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The Best of Tactical Gaming: Infiltration

Well-deserved love and attention for a landmark game

Shortly after publishing my "Tactical Gaming Done Right" article, I received a good number of e-mails urging me to check out certain games that I hadn't covered. The game that was most heavily cited, time and time again, was an Unreal Tournament mod called "Infiltration" that I had never seriously played before. Wanting to be as thorough as possible, and mindful that I would likely do follow-up articles in the future on this topic, I went ahead and dug out my UT CDs to see what all the fuss was about.

Here we are, a few months later, and I can now clearly see that not having had Infiltration in the original article was a gross oversight on my part. I must plead ignorance for having neglected it. From what I can see now, Infiltration must be considered as the mother of all tactical realism games - or at least the first to implement a vast number of what at the time were brand new concepts. That Infiltration so solidly implements so many features that had never seriously been seen before in the genre is a tribute to the skill and vision of the developers.

It is a shame that the team hasn't released a version of the mod for a more recent engine than the original Unreal Tournament that it is based off of. If they were able to do so much, so competently with such an old engine so long ago, one can only wonder at what they might pull off with a modern engine.

With all of that being said, I was so impressed by the mod that I decided it was deserving of an entire article of it's own to highlight some of the more prominent features in it. Many of these features take the crown in their respective categories, and as time allows I will go through the original "Tactical Gaming Done Right" article to cite this when appropriate. Infiltration is most deserving of all the praise it can get.

As I said, this article will be covering many but not all of the noteable features of the Infiltration mod. They're grouped into two main sections - Weapons & Gear and Movement & Views - but aside from that, they're in no particular order.

As one last note before we get into things, I would like to clarify in advance that I am not always distinguishing between community addons and the "core" Infiltration experience. Everyone who has contributed towards making Infiltration the game that it is today deserves credit for their part in what I've featured below, be they entirely new features and weapons like those seen in the community weapon pack, or maps, or other mutators.

Update, September 25th: PC Gamer UK typo'd and reported this as being a UT2004 mod. It's not, it's actually based on the origina Unreal Tournament (which can be found for pennies these days).

Better late than never... 

Starting off...

...

To start off this article, I've created a video that shows off some of the basic features you'll find in Infiltration. This is not a comprehensive listing of the many, many fantastic features that Infiltration has, but it does act as a nice primer to the mod.

As usual, I'll add my Google Video disclaimer. The quality of the videos I have on Google Vid, the ones you'll find embedded in these pages, is far below the full-resolution ones that are linked below each clip. I would highly recommend that people download the full-resolution versions whenever possible.

On to the Basics of Infiltration...

Download the hires version of this clip.

 

 

Following that, we'll kick this off with a combat compilation from the mod.

Download the hires version of this clip.

Next we'll move on to the meat of the article, where we'll look at the many outstanding features of Infiltration's weaponry and gear, followed by the movement and views system.

 

Infiltration Weaponry & Gear

If you can shoot it, use it, or wear it, you'll find it here

Ironsights, Ironsight Freeaim, and Recoil

Infiltration, when combined with the Community Weapon Pack, has the best ironsight implementation of any game, ever, and that's not something I say lightly.

It's not that the weapon models or textures are the best around - Call of Duty 2, as mentioned in my previous article, is a good example of a game that is really solid on those accounts - but rather that the way they move, the way the player interacts with them, and all the subtle touches that add up to something amazing.

The ironsight freeaim system the mod employs is a key factor in making the ironsight system have such a solid presence for the player. In it, the freeaim system that games like Red Orchestra and Operation Flashpoint use for their unsighted modes is applied not only to the unsighted but also to the sighted mode. Thus, a sighted weapon's point-of-aim is not dead-center of the screen ala RO or OFP. There are more benefits than just that - for instance, the weapon recoil system feels much more believable than what you get in other games, thanks to the sights being able to recoil around independent of the player's view. You get the standard and well-done view kick when firing, but the actual weapon sights are recoiling separate of that as well. In this system, a player can keep his eyes on his target, sight on it, fire a round, and then adjust his point-of-aim back on target and fire his follow-up shots in a fashion that more closely mimics the real world than what's found in the fixed-ironsight view methods employed by other games.

