Despite being almost 15 years old, SWAT 4 remains one the best tactical co-operative multiplayer first person shooter games available. In this article series I’m going to discuss the strategical and tactical aspects of SWAT 4 — that is — how to play SWAT 4 seriously. This is an opinionated article series based on the almost two thousand hours that I spent in the game starting from the year 2005.
In this first article I’m going to introduce the basic building blocks of a serious SWAT 4 game: movement, team work and communication. I also discuss what it means for a game to be serious. In later articles I’ll explain details of selected missions and highlight specific areas on how they could be played through.
About SWAT 4
SWAT 4 is a first-person tactical shooter video game developed by Irrational Games and published by Vivendi Universal in 2005.
The game play of SWAT 4 consists of single player and multiplayer. The focus of this article series is in the co-operative multiplayer. In this mode, the human players play as members of the SWAT team against computer controlled opponents (suspects). Each mission typically also includes unarmed civilians.
What differentiates SWAT 4 from similar tactical first person shooters is the rules of engagement: the task of the SWAT team is to arrest all suspects and civilians. They also need to collect any weapons on the scene. Failure to do so will result in penalty score at the end of the mission. For example, killing a fleeing but armed suspect will result in reduced mission score.
For apprehending the suspects the SWAT team has wide variety of weaponry and tools at their disposal. I’ll talk about these later in the article.
The missions wary from a shootout in a car repair shop to a failed robbery at a bank. For increased difficulty, the suspects in later missions appear in greater numbers, are armed with assault rifles and wear body armor.
What makes a game “serious”?
It is sufficient to say that multiplayer co-op was chaotic when the game was released in 2005. Everything was new, nobody really knew what to do and missions usually ended up in shootouts without any regard to rules of engagement. Once people started to organize in to communities and clans, the initial chaos winded down a bit but was still very much part of the public co-op experience.
In early 2006, a few months after the release of the game, I joined a public multiplayer server named “Fox’s serious co-op”. Once you joined, a player called Foxthreat explained to rules of the server and what you should do:
On this server we play as a team. You are assigned a position in the element and you will do what you’re supposed to do. Keep an eye for orders for your team and execute them. Listen to EL [element leader] and don’t storm rooms or deploy without being ordered to do so.
After a few games on the server, I was hooked. I felt that this was the way the game was meant to be played. After disconnecting, I remember chatting with my friend briefly about the server and what I had experienced. In a few moments we were already playing on our own server and developing things further as we saw fit.
Majority of the public servers didn’t have such strict rules and eventually withered while the so called serious players kept the multiplayer alive for many more years to come.
Communication during the mission should be short, clear and to the point. Prefer the in-game communication system because a) it’s voiced and b) it may be localized to the player’s language. Switch to the Classic Command Interface (Settings - Game Controls - Classic Command Interface) to make it more usable. In Classic Command Interface, weapons are switched with function keys (F1-F12) while commands, and responses, are given with the number keys.
I would avoid unnecessary key binds that sent predefined messages to the chat — these take precious time to process and introduce cognitive load to players. However, predefined messages speed up the process of reporting visuals during planning. Focus should be on what’s relevant in the given instant. The predefined “Clear”, “Roger” and “I need backup” go a long way.
Flashlight can be used as an additional tool for communicating. For example, a common technique for indicating a danger ahead is to repeatedly flash the light. Additionally, using the overhead camera is invaluable when it comes to maintaining situational awareness and communication with a teammate.
By moving in a predictable and calm manner gives you and your teammates higher chance to stay alive. Do not run unless required by the situation. Running around makes your aim inaccurate and friendly fire accidents more prone to occur.
Always move in pairs.
Avoid crouching and leaning. Both of them have their own set of problems in SWAT 4. Crouching may lead to increased friendly fire incidents because other players may attempt to shoot over you. There are also problems with hit boxes when moving crouched. Leaning around corners on the other hand will get you shot more easily because the game has no concept of partial leaning. The moment you lean, the hit box of your character is fully leaned even though the first person animation has not finished. If a suspect is aiming you, you are dead the second you press the lean button. Prefer side steps to move from cover to a firing position and back.
Suspects are better to be engaged at longer ranges. For example if a suspect is running towards you, keep your distance by moving backwards while keeping the fire line. This gives you more time to react should the suspect try to aim you.
Following a wall
Player should always position themselves next to a wall and, when moving, follow it along. Teammates follow their opposite walls.
Moving next to a wall has several advantages:
- cover in the direction of the wall
- the direction of movement is more explicit and predictable
- fire lines are more controlled
If there are additional players in the team, they will follow split behind R1 and R2.
Teammates are responsible for covering each other. To reduce the risk of friendly fire and keep the fire lines more controlled in high stress situations, teammates cover each other so that their fire lines cross ahead of them. This is called covering in X.
The purpose of covering in X comes more apparent when the structure of the space is something more than just a straight hallway.
Consider a hallway extending to the right. In this case the player further to the corner — R1 in this case — checks whether the way is clear. R2 waits. If a hostile is present, R1 can either engage or fallback by using the corner to their advantage. Should any hostiles come around the corner, the player R2 would be ready to engage as well.
In a more complex scenario where the hallway extends to both left and right in a T shape, both player would continue following their respective walls and turn so that they would cover both directions. At this point the players would wait for further instructions.
In an even more complex scenario where hallway is shaped like a cross, both players stop at the cross section, covering the opposite openings and wait for further instructions.
