so I feel justified in giving my say here, despite breaking one of my cardinal rules.
Terrorist Takedown must’ve been a modest success for City Interactive, as for they used that brand rather heavily in the US and Europe throughout the 2000s. A standalone expansion called Terrorist Takedown: Payback was released not long after the original and was identical gameplay-wise. And since City Interactive was a publisher as well as a developer, they worked with other developers to release similar military-style games. One such example as Jarhead Games, makers of previous article candidate Marine Sharpshooter. They would develop and release Army Ranger: Mogadishu, which got branded as a Terrorist Takedown game in some European markets.
Eventually City Interactive went out on their own again, making the games in-house with Terrorist Takedown: War in Colombia and Terrorist Takedown: Covert Operations, before making an actual sequel with Terrorist Takedown 2 in 2008. By this time, City Interactive abandoned the varied rail-shooter style of the first Terrorist Takedown games in exchange for more conventional FPS gameplay.
Gone was the proprietary engine likely built in-house, City Interactive opted to license other game engines and make their games with those engines. These early games used Techland’s Chrome Engine, previously used for the titular Chrome, before switching to Monolith’s Lithtech Jupiter EX engine – the engine that powered F.E.A.R. and many of Monolith’s games thereafter – for the next two numbered installments.
While the Terrorist Takedown brand ended in 2010 with Terrorist Takedown 3, City Interactive has carved a surprisingly successful niche, as they still release fairly middling budget titles based on war conflicts and similar events. In 2019, they released Sniper: Ghost Warrior – Contracts, the fourth installment in a long-running franchise, now running on Crytek’s CryEngine. Indeed, I ended up playing one of these later CryEngine-powered games, Enemy Front, back in 2018.
They’d eventually find a modest hit, with something that’s not a military shooter: the Dark Souls-like RPG Lords of the Fallen. In addition, they also double as a budget publisher for some games in Europe. Yet they still putter along making these fairly average shooters for a market that’s pretty much dying on the vine. It’s like they still think it’s the mid-2000s.
There are two more things I wanna say about this game. One of which is that in early development they were intending to use images of missing persons in the credits. That got vetoed pretty late in development, thus viewing the credits gives a blank checkerboard image on the right with no context. I found this out from someone who was working at Merscom not long after the game had shipped, and this is probably the only place you’re gonna find out about that bit of “trivia.”
Finally, there’s a music video for this game. A band named Analog – which have a page on the Polish Wikipedia, surprisingly enough – perform a song called “Lives” set to footage from the game. It seems like a strange inclusion, but there is a reason it’s there: Analog’s bassist, Paweł Gawlik, also worked on Terrorist Takedown’s music. He probably thought it would be some good cross-promotion, and maybe make the song a minor hit somewhere. An instrumental version of this song plays in the menus, and the rest of Gawlik’s music is probably the only high point of this game, but that’s not saying much.
Terrorist Takedown is a fascinating artifact. A byproduct of the War on Terror, and as a result has aged poorly, much like the war on terror itself. It’s not worth your time to play it, though there’s playthroughs of it on YouTube if you’re morbidly curious. If I knew how much of a hot mess this game was gonna be when I bought it back in 2013, I would’ve left it on the CD rack of the thrift store I bought it from.
I feel like I need something lighter to write about for next time.