One other major benefit of the freeaim system is that it allows for a very natural way to see "over the sights" without having to leave sighted mode. Think of it as having your weapon shouldered, and then lowering the muzzle slightly so that you can better see things in front of you. In Infiltration, you only need to move your mouse down a bit - your weapon sights will dip down, increasing your viewing area while maintaining your current viewing angle and direction, and you can rapidly bring them back up to a firing position without having to toggle in and out of ironsight mode constantly as in some other games. I've illustrated this below via screenshots, and you'll also see it very frequently in the combat scenes in the videos accompanying this article. It's a godsend, and effectively gives you an "over the sights" option without complicating the aiming-in process or adding an extra step to it.

The way with which the ironsights are done in Infiltration, partly thanks to their scale and partly thanks to the freeaim, allows for a very solid implementation of reflex optics like the M68 CCO, EOTech Holographic Weapon Sight, and Trijicon Reflex. Using these in the game, particularly when moving, gives a player a solid idea of why the sights are so highly rated in real-world usage. While they are not 100% accurately modeled, the game does a far better job with them than any others, and reflects many of the benefits that they have compared to traditional ironsights.

There are some other important things that come into play with the ironsight system as well. One of the subtle ones is the way the player moves the weapon when switching firing modes - it's a quick movement, but it's visible enough that it acts as solid feedback whenever the fire mod is changed.

Less subtle is the way the weapon moves when the player is mobile. While at a jog, the weapon moves quite a bit when sighted in and you can clearly tell by the constantly shifting relationship between the front and rear sights (when applicable) that your accuracy on the move isn't going to be so hot. When walking, on the other hand, the sights can be seen to shift around a bit but one can see that they'll still be able to fire with decent accuracy.

Last but not least, a player who is crouched and sighted in, upon transitioning to standing, will see his sights disrupt somewhat before going back to normal. This prevents the "Peek up, fire a 100% accurate shot, duck down instantly" behavior that is found in many other games.

Download the hires version of this clip.





Scopes

The scopes in Infiltration are just as solid as their ironsight companions. One pleasant touch is that the field of view for the scopes seems to be far more realistic than what you see in most games. Combine the freeaim system with the parallax modeled and the ability to hold your breath to stabilize your aim and you have a very solid scope system that allows for sharpshooters and snipers to fire at a rate and with an accuracy level that is much more believable than other games. In addition to that, movement while in scoped mode results in your aim point shifting all over the place via the freeaim, making it impossible to fire accurately while on the move with the sniper weapons, just as it should be. It is also impossible to fire a sniper rifle from the hip - you must be in some sort of sighted mode. When it comes to the M-82 SASR, you cannot fire it from any position aside from prone, sighted. This makes sense considering the massive size and bulk of the rifle.

Some scopes, like the one on the M-82 SASR, have adjustable-power magnification, while others like the ACOG have illuminated reticules for low-light usage. Other weapons like the VSS allow for a player to switch from using the scope to the backup ironsights - more on that later. I should note also that the AN-PVS nightvision scope for the M-16A4 has a day/night filter so that it can actually be used in daytime or bright nightime situations.

Here's a quote from Beppo, the mod's lead programmer, about the parallax effect possible and how the scopes work:

The scopes are actually three parts that can move independantly - two black sheets with a hole in them and one extra part for the reticule. All are 3D models even if they are more or less 2D. The code then lets all three move and wobble around almost like the standard 3D models of a weapon. Due to the 'holes' moving and overlapping you get the parallax effect and the reticule moves within.

The following video shows off some scoped sniping.

Download the hires version of this clip.





Sight Options

On many weapons, the player is able to select what kind of sights he wants to use. This is typically the choice between a close-combat optic, iron sights, or a magnified optic. Each has a role and purpose, and each is well-modeled. Infiltration goes beyond that on several of the weapons, allowing for multiple sight systems to be possible on a single weapon. The G-36 is a perfect example of this - the player can toggle between using the small reflex dot optic on the top of the weapon, or the magnified scope below that. You can see this illustrated below.

There are also some nice touches on the sniper rifles. The VSS sniper rifle, shown here, is the one rifle that has accessible ironsights thanks to how the scope is mounted. You can switch between using the scope and the ironsights freely. The M-14 DMR also allows for you to choose to use ironsights-only or mount the scope when you're selecting your loadout. However, all sniper rifles cannot be fired in most close-quarters situations and you need to actually aim them before firing is made possible. This also makes sense due to their size and bulk, as you simply cannot fire a .50 BMG sniper rifle 'from the hip' with any success.





Breath Holding/Stationary Zoom

While in ironsight mode the player's sights can be seen to subtly shift in relation to each other to a small degree. These minor misalignments do not come into play in close- and medium-range encounters, due to the small amount of misalignment not causing a dramatic impact at such relatively short ranges. However, when shooting at greater distances, the small misalignments are compounded by the distance to potentially cause missed shots, or rounds landing other than where the front-sight tip seems to be pointed.

