In Without Warning, a radical terrorist group has targeted and seized the Peterson-Daniels Chemical Facility, a vulnerable location that jeopardizes millions of people from the devastating ecological hazard it imposes if destroyed. Pleas are useless and any direct military assault would be too great a risk. As terrified hostages fearfor their lives, their only hope lies with a covert operations team, whose goal is to infiltrate the plant and eliminate the merciless enemy. The harrowing events unfold over a 12 hour period, featuring a unique gameplay dynamic which enables the six central characters to experience events across the same timeline but from their own distinct viewpoints. The player controls each character individually, with the focus automatically shifting to a new character at key moments which are unfolded throughcut scenes. By switching between the characters, their individual tales are woven together to create an overall picture of the events that happened during the crisis. The player will also retrospectively view events through the eyes of another character and is therefore not only a participant in the events, but a spectator as well. Furthermore, actions performed as one character affect the progress of others and players must successfully utilize the strengths of each in order to advance.
Imagine a PS2 version of the TV show 24 and you have just imagined Without Warning. But does its novel time shifting and character changing, combined with its highly predictable ‘defeat the terrorists’ storyline combine to make an innovative new game?
Despite the name, just from the initial cutscene, a whole lot of warning is given. The storyline is based around a chemical facility seized by a terrorist organization that's threatening to blow it up, killing thousands of people. Sound familiar? Anyway, your aim is to save lots of hostages, kill lots of terrorists and disarm lots of bombs. But rather than just playing one character, you play three members of a covert operation team, and three civilians. This unique multiple character aspect of the game combines well with the second original feature the game has to offer.
Taken straight out of 24, Without Warning uses a new game play ‘timeline’ which allows multiple characters to experience the same key events from their own perspective - and so allowing more than one aspect of a situation to be explored. The game evolves over a 12 hour period throughout which many of the characters interact and meet.
This is without doubt a novel and interesting way to structure the game, but unfortunately it lacks this same originality in the storyline - an ingredient which would have made it a genre leader. The game lazily uses a tried and tested plot which rather than engaging the player, makes you switch off. The rest of the game, unfortunately, is just as predictable as the storyline.
In the real world, terrorists are a major threat to our safety. They pose no such danger in Without Warning though, where they act as little more than moving targets. They are deficient in any spontaneity, and are as predicable as the sun rising. Little to no skill is needed to defeat an enemy - simply charging and shooting wildly does the trick, no matter how many terrorists you face. Although fun in its own way, this style of combat becomes dull quickly and you soon yearn for some of the stealth and skill required in rivals such as Splinter Cell. When playing a secretary, some stealth is required, but it is so basic and simple, the developers would have been better off leaving it out.
The mini-games which are found in many of the missions provide a grateful relief from the otherwise repetitive gameplay. All are directly linked to the gameplay - such as lock picking, bomb diffusing and saving hostages - and a few feature time limits.
The graphics in Without Warning are pretty realistic and imaginative, featuring inventive lighting effects, well defined shadows and impressive arenas. The levels themselves are nicely interactive, with pipes which can burst when shot, and of course the classic exploding barrels. The music throughout is fitting without being overly dramatic.
In all, it is difficult to judge this game. It contains many of the features typical of a fantastic must-own game such as a really inventive structure, good graphics and a number of clearly identifiable and believable characters. But simultaneously, some of the most important factors are missing - a decent storyline, engaging combat, unpredictable AI.
It’s still a good game - but just not what it so easily could have been.