An FPS series that dominated Chinese net cafes in the '90s is being revived: I tried it, and wound up breaking all the bones in my character's body

The player wrestles with an alligator.
(Image credit: TiMi)

Something has gone wrong. Actually, lots of somethings have gone wrong. My body is riddled with gunshot wounds, I'm lost, I am being pursued by an alligator that—in the spirit of all men being brothers—I resolutely refuse to shoot, and all I have to show for it is a heaving rucksack of forceps and exotic jams. Or nondescript fluids in jars, anyway. I prefer to think of them as jams.

But those are trifles, nothings, mere bagatelles compared to my most pressing issue: Every bone in my body has been shattered by gunfire. It is unfathomable that my $500,000 suit of heavy armour has somehow not crushed what remains of me into a puddle of inert goo. It is entirely predictable that the antibiotics I keep popping when I hit the 'medicine' key aren't helping at all.

(Image credit: TiMi)

In other words, I do not think I am very good at Delta Force: Hawk Ops, Tencent's emphatically free-to-play resurrection of the Delta Force military FPS series that got its last new entry in 2009. It's coming from the megacorp's TiMi Studio Group subsidiary (previously responsible for Call of Duty Mobile) and promises to revive the chaotic action that dominated Chinese internet cafes in the glory days of the late '90s and 2000s.

This means war

My adventures in antibiotics and bone-breakage took place in Delta Force's extraction shooter mode, but my intro to the game—Tencent flew me out to LA for a hands-on last week—came in the form of its more Battlefield-esque team-based multiplayer: Havoc Warfare.

(Image credit: TiMi)

This is a mode more similar to the ones that won the hearts and minds of Chinese gamers in the older Delta Force games. "Back then, Delta Force was one of the most popular games in net cafes in China," says publishing director Jessica Zhang, with legions of teens dropping a lot of kuai to play the game late into the night.

You know the drill here: Armies consisting of tens of players on each side are pitted against one another in "full scale warfare" to assault and defend control points. You choose from four characters to play as—your tank-y heavy weapons guy, a speedy lady with traps and bows, the guy with the medkits, and the jack-of-all-trades fella with an assault rifle—and off you go to war. At some point, you'll be able to doll them up with cosmetics, which will also be the only thing the game will let you spend real-life money on.

(Image credit: TiMi)

It's pretty good fun, although it all feels quite familiar. The guns go thunk-thunk pleasingly, the battles themselves are hectic and chaotic, and I suspect that if I had a bit more time with the game than the single round I got a hands-on with, my strategies for the classes' special abilities might amount to more than 'random flailing'. Although I was pretty okay at using the Engineer's rocket launcher, my attempts to make good use of the Recon class' enemy-paralysing drone only succeeded in paralysing a lot of empty space where enemies used to be.

Fair's fair: My round of the team-based multiplayer mode consisted entirely of bots, and there are some parts of the game, like vehicles, that I just didn't get any time with. Still, I never found a part of the mode to really sink my teeth into, something that made it feel markedly different from similar military FPSes I've played before. That doesn't doom the game—the fundamentals are in place for TiMi to build something interesting as development goes on—but it does mean I'm more interested in what its standard multiplayer mode could be than I am in what it is.

(Image credit: TiMi)

Lethal extract

If, like me, you're still wearing your mourning attire for Call of Duty's neglected DMZ mode, then Delta Force's other half will likely be of more interest to you. The other half I played, anyway. TiMi is also working on a singleplayer and co-op mode based on Black Hawk Down (yes, as in the 2001 movie), but I didn't get a chance to try that.

What I did get to play is a full-fledged extraction shooter mode called Hazard Operations, where you and some friends drop into a map, gather loot, avoid or fight other players, and contend against multiple factions of AI enemies.

(Image credit: TiMi)

In other words, DMZ is risen, and now it comes with the tantalising possibility of injury and disease. Like I mentioned up top, Delta Force's extraction mode comes with a wide array of debuffs to make your life harder: broken limbs, poisons and what-have-you.

Where recovering from a battle in CoD is a matter of ducking behind waist-high walls for long enough that your health regenerates, your adventures in Delta Force are a bit more hardcore, a bit more Escape From Tarkov. They can easily become a matter of limping along, scavenging every nook and cranny to heal what ails you. That's pretty much what happened to me.

Your adventures in Delta Force are a bit more hardcore, a bit more Escape From Tarkov

Unlike DMZ, where getting out would pretty much always get you something, Delta Force introduces the potential to operate at a running loss. Before I headed into the mode, I dropped serious (in-game) cash to kit myself out in the most expensive gear there was. Remember that bit in Frasier where Niles—utterly clueless about an upcoming fishing trip—tries to make up for his ignorance by buying all the most expensive gear possible? That was me.

(Image credit: TiMi)

Which, admittedly, probably saved my life given how many bullets I ended up taking, but also meant I lumbered across the map at a snail's pace, was easily overencumbered, and ultimately ended up making about 10% of the money I'd spent back in the loot I managed to cart home. 

When I eventually made it home, anyway. Some of the 'random' extraction points that aren't at the edge of the map might be non-functional decoys, which I found out to my chagrin when I tried to get out using the one nearest to me. That means choosing which extraction to go for is a bit of a gamble when you're weighed down with loot and looking to get out before someone can rob you.

But hey, at least the people robbing you won't be your teammates. Zhang explained to me that the devs "really believe that our game is about working together," which means there aren't opportunities for you to suddenly turn your rifle on your teammates at the extraction point and snag all the loot. "We built our gameplay around how a team works the best when you play as a team," said Zhang, which means that you can't hurt your squadmates and that the devs are ready to come down on anyone trying to troll their team. "If you really want to backstab everyone, come play solo."

(Image credit: TiMi)

It all amounts to a mode that feels fairly distinct in its blend of CoD-esque aesthetics and gameplay with Tarkov-style debuffs. It's the mode most likely to grab my attention when Delta Force drops in earnest. I've always had a soft spot for games that make my life unnecessarily complicated, creating the room for chaotic and strange stories to emerge in a way that just doesn't happen in more straightforward FPSes. I guess I won't be able to shoot a dear friend of ten years just before we extract so I can steal his forceps and exotic jams, but you can't have everything.

Delta Force: Hawk Ops doesn't have a release date just yet, but you can keep track of its progress on its official website.

Joshua Wolens
News Writer

One of Josh's first memories is of playing Quake 2 on the family computer when he was much too young to be doing that, and he's been irreparably game-brained ever since. His writing has been featured in Vice, Fanbyte, and the Financial Times. He'll play pretty much anything, and has written far too much on everything from visual novels to Assassin's Creed. His most profound loves are for CRPGs, immersive sims, and any game whose ambition outstrips its budget. He thinks you're all far too mean about Deus Ex: Invisible War.