Under Siege review

It’s time to move a bit away from common games and review a bit more of an obscure game.
You know you’ve just stumbled upon a game of unparalleled quality when the cashier at a shop asks you if you’re actually sure you want to buy the game; I am telling 100% the honest truth here– this is exactly the exact scenario I faced when I picked the game “Under Siege” off the shelf. The cashier asked me

“Are you sure you really want to buy this game?”

She asked me this while she was visually noting how crappy it looked. Unlike the rest of the games it didn’t have a price tag, she had to look up the price –at around 25 US dollars the game is what you might call cheap. Covered in Arabic text it is difficult to discern exactly what the game is about, however the games outward appearance is professional enough to appease me.

Under Siege (alternatively titled Under Ash 2, as it is a sequel to Under Ash) is a game about the Palestinian/Israeli conflict; The game was released in 2004 and is produced by Afkar Media, a Syrian company that seems to specialise in media relating to the Palestine/Israel conflict.

Under Siege game cover

A good explanation of what a typical Afkar Media game is like follows:

Road Block Buster is our new adventure PC game; it is all about jumping around and doing tricks to soldiers with guns, just avoid to be busted and have fun, follow the steps of ‘Maan’ the boy with thousand way to get over any barrier or road block implanted by Israeli Defense forces without using violence, earn respect by helping surrounded people whom can’t get through the separation walls, get deep into the conflict in Palestine and sense the life of ordinary peoples, whom are trying to survive the burning lands using hope and lots of fun.

Sounds like a barrel of laughter doesn’t it?

A review of sorts has been made of the game previously by The Independent;

Under Siege is another pro-Palestinian first person shooter (FPS) and is the sequel to Under Ashes, a game launched in 2001. Under Siege and Under Ashes were developed by Afkar Media, a Damascus-based software company that claims it creates games to educate as well as eliminate. “We believe we had to share responsibility in telling the story behind this conflict and targeting youngsters who depend on video games and movies -which always tell the counter side – to build their world knowledge.” Under Ashes went on to sell more than 10,000 copies in the Middle East, as well as being downloaded more than 500,000 times from the company’s website.


Politics

Before writing any sort of review about this It is probably a good idea to mention my position on the Palestine/Israel issue; I am not for or against either side, I don’t read about the conflict at all (in fact, after hearing about the conflict for the past 18 years while living in the Middle East on a regular basis I avoid it at all costs) and this is probably my first forey into a piece of media based upon it.

It is important to mention what the creators of the game claim; according to the game’s website:

  • “UnderSiege is a video game about the modern history of Palestine, it focuses on the lives of a Palestinian family between 1999-2002 during the second Intifada”
  • “All levels are based on true stories and the characters are a pure reflection of the Palestinian society.”
  • “level contents are inspired by real stories of Palestinian people, that were documented by United Nation records (1978-2004), west bank and Gaza strip are occupied land according to UN law, and military actions performed by local fighters against occupying forces is considered eligible.”

It is probably better for someone more acquainted with the conflict to comment on the accuracy of the game, I however will not be making such observations during this review. I may throw in a link here or there linking missions to real life scenarios (just for your benefit) I also must state that I can only understand a handful of words in Arabic so a lot of the content within the game is not going to be understood by me. I cannot see why having the game in Arabic makes sense, it would’ve been better in English as Arabic speakers are probably the most acquainted with the conflict. I am probably this game’s ideal demographic, yet sadly I can learn almost nothing through playing the game. According to some interviews I read with the creators, they consider their ideal demographic to be young Arab children that are being taught by American games–this seems a fair argument, however the low cost involved in at least adding english subtitles and menus is a questionable one to avoid*

*=I should note there is a demo (Watercooler games: Under Siege demo) which features English and Arabic (you can choose) however to my knowledge and research the game was never released in full form in English.


Mission runthrough

As no one reading this review will likely exert the effort to locate a copy of the game (or even be able to) I think it is necessary (and also fun) to provide some sort of a runthrough of the games content:
The game’s introduction is an FMV, you can watch it here (YouTube);
Mission one: in the game starts you as an unarmed man in a mosque, there is a man with an uzi shooting from side to side–he doesn’t move, he just stays there in a stationary position and goes from left to right, and back again, and again; he only stops to reload. It is somewhat reminiscent of classic arcade in that his movement is continuously looping. Beating him with your fists is easy and only requires a bit of timing, this level can be finished in 30 seconds or less. It is really a very poorly designed map and provides no platform for thought at all by the player. (this mission is apparently based on Baruch Goldstein, a Jewish settler who killed 30 around a mosque in 1994)

Mission two: (Through the Narrow street of Hebron) places you as a Palestinian with a gun, your aim seems to be to kill all the Israeli soldiers. Not much to say on this mission really.

