Unlike most modern-day military-themed first-person shooters, Shadows Ops: Red Mercury is more about pure run-and-gun action than about relatively realistic squad tactics. It's a fully featured game, boasting a single-player campaign of more than two dozen missions, a variety of two-player co-op levels, and several multiplayer modes playable on Xbox Live by up to eight players or in a split-screen mode by up to four players. Shadow Ops also features some impressive audio, and its campaign offers a ton of targets to shoot at and a high level of challenge even on the default difficulty setting (an easier setting and two even tougher settings are available, as well). The campaign missions can be pretty intense at times--but the underlying action itself lacks the sort of visceral punch that shooters ought to have. It's not that big of an issue in the heavily scripted single-player levels, but Shadow Ops' clunky multiplayer gameplay significantly suffers for it. The result is a first-person shooter that does little to distinguish itself from many other, similar games.
Sometimes you'll have friendlies at your side, but Shadow Ops is mostly a one-man-army affair.
The game is clearly derivative of successful military-themed arcade-style shooters such as the Medal of Honor series and Call of Duty, though this one isn't based on real events. Captain Frank Hayden is the hero of Shadow Ops' campaign, and he's your typical gruff gun-toting action hero. Apparently he's good at getting important jobs done, since he's part of a Special Forces team charged with recovering something called red mercury--a substance that's capable of bringing nuclear destruction upon the free world--which has fallen into the wrong hands. Hayden's efforts to recover the red mercury will send him to locations like war-torn Middle-Eastern towns, the jungles of the Congo, snowy Kazakhstan, and the subways of Paris. The story takes a couple of twists as it unfolds in prerendered cutscenes between many of the missions, and while these cutscenes are grainy and unimpressive for the most part, they're presented with the sort of shaky camera angles and fast editing that has become Hollywood's favorite way to depict military action.
Regardless of what the stakes are and where the missions supposedly take place, they pretty much all play out the same way. They're completely linear, which means there's never any alternative but to keep pressing forward past droves of enemy grunts, who will often come at you in waves, lie in ambush around corners, or snipe at you from windows or rooftops. Though most of the enemy behavior seems to be scripted, foes exhibit some noticeable signs of intelligence such as when they rush from cover to cover and otherwise stick their necks out only when shooting at you. Foes will also sometimes chuck grenades at you or, better yet, toss back one of your own. These occasionally inspired bad guys are relatively few, though. You'll mostly just be gunning down tons of enemy clones that pop up practically like targets in a shooting gallery. And even when the situation seems hopeless as foes keep pouring in, you'll learn to see through the ruse--the flow of bad guys stops as quickly as it starts, inviting you to casually scour the area for health and ammo and then move on to the next firefight.
You'll usually have several weapons--a pistol, a sniper rifle, and an assault rifle--in addition to a few grenades. Occasionally you get a shotgun, a heavy machine gun, and a bazooka. Different missions include different weapons, but while one rifle might appear significantly different from another, all weapons of a particular class are functionally identical (except for differences in how many rounds of ammo their clips can hold). The assault rifles end up being the weapon of choice of Shadow Ops, since they're perfectly suited for close- and medium-range combat, which covers 99 percent of the combat in the game.
One of the only reasons to switch from the assault rifle is that Shadow Ops is very stingy with ammunition. Despite facing hordes of foes, you'll only be able to carry a few clips of ammo at a time and will need to scavenge more from your victims--who sometimes will drop more ammo for you to use, but often won't. Ammo is especially scarce at the harder difficulty settings, in which you'll feel like you were sent into the mission woefully ill-equipped to handle the odds--which, actually, is kind of cool.
You'll run and gun through more than two dozen levels in Shadow Ops' single-player campaign, which is the highlight of the game.
Unfortunately, the interaction between your guns' bullets and your enemies just isn't very satisfying in Shadow Ops--which is to say that the feel of the game just isn't great. In multiplayer, there's no indication whatsoever that you're hitting as opposed to missing your target. In single-player, at least, you'll see a foe recoil a little bit; but there's no blood (which shouldn't be a surprise given that the game is rated T), and there's little in the way of other evidence to suggest that someone just got shot. The result is that the action feels flat, especially since you don't see a weapon model or a muzzle flash onscreen when firing down a rifle's sights; you'll just line up the crosshairs with the bad guys and watch them fall. Of further note, Halo proved that melee combat could be both satisfying and effective in a first-person shooter, and Shadow Ops likewise gives you the option to clobber foes with whichever weapon you have at the ready--but you'll pretty much never come into melee range in the game, so there's not much point in swinging your gun around, except maybe to help pass the time as you slowly run from point to point. That's another issue--your running speed, while arguably realistic, seems too slow for a run-and-gun action game such as this.
The campaign itself is somewhat longer than average, partly because the missions are pretty tough right from the get-go and force you to restart from the beginning if you die (and sit through a pretty long loading time before restarting, to add a little insult to injury). Generally, you can take a ton of damage before getting killed--but you'll always have tons of enemies gunning for you, so death can still come swiftly and suddenly. Taking lots of damage is basically unavoidable, since many of your foes will fire from concealed positions and have fast reflexes and good aim--so you'll end up spotting many of your enemies only because of the onscreen indicator that shows the direction from which you're taking fire. Then it's just a matter of killing them before they kill you, and that can take a good several tries. However, since the opposition pops up from the exact same points in the level each time you play, you can get through even the toughest scenario with patience and a trial-and-error approach.