For this review, SWAT 3 was played using the Last Resort mod.
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Lethal Weapon, Die Hard, Rush Hour – movies that have absolutely nothing to do with this game but those are what SWAT 3 reminds me of. But unlike those movies, where cops run around killing bad guys and destroying private property, SWAT 3 is a tactical shooter and is supposed to represent a real life L.A.P.D. SWAT team. SWAT 3 is the first the tactical shooter that I really got into and it was only a few years ago that I played it for the first time. I’m glad I did because it’s quite an experience. The SWAT 3: Tactical Game of the Year Edition includes new missions in addition to the content previously released in the original game and Elite Edition.
For this review, I played SWAT 3 using the Last Resort mod which enables the game to take advantage of modern video cards and run at higher resolutions. It also adds high resolution textures and other little effects but does not affect the core gameplay. I should also mention that I needed to install the dgVoodoo wrapper just to get the game running smoothly on Windows 10. I will also be covering the BlueLight mod in this review. It’s an impressive modification that adds tons of little enhancements for a more immersive experience.
The original game was called SWAT: 3 Close Quarters Battle and that’s exactly what the gameplay attempts to simulate. And it does a pretty good job. You play as an L.A.P.D. SWAT element leader, leading a squad of five team members. You can split the team up into two smaller teams of two, which are identified as the Red and Blue teams. The smaller teams can be used for different tactics like having them breach different rooms for example or maybe you want one team to cover the other.
During a mission there are two modes in which you can engage the enemy, stealth and dynamic. In stealth mode, you and your team move slower, speak softly, and don’t use flashbangs or breaching explosives with the idea of surprising the enemies. When in dynamic mode, you and your team are much louder, move faster, and will do whatever it takes to combat the threat. If a suspect is spotted, the team automatically enters dynamic mode but toggling between modes can be done at any time.
There is some kind of story going on here but I really have no idea what it’s about. It takes place in 2005 and has something to with terrorists. You know, there are some bad guys out there doing some really bad shit and you have to stop them. That kind of thing. You go from mission to mission and the missions take you to all kinds of different locations around Los Angeles, most of them being indoor locations. Each mission requires you to neutralize or arrest the suspects but you’ll also need to evacuate hostages and even disarm explosives as well.
Included in the Tactical Game of the Year Edition are two types of careers. The 5 man and 10 man careers. The original 5 man career spans sixteen missions and is the real meat of the single player but doesn’t include any of the eleven new missions added in the 10 man career. And in addition to those new missions, the 10 man career enables you to play with new weapons and armor, and you can even decide if you want another 5 man team, controlled by the AI, to assist you on a mission. Many missions enable you to choose to start from different entry points so if I chose another team to help out, I would start them at another entry point and they would go ahead and do their thing. It’s pretty cool stuff.
When starting a career you must first create your officer, or element leader, and then choose your squad and that’s where I got confused. You don’t really choose your squad members directly. Instead, you choose one of several sergeants that have a squad of ten officers under them. At least that’s how I think it works. Each squad member has a little bio you can read, which I think is just for immersion purposes and it’s a nice touch but I don’t think the officers behave any differently during gameplay based on which squad you choose. Maybe the manual explains if there’s a difference between squad members, I’m not sure. One thing to remember about this game is that your squad members will never die. If an officer goes down during a mission they’re just incapacitated and will be replaced by another squad member in the next mission. I’m definitely grateful for that because officers started going down like flies for me during later missions.
Before starting each mission is the pre-assault menu where you’re given a mission briefing that includes details of what’s going on, who the enemies are, if there are any hostages, what you’re actual objectives are, shit like that. During the 5 man career, there’s a map of L.A. showing you the location of the current and previous missions. The mission briefings are provided by your commander and whoever is doing that voice-over does a really good job at making it sound convincing and realistic. Sadly, the 10 man career doesn’t include the voice acting, or the map of L.A. for that matter. During the briefing you can also equip you and your team members with different weapons, ammo types, and equipment. The 5 man career only has a handful of primary weapons which include an MP5 submachine gun, M3 shotgun, and an M4 assault rifle. You get one sidearm and that’s the M1911 handgun. You’re given two different ammo types for both your primary and secondary weapons, lethal and non-lethal, and can distribute how much ammo you want of each. More of one type reduces the other. I never really switched between ammo types during gameplay but if you want to try and keep all the suspects alive to arrest them, you may want to distribute only non-lethal ammo to your entire team, including yourself. The 10 man career gives you more weapons to choose from and you can even choose from different uniforms.
You and your team are provided with equipment like breaching charges, CS gas, flashbang grenades, a toolkit, and a miror. The breaching charges allow you to blow through doors, CS gas and flashbangs will disorient suspects, the toolkit can be used for picking locks and disarming explosives, and the mirror enables you to see around corners for any threats. You also get an infinite amount of light sticks which can be really helpful when navigating through some of the more larger and intricate maps. The idea is to throw a light stick down after clearing an area.