Mission three: (titled David and Goliath) sees you as a young teenager (perhaps best described as a boy) who equipped with a slingshot has to kill/maime Israeli soldiers to save the life of someone who has been shot (as best as I can tell, again, I don’t speak Arabic). I’ll be honest here; this mission is impossible, it took me ages to figure out I had to follow the annoying guy at the beginning. So basically you follow this guy and he shouts “run” every now and then and you knock out an Israeli solider.

Now lets stop for a second here; who else better to kill/maim a soldier who is standing guard with an automatic rifle using a slingshot? If you looked through all the possibilities of grown men who seem to be running backwards and forward in this level and then saw the little kid you guessed right!

So you kill/maime the Israeli soldier and the guy who you followed to begin with runs forward and rescues some injured person who is in the line of fire and runs off; much like in mission two the Israeli’s seem to have a particular hatred of you and you alone, no matter how close anyone else gets they only shoot at you. The next objective in the mission is to pick up a smoke grenade and throw it at the tank; yeah, you a small kid picks up a smoke grenade to throw at a tank while a bunch of grown men run backwards and forwards having a relay race with some Israeli soldiers.

Although I can read Arabic I cannot understand it, and as mission objectives are written in Arabic that isn’t copyable, I had to resort to capturing the text as an image and running it through twitter and hoping someone would translate it for me.
via twitter I figure out that I’m actually supposed to pick up the smoke grenades launched by the military jeep and throw it back towards it, and if my aim is perfect the car drives off in probably the most unconvincing sequence I have ever witnessed.

After the jeep drives off a tank takes its place (complete with an israeli flag on the back); I spend a few minutes fiddling around and it turns out you have to go behind the tank and steal the flag (yeah that’ll sure stop it from blowing the shit out of everything) at which point the game cuts to an FMV in which the solider on the tank starts shooting at you (the kid that just stole the flag) and injures you, he jumps down from the tank and tries to finish you off with a pistol (which jams), so he picks up a brick, holds it above his head as if he’s about to smash your head in and the screen goes black. You can watch the FMV on youtube at this link.

I did manage to find a glitch with this mission whereby if I used the volume dial or any media keys on my keyboard (Logitech G15) the 3rd person view of the little kid would switch to a first person view of him holding a grenade–unfortunately the grenade doesn’t work, and instead it’s basically still the slingshot but with a different view. It’s possible the mission originally called for the boy to throw a grenade at the tank but this is merely an assumption based upon this finding.

Mission Four:
Mission four places you as a guy with a gun, you have to be stealthy and avoid some passing Israeli military jeeps, and you basically go and pick up some TNT;


What your average pack of TNT might look like if the creators of Under Siege ruled the earth

Anyway, there is some bridge, you get the TNT and you blow the shit out of the bridge using it. You have to do all this while avoiding the stupid jeeps that keep on passing back and forth on the bridge (think of a similar look to the Israeli military relay race video I placed in mission three) and every time they are about to pass some voiceover comes on and the guy starts whispering about them passing (presumably, again it is in Arabic)

Now in just about every single movie or piece of media I have ever seen, the TNT is placed UNDER the bridge, this is logical incase anyone were to see it. However, in Under Siege you have to place the TNT on top of the bridge. Then you have to go back and shoot the shit out of a bunch of Israeli soliders and then you get an FMV of a tank passing over the bridge as it blows up.

Mission Five:
Mission five starts where mission four left off; the bridge has been blown to shit and now a bunch of Israeli soliders are trying to kill you. Basically the aim of this mission is to kill all the Israeli soldiers and that is pretty much it. Not much to say about it.

