It takes place during the US invasion of the fictional Middle Eastern dictatorship of Zekistan, some time after the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. After a massive wave of terror sweeping over Europe and South-East Asia, Islamist fanatics from all over the world take refuge in Zekistan, where they are protected by the genocidal dictator Mohammad Jabbour Al-Afad. After some fruitless negotiations with the United Nations, NATO decides to nip it in the bud and launch an invasion to topple Al-Afad and rub out the terrorist stronghold.
You, the player, are put in charge of two fire teams, Alpha and Bravo, each consisting of four soldiers (a team leader, a rifleman, a grenadier, and an automatic rifleman), each with his own name and background. Your primary objective in the game is to maneuver through the narrow streets of Zekistan's capital city and defeat the militiamen hiding in the streets and houses while paying attention as not to get flanked or ambushed.
The game is notable for, despite being an RTT (Real Time Tactics) game, it is essentially a Third-Person Shooter where you don't actually pull the triggers, but are in charge of maneuvering both teams (and any escortee the mission may link you with) from cover to cover. The enemy consists mostly of Kalashnikov-wielding militants, who usually take you under fire from behind street corners or balconies.
Even tough the insurgents are poorly armed, and mostly come at you one by one, they are still incredibly dangerous shots in close quarters and will get anyone unlucky or stupid enough to not be in cover. As your units have a realistic damage model, they will go down after a shot or two. If you lose a squaddie to enemy fire, you can still save his life by collecting him and escorting him back to an earlier checkpoint. If not, you lose. If you lose two squaddies at once, you lose. If your charge dies, you lose. This, combined with your squads' relative inability to hit insurgents behind cover (a favor the AI not always returns), makes this game Nintendo Hard at some points, and falsely difficult at others.
Just don't forget; this game is more realistic and representative of modern combat than you might think...
This game contains examples of:
- A-Team Firing: Small arms from anyone can't hit targets behind cover, or anyone just coming out of cover. Subverted with targets out in the open, who'll get mowed own almost instantly... but once an insurgent gets into cover, one can tear one's hair watching the entire fire team hitting anything but the insurgent as he pokes his head out to return fire (never mind, this should serve to pin him down...). One can actually see the SAW machine gun painting a nice halo of bullet impacts on the wall behind the insurgents head, but sparing the head itself.
- In Ten Hammers, the rifleman (or team leader when he doesn't call airstrikes) can do precise rifle fire, a single highly-accurate shot that takes out an enemy (unless the bullet strikes cover that's blocking). While aiming, this causes the soldier to be treated as out-of-cover, and vulnerable to attack. It only misses if you fire too early, or if the enemy ducks behind cover rather than popping out.
- Backed by the Pentagon: The US Army has actively contributed to the game's development to make it more a realistic experience, made the base game government-funded freeware, and has adapted the game into two versions for their own troops to train tactics on. However, the versions aren't used, apparently still being "not realistic" enough.
- Black and White Morality: In the black corner, you have a mass-murdering, death camp running and propaganda-chewing dictator from an Arabian backwash as well as a slew of fanatical terrorists who have been butchering innocent civilians worldwide. In the white corner you have a Ragtag Bunch Of... Americans.
- Bodyguard Betrayal: Inverted in the original game, as Al-Afad shot his lieutenant in the chest and then escapes from the area, leaving the lieutenant to be casevaced by Alpha and Bravo.
- Bottomless Magazines:
- Averted for your soldiers, who have to reload their weapons after firing a certain number of rounds, and will ultimately run out of ammo wholesale, forcing them to backtrack all the way back to the last checkpoint to refill their magazines.
- Played straight for the militants, even the ones with an RPG-launcher, and for the Bradley you get in the second game.
- Conspicuously Light Patch: Chapter 3 in the first game - the final objective requires you to cover exits to a building while Rangers enter from the roof. One part of the building is notably darker than others, and that's the segment that gets blasted open by an explosion from inside.
- Elites Are More Glamorous: The original game has this downplayed, with an SAS team introduced first (with one man needing a CASEVAC for his teammate) and Rangers later (storming a building full of hostiles). The last chapters even have a fireteam of Rangers with their rifles modified with laser sights, allowing them to shoot enemies with precise aiming through cover with one shot for every enemy.