There wasn’t a ton of tactical shooters on the market when this game released in 1999. And as far as I know, there still isn’t. At least when talking from a single-player standpoint. The original Rainbow Six was released a year earlier and it’s hard not to compare the two but they really are different games. For one thing there is no real planning in SWAT 3. You do not plan your attacks before starting a mission. All your actions need to be determined on the fly. There’s no map to reference during a mission and you need to approach each corner, doorway, and room, with caution. Not only that, but in an attempt to be as realistic as possible, you and you’re squad members will always be communicating with each other and communicating back to TOC, which I believe stands for Tactical Operations Command. You need to communicate to TOC each time you neutralize or arrest a suspect or hostage for evacuation. Now if there’s a lot of shit going on at once, everybody will start talking over each other so it can be hard to hear what’s happening sometimes.
One thing I’ve noticed is that there’s two ways to lead your team. You can either take the lead on an action or send your team in first to do the dirty work while you cover their backs. There’s this neat little feature that allows you to bring up different view ports which basically means you get to view what each squad member sees and you can switch between view ports freely.
As the element leader, you can command your squad to perform different actions like breaching doors, covering an area, searching rooms, throwing grenades, and the AI is really what makes this game so great. Even to this day, the AI in SWAT 3 is some of the best artificial intelligence you will see in a video game. When you command them to stack up on a door they won’t stand directly in the doorway, if a suspect or hostage surrenders they will cuff them without being told, if they’re just standing around waiting for a command, they’ll be sure to watch for threats and always look in the right directions, it’s actually really impressive to watch. Even during combat the AI will perform effectively and this applies to the enemies, too. During combat your squad members will know to stay behind cover and lean out to shoot back, as will the enemies. If you don’t remember to secure any weapons you find, whether it be from neutralized or cuffed enemies, or even weapons just lying on the ground, other suspects may pick them up to use against you. If you don’t remember to cuff a suspect they will eventually put their hands down and find a gun. In addition to the different difficulty modes is the option to adjust the reaction times for both your squad members and enemies.
It doesn’t take many shots to put you or an enemy down, so you really need to be careful and must react quick if you spot a suspect. Do you try to get the suspect to comply or just take the shot? I found that taking the shot is the better approach. Trying to get them to comply never seemed to work unless I was able to disorient them first. Sometimes they surrender during combat but you can’t always rely on that happening. Enemies will also spawn in different spots each time you play a mission and that definitely adds some replay value to the game.
During the career modes, you and your squad members can earn medals based on your performance during missions. You can view different stats like officer survival, rescue rate, respect level, proper use of deadly force, and some others which all add up to your leadership total. Needless to say, this game has proven that I would be a terrible leader. Nevertheless, I’ve read that if your leadership total drops below a certain percentage it can mean game over, but, surprisingly, that never happened to me so I can’t really confirm if that’s true. One thing I’m quite certain of is that reporting back to TOC affects this total. So if you report that an enemy is neutralized when, in fact, that’s incorrect and they can be evacuated, that will negatively affect your leadership total. I assume keeping your squad members unharmed during a mission positively affects the total. With that said, if an officer goes down, be sure to report that the downed officer can be evacuated for a rescue.
In addition to the career modes is the mission modes. Standard mission mode allows you to choose and play through any of the career or extra missions along with whatever squad you want. You get to choose the equipment you’re so familiar with from the 5 man career. Then there’s the custom mission mode. Not only can you choose the mission, but you can also select the game type. The co-operative type is your normal single player experience but the others are obviously multiplayer types including deathmatch, team deathmatch, and last man standing. The custom mission mode also lets you choose the weapons and uniform types from the 10 man career. And, no, I did not try the multiplayer.
I would definitely suggest looking up a tutorial for getting this running on modern operating systems. I bought it from GOG but there are several steps to getting this running smoothly and at higher resolutions. When I first played this several years ago, I was running SWAT 3 on Windows 7 without a problem. After upgrading to Windows 8.1, even with the Last Resort mod, the game would slow down to a crawl for whatever reason. I never did find a solution at the time and was disappointed that I couldn’t play it anymore. I thought the game was fucked. It wasn’t until now, running Windows 10, that I discovered the dgVoodoo wrapper which eliminates the slowdown issue. However, I noticed during gameplay that the mouse cursor would flicker, specifically the “busy” cursor, and it’s distracting as fuck. My solution for this was replacing the “busy” cursor with a blank mouse cursor.
By default, SWAT 3, doesn’t include any first-person gun models but there is an in-game cheat that you can enter that enables this. The guns have noticeably low resolution textures but each gun does have it’s own model. Not only that but with the cheat enabled, you can also see any equipment you decide to use like the breaching charges, toolkit, and grenades. Other than the low-res models, it doesn’t really feel half-assed. It’s like they wanted to include it by default but didn’t for some reason. Maybe it’s just the game’s field of view but when viewing the gun models you don’t really see most of the gun unless you look down or crouch. That’s my only real issue with it. Because the first-person weapon models are only available through a cheat, I consider this more of a novelty and won’t hold any issues with it against the game.