Stacking next to the door prepares the team for an entry. A player can stand in front of the door to prevent any NPC from opening it from the other side. Blocking the door while the team is preparing is worthwhile—though unrealistic—practice.
The point man (the player going first through the door) stacks on the door knob side with their pair standing behind them. Stacking on the door knob side makes it easier to close and open the door. The rest of the element stacks on the opposite side of the door in similar formation.
The point man is responsible for covering the team should any hostile come out the door while the team is preparing. Their teammate is responsible for any throwables, explosives or other tools required for breaching the door. Once the element leader gives the command, the team performs the entry.
Entry is one of the most dangerous situations on a mission. Assuming that the armed suspects have barricaded themselves in and are aware of your presence, just rushing through a narrow door way is a sure way to get killed.
Explosives and throwables give the team a short time window (some seconds) to go through the door and gain upper hand in the room. During these seconds it is crucial that each team member know their responsibilities and what they need to do.
Once the explosives have gone off and grenades exploded the clock starts ticking. The point man (R1 in the above picture) quickly scans room—from right to left—near the doorway and engages any hostiles. An important location is the corner directly left of the door.
At this point the team can still retreat. This can be for example due to heavy fire being received. R1 makes this decision and returns to their original position. Retreating should only be used as a last resort: it can easily result in a blockade at the doorway. After the retreat, throwables are usually deployed in greater numbers and entry is tried again.
In the case the point man decides to continue the entry, their teammate follows right next to them providing cover. The point man will go to the right scanning the corner behind the door while their teammate covers the opposite direction.
In the final position, both players have entered the room and cover each other in X formation. From here both players will follow their respective walls and continue providing cover for each other. Additional players entering the room will move in similar fashion but keep their fire lines at the center of the room or at hostile suspects.
SWAT 4 features wide variety of different weapons and gear for the player to use. Only small number of that gear is actually useful. In this chapter I’ll go through the recommended gear.
What we’re looking for in gear is adaptability and consistency — in the ideal case we should have only one set of gear suitable for all or at least most situations. Whether the situation is a hostage rescue or apprehending a violent suspect, the gear should remain the same.
Suppressed 9 mm SMG: Simply the best weapon in the game. It’s almost silent, has good accuracy and recovery. Lacks punch which can be offset by aiming higher than center of mass and exploiting the good recovery to shoot repeated consecutive shots. 9 mm FMJ ammunition should be preferred since it works against non-armored and armored targets. Ammunition penetration should be taken into account no matter which ammunition type is used.
Taser Stun Gun: Used to take down non-compliant NPCs which appear every now and then. Works regardless the body armor the target is using. Taser should never be used as a main weapon.
Flashbang: There are three types of throwables in the game: flashbang, stinger and CS gas. CS gas cannot be effectively used without a gas mask which is also used by suspects in some missions. Stinger grenades may accidentally impact fellow officers, have shorter range compared to flashbangs and may set up explosives. Flashbangs may set up explosives also (though on a shorter range) but with careful throwing technique they are the most versatile of the three. Carry two or three of these depending on whether you have the Optiwand or not.
Wedge: Used to block doors so that they cannot be opened by NPCs. This can be used strategically to force the suspects to always smaller area of the map or to make sure the team is not surprised from behind. Carry two of these.
C2: C2 provides additional stun effect during an entry but may incapacitate the person behind the door. If there are multiple persons in the team, one of them can carry a Breaching Shotgun but C2 should be your default option.
Optiwand: For gathering information behind a closed door or corner. Optiwand should be carried by at least every two person in the team.
Alternately, you may use a non-lethal primary weapon and a pistol. In this case the pistol should be the main weapon to carry and the non-lethal primary used only in situations when it’s needed. Your main weapon should always be a lethal weapon. The reason for this is that suspects may not be affected by a shot from the non-lethal when you need it the most (when they point a gun at you). With that said, your primary goal is always to try to arrest the suspects — not kill them.
Less Lethal Shotgun: Shoots non-lethal beanbag rounds but doesn’t work in every situation as explained above. Good choice for stunning unaware suspects or for non-compliant civilians. Only to be used with a lethal sidearm.
M1911 Handgun: Packs more punch than the 9 mm Handgun but has a smaller 8 round magazine. If you trust your aim use the M1911, otherwise select the smaller caliber.
In multiplayer, there is an option to use either light or heavy armor. Only light armor is worth using. Heavy armor makes your character slower, thus, you’ll be running more which in turn makes your aim more inaccurate. The additional protection given by the heavy armor does not protect you from assault rifle shot either.
Even with the latest game update (version 1.1) there are potentially game breaking bugs in the game.
- Dropped weapons sometimes disappear: Weapons dropped by suspects may randomly disappear. This makes it impossible to complete the mission since all dropped weapons must be collected. It’s recommended to collect all weapons immediately and check the mission status screen periodically for any missed weapons. Affects only multiplayer.
In this first article I gave you an overview of the game play of SWAT 4. Communication and covering of teammates can be easily applied to other similar games. In future articles I’ll go through selected SWAT 4 missions in more detail.
SWAT 4: Gold Edition, which includes the expansion pack The Stetchkov Syndicate, can be purchased for example from GOG.com: SWAT 4: Gold Edition on GOG.com. The only way to join a multiplayer game is using direct IP address because the GameSpy master servers were taken down in 2014.