Mission Six:
This is where the hilarity really begins; you start the game with a sniper rifle and basically have to cover some guy that goes and presumably rescues some other guy from a truck.
I forgot to mention that the other guy pretty much looks like rambo:

Anyway, the sniper rifle is pretty good. You basically have to just patrol the area while waiting for this other guy; this game is so heavily scripted–however in this mission the scripting really shines, particularly the shitty way the scripting seems to loop (a.k.a. Israeli soldier relay race)
So basically what happens is you see this guy hiding behind the road barrier absolutely noob-cannoning his sniper rifle into the adjacent mountains, you aim, fire and he drops dead. Problem sorted yeah? Except there is something weird about the Israeli army that this game reveals, their military jeeps may look normal but they are in fact clown cars.

The area in this screenshot circled red is where I shot the sniper, however the guy now walking towards the circle is another sniper, who came from the same car. In fact the same thing happens from all 4 corners of this mission:

  1. A group of people get out of the car and start shooting
  2. You kill them all
  3. Rinse, repeat (except that the people are IDENTICAL in both look and actions, there is no variation between the subsequent groups that come out of the clown cars)

It’s like space invaders; just wave after wave of the same shit.
By the end of the mission this is what the ground looks like:

Under that guy; the assortment of guns you see lined up towards him? They’re the remnants of the identical enemies I shot.

Mission Seven:
Mission seven is an alternative viewpoint to mission six; the first thing you see when you start is this:

I guess that is who I was playing as in mission six. So basically you’re rambo this time, and you have the big bad ass para military machine gun and you get to own everyone. Meanwhile this radar in top right corner of your screen starts beeping with the proximity of Israeli soldiers to the hostage (I hestitate to use the term Jewdar as it might be considered racist but I don’t think a more appropriate time for this term will ever be witnessed as I do not believe anyone, has ever before or will ever again creat a radar that beeps according to the distance of Jewish people)

So, you break this guy out (as to whether he is Palestinian or Israeli I am unsure), and you have to follow/guide him back to your car




Needless to say, guiding him around is a pain in the ass.
While you’re rescuing/capturing this guy your wife (again, I guess) is shooting at things. She’s shooting at things like the mountains and basically in random directions. Seeing as she is using an automatic sniper rifle and firing it rapidly you could consider her to be noob-cannoning.


Look at that shit. She shoots at EMPTY MOUNTAINS, then she shoots at YOUR CAR, then she shoots at THE FLOOR, then she shoots AT YOU. Unbelievable.

So you rescue this guy, put him in the car and drive off; you are on top shooting at stuff and the woman that was just emptying clips of ammunition at the ground is driving–I think it goes without saying that she cannot drive for shit.


Obviously when there is a huge car wreck in front of you she just tries to drive straight through it. She eventually drives STRAIGHT into an oncoming hummer, which means I have to start the entire level again as I autosaved just before as I cannot destroy the oncoming hummer quickly enough.

Mission eight:
Obviously your wife does nothing useful and just LITERALLY walks past enemies; she then proceeds to use her sniper rifle against what could be argued as a plain wall or a tank (both of which are stupid things to shoot at with a sniper rifle)


As you might be able to notice from the video’s of this mission–there are a shit load of enemies, and rambo and his wife who cant shoot or drive to save herself are supposed to take down 2 tanks, a helicopter and at least 30 superiourly-armed infantry by yourselves. Does that sound convincing to you? Because it doesn’t sound very convincing to me. Although when you’re on the side that has the Jewdar at your disposal maybe it helps to tip things a bit in your favor.
Yes, the Jewdartm makes another appearance this time; whenever enemies come too close to your wife it starts beeping away and if you don’t kill the baddies soon enough you fail the mission.

Then you run outside with little-miss-can’t-drive-for-shit-but-can-shoot-at-the-ground and a helicopter hovers above (yeah, a helicopter) then the helicopter starts using its gattling gun on you, you shoot it down and it crashes.

Then you run for a bit… and then…
You see some Israeli guys hiding behind a van complete with blue skull caps:


and then……
and then what happens you ask?

Then the game crashes… and while trying to navigate the menus I press a button, I read ‘naam’ and ‘la’ in Arabic (Yes and No) I just click any old button and I accidentaly delete my save game profile. So I have to redo all the previous 8 missions or just end my review here. I choose the latter option.


Installation

For a game from 2004 its installation is of poor quality; the game screws up dual monitor setups based upon my experience–as to why the installer wants to run in full screen is beyond me anyway. It takes 5 attempts to finally get the game installed (this in the end requires enabling XP compatibility mode in Vista and also running the program as an admin), the installer appears to ‘work’ but Vista insists it is timing out and I have to quit it and start again each time to get the installer to go further. The menu buttons dont show up and the installer is pretty much a complete failure, I have to guess and press enter to get the installer to work at all. As to why a game that requires a Pentium 3 needs to be Direct X 9 is also beyond me, the game seems to be a bit of a screw up from a technical point of view.