SWAT 3 is an incredible game. I don’t have a lot of negative things to say about the gameplay. It’s actually a really solid game. When you divide your team up into the Red and Blue teams, you can’t command them simultaneously. You can only command each team one at a time. It kind of sucks because it would have been cool to see the teams breach a room at the same time from different entry points. That’s probably my only real issue. I just question the design choice, maybe it was a technical limitation. Other than that, little shit like you and your squad members crowding a small corridor and them getting in your way can be annoying at times. One thing that really made me laugh was when my squad members would throw a flashbang and enter a room just as it went off and somehow they’re unaffected.
Now obviously SWAT 3 is dated but you can tell there was a lot of care put into this game. It’s the little details like the groaning of injured suspects and even their dialogue when they’re getting cuffed or of hostages running to safety. Even little things with the AI behavior like enemies noticing your flashlight or a squad member not leaving the area until the suspect or hostage is cuffed. Even the care put into the environments is really cool. They’re well crafted and feel like real places. I only had an issue with one mission and it was the second to last mission of the 5 man career. You navigate through the sewer and it’s just a labyrinth of tunnels, making it very easy to get lost, even when dropping light sticks everywhere.
There are all kinds of mods you can download including fan-made missions and gameplay altering mods. Mods are also really easy to install. They’re just ZIP files you need to place in a specific folder. In addition to some better textures and other visual tweaks, the Last Resort mod doubles as a launcher. Last Resort is great for managing multiple mods at a time and, in addition to the BlueLight mod, Last Resort comes with some mods ready to go, most of them include additional weapons, so I decided to enable those as well. The BlueLight mod is, from what I understand, a compilation of other mods that make some noticeable changes like new sound effects and high resolution gun models so you’ll definitely want to enter the cheat for viewing gun models. This can also be set up in the Last Resort launcher settings so you don’t have to enter the cheat every time.
The most noticeable changes you’ll see with BlueLight mod installed is the high resolution gun models and beefier gun sounds. For some reason, not every gun was re-modeled in HD, the shotgun being one of them. Maybe the creators didn’t finish or have enough time but it is what it is. BlueLight also adds some bullet tracers which I was easily able to remove. I have nothing against tracers but I just prefer not to see them. In the vanilla game you can turn on a flashlight to see in dark areas but with the BlueLight mod installed, with specific guns equipped, the flashlight will be replaced by a laser. It’s a nice little touch. You’ll notice some other little things like a different crosshair for each weapon, the remodeled guns now have detailed scopes, and the flashbang is brighter.
One of the mods included in BlueLight is the Armed Forces mod. Among other weapons, Armed Forces adds a Beretta as secondary weapon to choose from, and it’s just horribly modeled. It has this extremely low resolution texture or something and just looks like a blurry mess. The Armed Forces mod also has this problem where the suspect and hostage dialogue will just repeat nonstop. I was pretty good at finding files and entries that can remove specific parts of the mod, like tracers for example, but couldn’t figure out how to eliminate this dialogue problem without removing the Armed Forces folder, from the BlueLight ZIP file, entirely. After doing so, I discovered that the Armed Forces mod already includes some mods that come with Last Resort so deleting that folder didn’t really affect much, from what I noticed. If the dialogue problem had not occured, I may have just disabled some of the mods that were included with Last Resort and left the Armed Forced folder intact.
I wouldn’t say the BlueLight mod is one of those must-have mods that really change the experience. As far as I can tell it doesn’t alter any gameplay so the game is just as fun if you play it with or without the mod installed. The hi-res gun models and the little visual tweaks really make a difference when it comes to immersion and if you haven’t played SWAT 3 in a while, the BlueLight mod may be a great reason to return.
I’ve never played SWAT 1 or 2 so SWAT 3 was my first entry into this franchise. SWAT 3 is also the first first-person shooter in the series. It pre-dates Rainbow Six 3: Raven Shield, which I think pretty much sets the standard for tactical shooters, but SWAT 3 has a charm about it and it’s really a different type of tactical shooter. I would also say SWAT 3 is my favorite tactical shooter to date. If you want to compare SWAT 3 to Rainbow Six or maybe even the original Ghost Recon, I think SWAT 3 is more accessible to new players given they invest a few minutes looking at the controls screen. But SWAT 3 is still a challenging game that requires tactical thinking. The developers actually spent time with an L.A.P.D. SWAT team member to help make this game as accurate as possible and while I know nothing about how a SWAT team actually functions, I would say they did a pretty good job. If anything, you can see the care that went into this game and it’s definitely right up there with the best tactical shooters, even to this day.