For an illustration of this phenomenon with both iron-sighted and scoped weapons, here's a graphic from Army Field Manual 23-10.

When it comes to long-distance shooting, it's important that a player be able to see well enough to precisely aim at their target, as well as control their breathing and align their sights to increase their chances of scoring a hit.

Infiltration rolls those three considerations into two functions of the aiming system, and the way that it does it is simple, logical, and intuitively easy to use. Ironsight zoom allows for a stationary player to decrease their field of view so that they can better see their target, while the breath holding feature takes care of the sight alignment and actual breath holding together.

To zoom, one must simply stay still and hold their ironsight key down once they're in sighted mode - after a brief pause the view will zoom is slightly to allow for better long-range accuracy potential.

To really make those long-range shots with consistency, however, players will want to hold their breath - this is accomplished by pressing and holding down the ironsight key again. There will be a brief pause, the breathing will stabilize and the sight alignment will tighten up, allowing the player to make accurate long-range shots.

It's a simple system, requires no extra keystrokes, and is well-implemented. Movement will kick you out of the ironsight zoom, while firing will 'reset' your breathing. Both of these work well in giving players the option to "give it their all" for long-range slow-fire encounters with any type of weapon. The method used for controlling and the general implementation of the breath holding feature in particular does a superb job at making the sniping more realistic, and would be welcome in any future games in the genre.





Weapon Configurability & Player Loadouts

Infiltration sports a good number of weapon customization options. You'll find suppressors, tactical flashlights, laser sights (visible and infrared), close-combat and reflex sights, magnified optics, night scopes, grenade launchers, and some weapons even let you choose between box and drum magazines.

All of this is configured from your player loadout screen, where you're able to select any variety of weapons and gear. Encumbrance is modeled, so grabbing an Minimi machinegun, armor vest, helmet, several grenades, a bunch of ammo boxes, and an AT-4 will result in you having reduced stamina and slower movement speeds. On the other hand, grabbing a simple submachinegun with a few magazines is going to give you a great deal of stamina and optimal movement speeds. It's a balancing act of how much firepower and protection you want versus how much maneuverability you're willing to sacrifice to have it. While Brigade E5: New Jagged Union overall has better weights for the various pieces of gear, weapons, ammo, et cetera (as mentioned in the previous article), Infiltration deserves recognition for getting a very solid player loadout system implemented in a first-person game and having it have such a noticeable positive impact on the game's "balance", if you will.

Infiltration tactical lights actually have a 'cone' of illumination, instead of simply being a single point as in some games.

The following video shows off the laser sights in Infiltration.

Download the hires version of this clip.





The M-203, or "Proper M203 sights!"

Amazingly enough, Infiltration actually models the M-203 leaf sight in a realistic, useable fashion. No longer is a player forced to use unrealistic methods to get the 40mm grenades on target - with Infiltration, guess the range, set the sight, and voila! You may not hit them exactly (depending on how accurate your range estimate was), but you'll be a hell of a lot closer than you'd get with the non-functional systems that other games employ. Now if only more games would get this feature right, we'd be all set (I'm looking at you, America's Army! Oh, and Flashpoint... and every other game that has ever had an M-203 in it and claims to be realistic).

As far as ammo for the M203 goes, you'll find smoke, incindiary, star parachute (a vid in the nightvision section shows them off), and high-explosive rounds. The rounds have a realistic 16-20 meter arming distance - rounds that impact before arming will be duds. Players that are hit by non-detonating rounds will be damaged by it, too.

Oh, one last thing. As a neat touch, anyone who is caught on fire by the M203 incindiary grenades can stop, go prone, and move side to side to try to extinguish the flames. Stop, drop, and roll!





Bullet Penetration & Ricochets

Infiltration has one of the best if not the single best bullet penetration and ricochet models of any tactical game. Penetration varies based on a number of factors, best explained by mod's Lead Programmer, Norbert 'Beppo' Bogenrieder from Aachen, Germany.

We detect the used texture on the surface the bullet hits. Depending on this the possible ricochet angles are determined.

The material and the angle of the impact can increase the chance of allowing a bullet to actually ricochet rather than penetrate.

The distance a bullet is able to 'travel' through the object/wall depends on the caliber, the weapon it was fired from, and energy left.

The further a projectile flies before it hits something, the lower its energy potential in form of velocity is, lowering the maximum penetration value a bit, too.

