Last year, SWAT 4 quietly established itself as the preeminent tactical shooter on the PC. It was a beautifully executed game that effectively captured the tense and stressful job of being an elite police officer. The newly released Stetchkov Syndicate expansion pack builds off of that solid foundation, offering more difficult scenarios, thanks to more aggressive and unpredictable artificial intelligence. You'll also find the expected array of additional weapons, a new multiplayer mode, and cooperative play for up to 10 players this time.
The Stetchkov Syndicate builds incrementally on the great foundation laid by SWAT 4.
If you're reading this review, you're probably already familiar with SWAT 4, as The Stetchkov Syndicate requires the original game to play. For those who aren't familiar with the game, the primary difference between SWAT 4 and other tactical shooters is that you're required to protect life (including the lives of suspects) as much as possible. You're awarded the most points for arresting suspects without severely injuring them, and you're penalized big points for unauthorized use of deadly force. Just like a real police officer, you must use careful judgment about firing your weapons. The basic gameplay in The Stetchkov Syndicate doesn't differ much from the original game. You are still the commander of a five-man squad, with your four subordinates split into two pairs. You'll use fiber-optic cameras to peek under doors and around corners, bust into doors with breaching charges, and toss nonlethal grenades into rooms to stun suspects as you try to arrest them.
The Stetchkov Syndicate gives you a few new tricks to take into the field in the form of new weapons and tactics. Over the course of the campaign, you'll unlock a variety of new equipment. New guns include a submachine gun modeled after the real-life FN-P90, a Colt accurized rifle, a grenade launcher, and even a stun gun with two shots and longer range than the Taser from the original game. You'll also be able to deploy glow sticks to mark off rooms that you've cleared, as well as use night-vision goggles. Suspects can arm themselves with a light machine gun, a new machine pistol, or even a .50 caliber handgun. The expansion pack now lets you issue delayed orders, much like in Rainbow Six. This is useful for rooms with multiple entry points, as it lets you stack your four-man element on one door and issue a go code while you break into the other door. You can even split your element into pairs and have them each break into a separate door at the same time. There's also a new punch command that you can use to subdue stubborn civilians or suspects into being zip-cuffed. This is actually useful, because if you ran out of nonlethal munitions in the original SWAT 4, you were sometimes required to shoot civilians in the leg in order to get them to submit.
You'll need all these new tricks, as the suspects in The Stetchkov Syndicate seem to be more aggressive and unpredictable than ever. You'll have to use overwhelming shock, such as a well-tossed flashbang or a hail of pepper balls from an air gun in order to get these suspects to submit. Some even require you to follow up all that with a shock from a stun gun before they'll drop their weapons. Suspects are also more apt than in the original game to run away into other rooms or charge into the room that you're in. This makes things more tense and requires you to pay closer attention to the blueprints of the building, so you can deploy door wedges at key exits to manage the movement of suspects. As you can imagine, The Stetchkov Syndicate's missions can be difficult at times, but since there are only seven missions in the campaign, experienced players should fly through it in a few hours. It's still a fun ride while it lasts though, and you'll do everything from the usual high-risk arrest warrants in drug labs to disarming bombs and rescuing hostages in a government office. The missions are also just as replayable as in the original game, since suspects and hostages don't spawn in the same places every time you load a mission.