To get the game to run properly I actually have switch to single monitor mode and switch down to 640×480 in the hope that it might work–and it does! It is perhaps the weirdest game in that one of the menu items is to uninstall the game which I have never seen before (perhaps a seperate program to uninstall the game, but on the main page of the game would you really expect an uninstall item?)

As for the actual content the game installed, it is mostly a large file containing levels, a bunch of FMV’s and some music. The actual executables run off the CD, so it is something like a basic installation.

The game runs at 640×480 up through 1024×768. I’m serious. A game in 2004 that can only run at a maximum resolution of 1024×768 is a game that is starting off quite badly in my books.

The audio quality of the game is poor to say the least, during many levels a ‘chanting’ of sorts can be heard throughout, though it sounds as if it was recorded on a cassette rather than anything approaching decent quality. The sound effects are poor also, a select few sound as if they are lifted directly from counter-strike.

The game difficulty I would say is rated somewhere near ‘literally impossible’ in many instances–enemies have ninja reactions and the whole game is spent quicksaving/quickloading and trying to tap around corners without being killed. I’d say that this game is even more challenging that Halo on legendary mode. Once you master the weird difficulty and sloppy design it becomes quite a bit easier. I wouldn’t go so far as to say the game has AI, in my opinion it is more akin to playing against the computer in pong, it just has its scripts, almost everything is scripted in the game, it doesn’t feel as if it is dynamic in any sense.


Graphics and Gameplay

The graphics are decent; I would not criticize them as they do the job. It is merely the game engine that is at fault in much of the game, had stuff like recoil been a bit smoother and stuff like movement been also a bit smoother the game would have been far improved.

There are several major design flaws in the game, notably:

  • The hitboxes of the wall (if that’s what you call it) seem to protrude a bit outward and even though the enemy can hit me, I cannot him them effectively despite my crosshair showing their entire body in plain view.
  • Even running the game on a GTX 280 with 1 GB of VRAM, the game doesn’t hop above 26 fps at its max resolution. 26 fps is a weird frame rate to cap a game at–motion film (i.e. cinema) runs at 24 frames per second, but although this frame rate has certain aesthetic appeal it does not work in the gaming world, so I cannot see why it has been capped. In my experience, a game of this visual quality should run far above 60 fps at the very least. I even tried forcibly turning anti-aliasing off yet the frame rate stayed at 26 fps.

According to some (PDF warning), the game is a reaction to the Delta Force series of game, which in themselves single player has been a poor element in my opinion (that is mostly in the first title of the series). The creator of Under Siege does deny this link however. It has also been compared to Full Spectrum Warrior.


Conclusion

A conclusion of this game was extremely difficult to make–although it is fun at some parts it is unintentionally fun. It does certainly provide a unique story although perhaps I am unable to appreciate the finer detail due to my lack of knowing the Arabic language.
Although the game is of a poor standard, it does make an imaginative usage of switching between different viewpoints–not only between first-person and third-person but between different people, different situations, and different abilities. In my opinion the major letdown of the game is overall quality and its demographic limitations, the game could have easily been translated into English (just with subtitles, no need to redo audio) and it’s spread may have been further.
The constant killing during the game does make it quite a redundant title; there is little thought required to play.
As for the games faults, they are numerous and large. The save game system in the game is poor; it fails to save automatically when you reach an important event during the mission, so if you only use quicksave/quickload it can sometimes lead to ‘infinite death loops’ (whereby you quicksaved moments before an unavoidable death) and when this happens you have no choice but to start over from the beginning of the mission. The game itself suffers from severe technical problems and it could have done with quite a bit of overall polish.
Another problem with the game is it is so absolutely linear; the difference being between this and other games if you try anything else you will just die and have to start over again.

One thing that is nice about the game is the design of buildings and vehicles and pretty much everything; it is very localized which is a nice thing to see in a game rather than a bunch of template designs just thrown together.

For a game for the Middle East I would consider it a pretty good effort, however from an international stand point I rate it:

4/10

More links:
Afkarmedia webpage for Under Siege
Watercooler games: Under Siege demo

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