Sweet misery, don’t make us play any more of Beyond Enemy Lines – Remastered Edition. We’re begging you.
There were clues to how truly, skull-crushingly terrible Beyond Enemy Lines – Remastered Edition would be. We had the absolute non-pleasure of playing through Strike Force 2: Terrorist Hunt, which we handed a 1 out of 5, but hadn’t twigged that this was from the same outfit, Polygon Art. Beyond Enemy Lines 2 was, apparently, reviewed by us last year, and the generous James Bentley handed it a 2 out of 5. And now we’re reversing back to the original, the one that started it all, Beyond Enemy Lines. Because going back to the first game your studio ever made is a guarantee of striking gold.
Beyond. Enemy. Lines. Woo-wee, what an absolute car crash you are. Let’s sift through the wreckage and find the myriad of reasons why you crash so hard.
“Stealth is vital in Beyond Enemy Lines”, says the welcoming screen, which reads more like an apology in hindsight. “Try a slow and tactical approach”. Now, here’s an exercise: start thinking about the things that are essential for a good stealth game. The ability to hide, right? Enemies that can be hidden from. Levels that have places to hide, and alternate routes where you can bypass those enemies. A melee button, so you can takedown enemies with barely a whisper. Alarms and whatnot to both switch off and be wary of. Those are the basics.
You can probably see where this is going. Beyond Enemy Lines has none of them. Not a single one. It’s gobsmacking.
You can’t stealth in Beyond Enemy Lines because, let’s be honest, Beyond Enemy Lines doesn’t really want you to stealth. You can get your ghilly on and saunter up to a compound, moving slowly and ducking into foliage, but – whoopsy daisy – a Russian voice will pipe up and start juggling you with bullets. The AI has one setting, and that setting is ‘do random crap’, which unfortunately means seeing through walls and firing through walls. Any best-laid plans will get tossed to the wayside when enemies behave like a drunk version of Vision from the MCU.
Then there are the levels, which – and we’re not being hyperbolic here – are the worst we’ve seen in an FPS. Stealth demands a sandbox of ins and outs, and the compounds in Beyond Enemy Lines (and they can all be defined as ‘compounds’, with all the generic lack of identity the term implies) have an average of one way in and one out. Guards will surround them both, of course, and there won’t be a vent, sewer system, tiger cage or zipline in sight. Bizarrely, the compounds often don’t physically work as spaces: we entered some where you can’t reach the exit from the entrance, and you have to circumnavigate the walls and level to get to them. It must be a complete ballache for the soldiers that live there.
So, what do you do in a stealth game that’s near-completely linear and full of enemies? Why, you cheese it of course! The opening warning didn’t mention that one. You stand far enough away from enemies that they can’t see you or shoot you (chalk that up to the bizarro AI), and you fire through your scope with the hope of doing enough damage before your bullets run out. Then the next soldier, then the next, as they stand there, wondering who is giving them a particularly forceful massage. Once the coast is clear, you wander in and play the game of ‘did they drop enough bullets to make up for what I just sprayed at them?’. Then roll a dice to see if shotgun-man appears from nowhere and kills you almost instantly.
There really is no alternative to this approach. You’re not given any other tools for crowd control. Well, you could press RB to switch over to the shotgun and see if you could take them down at close quarters, but – hoho, you won’t see this coming! – your shotgun fires one shell at a time, the reload is long enough to boil an egg, and it does barely any damage. Go to town, soldier! Enemies, when they actually see you (and getting in their faces with a shotgun is precisely one of the ways to get attention), are unerringly accurate and will down you in seconds. There are virtually no health packs and there’s no health regen, plus death… wait for it… sends you back to the start of the entire level, with the added bonus of watching the cutscenes! It’s enough to make you renounce your calling as a games reviewer.
We’d be surprised that there’s no melee takedown, but then we remembered that it’s not possible to actually surprise the AI. They know you’re there the moment you wander into the vicinity. The only explanation is that you stink. There’s no need for alternate routes, alarms or guard dogs in your game when the main character has a musky aroma that wakes a full barracks.
Of course, another explanation is that the game is broken. It may well be; we’re not sure what’s intent and what’s just a catastrophic game error. For a bit of hilarity, we’ve just paused the review and jumped into the game for one English minute, with the aim of writing down each and every bug we encounter. Here we go, it was as fruitful as we hoped: we looked down our scope but couldn’t move it left or right; an enemy fired through a window that we couldn’t fire through, and then got stuck in a door that he couldn’t fire through but we could; we looked at our objectives, but couldn’t get rid of the objectives screen; the objective screen is increasingly flickering and might well explode (send help); and all of the objectives are visible on the map apart from objective 3, which has done a runner. What’s the opposite of ‘Remastered’? Demastered? FUBAR’d? Needless to say, we found Beyond Enemy Lines impossible to complete, and we tried. Oh, we tried. Bugs, AI and level design just take it beyond human reach.
When we reviewed Strike Force 2: Terrorist Hunt, we at least ploughed through to the end. For all of its haphazard brokenness, its charmless presentation, it was at least possible to play it. That’s largely because it took the Rambo-route: enemies were fodder for you to chew through, and you merrily wandered through the jungle, tossing grenades and watching terrorists arcing over your head. Beyond Enemy Lines, by taking the stealthy-stealthy approach, doesn’t allow you to brute-force all of its issues. You have to play slowly, getting up-close with all of the foibles and experiencing them regularly and painfully. And thanks to the truly awful fail condition, where a quick death dumps you back to the very start of the mission without any checkpointing, it’s an experience that is a magnitude worse. We gave Strike Force 2 a 1 out of 5, so you can probably see our predicament.
After playing Beyond Enemy Lines – Remastered Edition on the Xbox for more hours than it deserves, we feel shell-shocked. If it worked, which it doesn’t, it would still be magnitudes of awful thanks to a misunderstanding of what a stealth game is. It could at least have the courtesy of being forgiving when it’s bombarding you with bugs and bad decisions, but no – it keeps kicking you while you’re down and then tosses you to the start to experience it all again. And all for the bargain price of £16.74!
As a kind of ‘tossing a coin’, we found a propane tank in the game. If we shot it and the developers had the forethought to make it explode, then we’d give Beyond Enemy Lines – Remastered Edition a 1 out of 5. If, somehow, the developers had coded in a propane tank, let you shoot it, but didn’t code it to explode, well, we’d give it 0.5 out of 5.
0.5/5, it is.