Without Warning is deceptive. By 'borrowing' ideas from TV drama phenomenon 24, this special-ops anti-terror game refuses to sit comfortably on the special-ops anti-terror shelf. However, you'd be forgiven for thinking that it sounds like action-shooter genero-crap from the storyline.
A ruthless terrorist group has seized a chemical plant close to the centre of a city. They've taken hostages, set up perimeters, and are now patrolling areas smoking dodgy foreign fags and scowling.
They reckon they're gonna blow it up, causing an ecological disaster that will kill millions and leave a legacy of ruinous fallout that'll last for generations.
Obviously a direct assault would be dangerous, so a Special Forces team is sent in. At eight o'clock. There's not much time left.
What separates this from the crowd is a narrative structure in which you don't just play a member of the Special Forces. But three of them. And a security guard. And a receptionist. And a news cameraman.
And you'll see that every action has a reaction on the various threads of what is essentially the same story. Clever stuff.
Admittedly, the main difference between the outwardly offensive characters is weapon choice.
You'll play an explosives expert, sniper, assault dude and the security guard (a pistol expert), with each seemingly and frustratingly incapable of picking up other weapons.
Most intriguing is Ben Harrison, a news cameraman whose helicopter went down on the way to report from the site. Playing as Ben you'll have to sneak around levels, recording footage as directed by the station without getting yourself all shot up.
And playing as Tanya (token skirt) your main goal is to... escape. Obviously too dainty, frail and simple to know which way to point a pistol, let alone how to shoot one, her main weapon is a fire extinguisher. Yes, it's weird. But it's a good way of mixing the action up.
However, one thing is really holding this back: it's too easy.
The combat team take an extraordinary amount of punishment at the moment, and gameplay feels unnecessarily shallow. We found ourselves not fearing getting caught by terrorists, happily running in all-guns-blazing.
You can take absolute hammerings, with your screen flashing blood red as shots rain in on your body, and your health will only drop to a barely worrying 90%.
At the time of writing, waltzing through this is an option and as a consequence the tension that Circle is clearly looking to establish through both plot and a range of characters is totally undermined.
Sort this out - and it shouldn't be difficult and we're promised balancing is in progress- and this should be an unusually atmospheric winner.
Without Warning will be released for the Xbox Winter 2005