- Fake Difficulty: It's impossible to kill an enemy in cover with rifle fire alone, forcing you to resort to precious grenades, whom they may shrug off just as much. However, if anyone in your team is in cover that's only slighty tilted towards the enemy, he will immediately get shot. It can be very frustrating to watch eight well-trained and highly-equipped US Light Infantrymen wasting their entire ammo on some militant with a cranky AK-47 or carbine rifle, only for the latter to effortlessly pick off two of the former at a time... See also Nintendo Hard.
- Plus, the enemy may not even get suppressed by your consistent firing, even though it actually involves a machine gun.
- Healing Checkpoint: Certain checkpoints have a medic or resupply close by.
- Idiosyncratic Difficulty Levels: Sergeant, Sergeant Major, and Authentic.
- Improbable Aiming Skills: The insurgents, who will most definitely hit any soldier only ever-so-slightly out of cover.
- Though seeing how the general combat range is almost always at point blank range, it's somewhat justified. Then again, so is the A-Team Firing.
- Infinite Supplies: If you run out of ammo, you can return to the ammo box for a re-fill an endless amount of times. Opponents simply have infinite ammo from where they stand.
- Heroic Sacrifice: Ten Hammers has this as the ultimate fate of Sgt. Eric Daniels, who was found dead after calling for backup in Chapter 1. At the end of Chapter 4, he killed an insurgent with an RPG from taking down the evac chopper filled with wounded soldiers and ordered it to leave without him while other insurgents are overrunning him.
- How We Got Here: Ten Hammers has Sgt. Eric Daniels found dead in the first chapter, with the remaining three chapters following up on how he got involved in the first place.
- Mauve Shirt: Your soldiers all have their own name, character, voice and one-sentence background (for example, one's a Cultured Warrior, another is a practicing Jew, another is an ex-New York Cop, etc). However, the significance of that is mostly restricted to the intro (which introduces them) and cutscenes, as you command them in groups of four.
- Nintendo Hard: As mentioned in the description, it is ridiculously easy for the soldiers to die, and for you to fail the mission. It's made even more egregious due to the habit of savegame slots to malfunction and ignore your progress, and the fact that certain mission start out without medic or ammo box (which means that losing a squaddie or running out of ammo makes the level Unwinnable). See also Fake Difficulty.
- No Sidepaths, No Exploration, No Freedom: The game is pretty linear, and you advance along roads and courtyards due to wreckages, barricades and gun emplacements blocking your path.
- Offscreen Moment of Awesome: The rangers appear twice to clear out an enemy building. While you hear gunfire and screaming, the most you'll see is a body flying out of the building.
- One-Hit-Point Wonder: Your guys, realistically enough, who go down after one or two shots, and will die not long after if not taken care of immediately.
- Qurac: The game takes place in Zekistan. It's somewhere between Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan, and takes quite some cues from from those places too.
- Real Is Brown: Justified, as you're fighting in a city in the middle of a mountaneous desert region prone to sand storms, and averted in some cases, when you come across some rather beautiful and incredibly motley mosques and palaces.
- Save Point:
- The first game designates certain locations to provide a Sitrep, which saves the game if both teams approach.
- Ten Hammers has auto-save points before some dangerous areas, provided "authentic" difficulty isn't used.
- Scripted Battle: The movements of the militiamen are all scripted and contain no variation. As such, it is impossible to ambush patrols and the such as they only spawn after you have reached a certain point with no concrete cover.
- Sudden Name Change: Some of the teammates' first names from the original game were changed in Ten Hammers, with Sgt. Chago Mendez to Santiago, Cpl. Andre Devereux to Andrew, and Pfc. Alexander Silverman shortened to Alex.
- Take Cover!: The bread and the butter of this game, as both the solders and enemies can't be injured by small arms fire. If it had any decipherable moral, it'll be "Take Cover!, dammit!"
- The Medic: Waits next to the ammo box at your last checkpoint for any casualties you may drag back to him. He'll have them fixed up in a matter of seconds.
- Ten Hammers has the medic drag incapacitated teammates from the field, and has a replacement arrive. There's a limited number of replacements, if too many are lost, you need to wait until the end of the level to get more.
- Title Drop: Ten Hammers is an allusion to the chapter title The Tien Hamir Bridge.
- Token Minority: Each team member has a perk, ethnicity or background that no one else shares, in order to make them more unique.
- Urban Warfare: The game never leaves the urban part of Zekistan.
- War on Terror: Level Red. This universe has a fictional continuation of it after Iraq and Afghanistan. The parallels are very obvious too.