Takedown: Red Sabre

Here in the South, we have a saying that goes something like, "big hat, no cattle." When it comes to video games, Serellan's debut Takedown: Red Sabre is the best example of the phrase I have encountered in recent memory.

You don't have to be a bovine expert to get what it means — simply put, it's someone or something that talks a big game but can't back it up. The developers of Takedown want you to believe that it's a tactical first-person shooter in the vein of classics like Rainbow Six and S.W.A.T. The truth is that pretty much the only thing it has in common to those games is that it's played in first person and features guns.

Creative director Christian Allen has made plenty of noise about how very different Takedown is from the glut of other first-person shooters on the market today. It may look that way on the surface, but once you actually pick up the game and start playing, you'll realize just how misleading it is. Sure, Takedown isn't throwing endless waves of enemies at you, you can't take as much damage, and your health doesn't regenerate. But beyond those, the shooting is exactly the same. Left trigger: aim. Right trigger: shoot. There's very little that's tactical about the game. In Call of Duty, you run into a room guns blazing, here you walk into a room guns blazing. The beauty and joy of those classic tactical games was that if you took your time and planned properly, you always had the upper-hand over your foes, and if you messed up you learned from your mistakes and took on the challenge again with fresh eyes. Takedown doesn't offer you any planning before missions and your mistakes feel like punishment instead of learning.

This complete lack of strategy and tactics is utterly disappointing given the strong emphasis that was given to those components during the game's successful Kickstarter campaign. My typical preference is to fun, arcadey shooters with run-and-gun gameplay, but I was willing to give Takedown's more measured approach a try. I can only imagine how tactically-minded gamers aching for a new entry in the genre must feel. It's hard not to see the whole situation as a bait-and-switch.

The one part of Takedown that really is different from the modern FPS genre is the controls. Unfortunately, the difference is that they are worse in every possible way. Everything you do in Takedown feels like fighting against the game's systems rather than working with them. Your character's movement feels like wading through molasses at its best, and that's while using the practically required sprint feature. Mercifully, there isn't a stamina meter to restrict your sprint. For that matter there doesn't seem to be any real downside to using it all the time, which raises the question of why sprinting isn't the default movement speed.

That last point might seem like making a mountain out of a molehill, but it epitomizes the complete lack of logic and attention to detail that Takedown displays in practically every second you play it. As a game, it mostly functions the way you would expect, but there's no flourish here, no polish. Everything exists on a completely surface level without any underlying care and attention paid to the little things like how it feels.

That flat presentation also exists in Takedown's visuals. The only compliment I can pay here is that the textures and models are technically proficient. Besides that, they're completely sterile and uninteresting. When not engaged in combat, characters just stand in place, staring with cold, dead eyes.

Behind those eyes you'll find shallow and inconsistent AI, both enemy and friendly alike. Foes alternate between brain-dead and deadly accurate, and even when they're ineffective, their awareness borders on precognition. It would only be fair if your AI squadmates had the same capabilities, but unfortunately they are completely useless, and often exist just to get in your way. I found it much easier to just tell them to hold position at the insertion point and just use them like extra lives for myself. Even then, if an enemy happens to stumble upon them, don't expect them to last long.

Takedown: Red Sabre was supposed to be an eloquent love letter to the tactical shooter genre, but the final product ends up reading more like hate mail. There isn't a single part of the game that rises above mediocrity, and much of it dips below that mark. Worst of all, the very fans who have been craving a new game like Takedown are the ones who will be disappointed by it the most.