The Mark PC Review - 03/03/2007

The Mark should be your average FPS. It has all the clichés, larger than life characters, heck, even bullet time, which most standard, yet pretty unintelligent shooters contain. However, what you actually get is a painfully below average title, marred by glitches, poor AI, and a lack of imagination on the part of the developers.

As far as we can tell, this is the only title T7 Games have produced, and it shows through with the lack of options, and generally poor implementation of a genre which is pretty easy to get right. Clearly, T7 looked at other first person shooters, and noted down a number of aspects. People like choice in games today, there's plenty of US to British storylines recently, and some exciting new graphical techniques are appearing in games. So in The Mark you have two different characters to play as, one from America, and one painfully stereotypically English Englishman, with separate mission paths, and enough utilisation of depth of field (a relatively new graphical technique) to make you think you're either inhumanely drunk, or simply going blind, or perhaps even one as a result of the other.

As I mentioned tentatively, the story is pretty standard for shooters. You have Fletch, a US Marine, and Hawke, a 'James Bond style mercenary'. Basically, a group of terrorists who appear to be from the Middle East, want to send a nuclear missile to attack London. Because it's such a long way and all the nuclear missiles were bought off the Americans a few decades ago, meaning they're pretty outdated and poor by our modern action-film standards, an aircraft carrier is needed to launch the warhead off, and only one man, a Russian billionaire, has the sort of ship outside of the military that is needed to do it. It's all fairly abstract and is accompanied by still pictures and very forced dialogue.

Each character has their own unique traits and abilities. On paper, it sounds like a good plan for a fledgling developer to implement in order to drive sales. However, in practice, it has little effect on the gameplay, with Hawke's shotgun packing a punch, but the poor physics on enemies not showing the true force of it, and Fletch's assault rifle which sounds and produces ammunition not unlike a potato gun. It emphasises the strength of his secondary weapon, a desert eagle, but again, the poor rag doll physics on targets leave the bass-filled sound effects seeming out of place, and pretty stupid.

Spot the gimmick in this screenshot and win a laser-sight for the weapon of your choice (prizes will not be honoured)

Fletch has the special ability to slow time, which is explained away as him simply having good reflexes. In fact, when implemented you can avoid taking a scratch and it is another example of something used so well in certain games, and falling flat here. Usually, the protagonist has to have some sort of implant, be an alien, or have a mutation to be able to physically make everyone else go at a snail's pace, but not in the Mark – maybe Fletch just ate all his veggies when he was a lad and now he can take on the world because of it. Take note children – eat those greens.

Not to be outdone, our Brit can use his tactical goggles to detect movement behind walls – a lot more believable in comparison, but very pointless in gameplay, especially when you take into account the fact that many enemies don’t exist until you trigger them. Are you familiar with the philosophical question: 'If a tree falls in the woods and no one is around does it make a noise?. It's a bit like that. If you can't see the enemies, then they won't be there. Try throwing a grenade round a corner and it won't kill the people who will be waiting for you when you actually go round it yourself. Try to snipe some people in the distance before advancing, and it's pointless. As you progress towards the end of an open area, more enemies will simply spawn in as you go past various trigger points, which incidentally, appear to be in the same place every time.

There's never any real objectives to the missions. Fletch tends to disarm bombs or plant C4, with Hawke protecting him, but ultimately the goal is to kill everyone and battle to the end of the level. Throughout the game you are taken across the globe using Hawke's personal aircraft, and this makes all the locations pretty diverse. The enemy models change depending on location, but you still get the horrifically stereotyped designs, with men in suits with dark sunglasses in the west, and bearded men with bombs strapped to them in the east. Often riding motorcycles. The cycle piloting enemies provide a nice diversion from the standard foot soldiers, but the courses are pretty static and they're easy targets to pick off – despite it being one of the only fun moments in the game.

The reflection and texture on the wall looks great, but the steps are horrible – these inconsistencies are common throughout The Mark

Some parts are ultimately fairly satisfying, but the enemies just end up massing around you and it all takes on a Duck Hunt styled shooting gallery feel. As the tacky sparks of an enemy's bullets ricochet around you, you will come out of your cover to see another five standing next to him – it's just frustrating for the enemies to be so stupid, yet so unpredictable.

That brings us onto the AI of the enemies. They all stand still waiting for that final bullet, and generally mill around, spawning all over the place, running into walls, and it has to be right down there with the worst of the FPS AI in the last decade. Still, we have been treated by very intelligent enemies of late, in games such as Rainbow Six: Vegas, and Gears of War. However, even the friendly AI is no good. When you play as Fletch, Hawke can push you out of cover or into the line of fire, and vice versa – I do personally like having friendlies alongside me, but sometimes you start a level with them, are greeted to a 'plot' advancing cutscene, for them to disappear completely when you continue the gameplay.

The actual animations of friendlies are really nasty to watch too. If you and they are both standing still, you'll see their legs and torsos perfectly still, with their arms shaking incredibly. It appears to be an attempt to show unsteady hands by the AI, but instead it just seems like it was tacked on at the very last moment, to add some sort of movement to the otherwise cardboard characters. They are superb looking to be fair, but the lack of finesse and animation from them is criminal – if only they'd polished this section of the game fully.

I think he is supposed to be aiming at us, yes.

Unfortunately this theme continues throughout other parts of the game, with graphics also suffering from a lack of polish and refinement. Parts look superb – peer into the distance and the environment is blurred so effectively that the experience feels truly atmospheric. However, compare it with the foreground, and it just looks like someone's slotted a new layer or slide in front, with none of the objects blending with the background and most of the physical things just looking poorly animated and scrappy.

It's actually a bit like watching Thunderbirds. The AI bobs along, as does your main character, with the scenery a hotchpotch of wonderfully textured backgrounds, with the poorly drawn objects and dodgy looking items at the front. All the stuff has decent physics attached, and while this is a mainstay of FPS games today, there are some nice touches to it, with hanging light fixtures swaying away from explosions, with shadows dancing excellently.

All this doesn't excuse the poor overall quality of the graphics and level design, and the good parts are simply overshadowed, and actually look out of place against the rest of it. The gameplay is below standard, with too many stereotypes and all the worst bits of the best shooters stolen for it. The developers have taken the short and supposedly safe route of matching the gimmicky features together, but unfortunately, it really falls short of the mark (that inevitable pun had to happen eventually).



T7 Games