If a projectile is able to penetrate the object or wall it hits then it will continue its flight path on the other side of it. However its damage and penetration potential will be reduced.

This results in the RC.50 being able to fire through several walls in a row, even very thick ones as in reality. Whereas the shot of most pistols is only able to fire through thin walls or doors and the next wall will stop the bullet from penetrating further.

As you can see, the system is quite in-depth, and it's a refreshing change from the extremely limited penetration seen in games like America's Army or Raven Shield. The urban environments typically found in Infiltration become all the more interesting when the walls are realistically permeable to bullets. Popping a person while they take cover behind a thin wall, or hosing down an enemy-occupied building from afar are just two of the many different satisfying ways with which you're likely to find yourself using such a robust model.

It's also logical to assume that the urban combat technique of staying a foot or two away from any walls would also pay off to employ in Infiltration - bullets ricocheting off the wall, with you standing up against it, are likely to hit and hurt you, whereas giving yourself a bit of clearance from the wall may cause them to bounce harmlessly past.

One other nice side effect of this system deals with players firing from windows. In most games (to include stuff like Red Orchestra and Call of Duty 2), players can fire from a second- or third-story window at ground-level players and then step back a foot, causing the wall below the window to soak up any return fire directed their way. With Infiltration's bullet penetration, this gamey tactic is no longer all that viable. Shoot from a window and duck back and you just might be surprised to see that the guy you shot at just put a bullet through your stomach, after having punched it through the wall you were trying to use as cover.

The following video shows off a number of bullet penetration and ricochet examples in the mod.

Download the hires version of this clip.





Grenades

Surprise surprise, Infiltration does a fantastic job of modelling hand grenades. Perhaps you're starting to see the pattern here?

Infiltration combines good aiming, physics, fragmentation modelling, and a solid throwing system to give us one of the best grenade implementations seen thus far.

Starting with the throwing system, players have three options as to how they want to throw. The "High" throw automatically puts the most power into the throw, lobbing the grenade as far as possible. The "Low" throw, on the other hand, is a much "softer" throw that can be used for lobbing grenades a short distance, such as over stone walls. Manual mode allows for the traditional "How long you hold fire dictates how far the throw will be" style. Each has a distinct use in the mod.

For aiming, Infiltration has without a doubt the best aiming method I've seen so far. The player's off-hand is stretched out in a textbook grenade throwing stance, with the tip of his finger indicating where he's going to throw the grenade. The freeaim system acts as the icing on the cake in this situation, making the overall throwing experience seem more fluid and natural than what you find in games with fixed-aim setups. With the hand as an indication of the intended throw direction, a player is able to achieve great grenade accuracy in a believable, realistic fashion that doesn't require crosshairs or other artificial indicators as guidance.

On the physics side of thing, the Infiltration grenades bounce, roll, and fly like you would expect them to. Throwing a grenade onto a slanted roof will cause it to bounce and roll back down, whereas chucking a grenade hard into a wall will get a believable result. Thanks in part to this, employment of grenades is very natural in the game.

The grenades also have a nice fragmentation system modeled, which results in a fairly good number of individual fragments being flung out from each explosion. These, combined with the blast damage itself, make it a very lethal thing to be standing near a grenade when it goes off. The shrapnel also adds an element of uncertainty to the grenade explosions - you cannot simply be X-many meters away and know that you'll be unscathed, as there's always the chance that one or more fragments will rip into you.

The final two nice touches involve the ability to cook a grenade and the way the "spoon" is modeled. You can cook a grenade at any time, giving the enemy less time to react to it once it comes sailing their way. When it comes time to actually throw the grenade, you'll see the spoon go flying off in mid-air and fall short while the grenade continues on towards its target. As a great touch, if you cook the grenade, the spoon flies off pre-throw - it's that kind of attention-to-detail, present in all aspects of the mod, that help to make it such a solid experience.

The following video highlights many of the great features of Infiltration's grenade system.

Download the hires version of this clip.





Magcheck

A mutator for Infiltration introduces a system for roughly estimating how many rounds remain in your magazine, since Infiltration - like Red Orchestra - doesn't give you a magical round count for your magazines. It one-ups the Red Orchestra system, however, since it allows for you to bind a key to "Magcheck", which will do a quick animation and then give you a rough idea as to how many rounds you have left in the currently-inserted magazine. No longer must you have to put in a fresh mag to ensure that you have rounds remaining. Now, if time permits, you're able to check the current one to see if you can get by with it or need to do a full reload.

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