Thursday, December 11, 2008

World In Conflict - Full Review

It was back here in April '07 when I mentioned that I may be picking up an RTS (Real-Time-Strategy) game; A genre with which I've had little time for in the past, but World In Conflict secured my custom for these main reasons:
1. - It would dispense with the usual boring mechanic of mining for gold, ore, oil or whatever such raw material was required to build your war machine and replace it with a point system that allowed you do air-drop units into your battle zone and begin the fight immediately.
2. - The game would be one of the first to utilise Direct-X10, the Windows Vista API, the next evolution in graphics.
3. - The story would be crafted with the aid of Tom Clancy collaborator Larry Bond which may perhaps explain the games similarity with Red Storm Rising which he co-wrote.
4. - Alec Baldwin himself would be the narrator of that story between the battle sequences.
Thankfully, all of that and more were part of this stunning game.

Picture a world where in 1989 the Soviet Union is collapsing, but instead of what happened in our reality- the hard-line commies instead quash glasnost and perestroika and invade Europe, drawing US forces there and launching a daring attack on the mainland United States. Remember Red Dawn?

In a nutshell: World in Conflict plays out like a Bay-directed, Clancy-penned hybrid of an RTS game. There's no base-building; Instead you get a pool of "reinforcement points" to create a customised force from. When you loose a unit, the point cost of that unit counts back into your point pool and can be used again to summon reinforcements to the field. As the point pool isn't huge, you need to be pretty accurate in which units you bring out because most of the time you force will consist of between a few to a dozen units. The result of such a dynamic resource and strategic model is an RTS that plays far differently than any other sample of the genre.

During the course of the game you're given command of various ground and air units from Bradley IFVs to Apache gunships. You play a company-grade Army officer and so are not laden down with the usual several dozen units you get in other RTSs. As with other RTS' you're not in command of every unit on your side on the battlefield. No, in this you have a small mobile team capable of achieving your objectives swiftly and concisely as part of a larger force that you must support and defend and they will do the same to you, much as you do in FPS form in the Call Of Duty games. You also have power at most stages of the game to direct different forms of artillery fire from daisy cutters to bunker busters and of course the final solution: The Tactical Nuke! - but I wish there could have been more of them to use.

A major issue with trying to weld a story to an RTS is that you basically have a whole load of disposable units that will most likely not survive from the start to the end of the level [not the way I play anyway]. Massive Entertainment dealt with this challenge by disregarding the implementation of "hero" units and presenting the narrative through the interactions of four different US Army officers. The tough abrasive no-nonsense Colonel Sawyer, pulled out of retirement to command the resistance against the Soviets and his three primary commanders. Captain Webb in support, tank commander Captain Bannon and the player's alter-ego Lieutenant Parker. Each has an interesting character arc that weaves its way through the different missions and is detailed with well-written dialogue. In addition to the game engine and FMV cut-scenes; Alec Baldwin narrates the game from your point of view. Each level transition is told through a series of majestically painted stills of soldiers in the conflict with dialog giving us a glimpse of what they are thinking and feeling as war rages on. It's a very effective way of telling the story and certainly adds flavour to an already rich storyline.

The game interface for World in Conflict is smaller than that of most other examples of the genre. The bottom middle contains a graphical representation of your current units and their status, the top right hand corner contains the reinforcement widget. A mini map is in the bottom left hand corner, and on the bottom right hand corner: the special abilities buttons (including unit formation). Overall, the reduced interface gives players a larger view of the battlefield, allowing greater micromanagment and taking advantage of the game's magnificent visuals.

The game's engine is incredible, you can zoom right into each unit and see an incredible level of detail right down to the model of assault rifle one of your soldiers is carrying, or zoom outwards to see the whole battlefield. As mentioned previously, WIC was one of the first games to utalise DX10 and Windows Vista. Users on this platform will have a much higher graphical presentation including "god rays", cloud shadows and soft particles. However I'm told the engine still looks magnificent on DX9, but once you experience it on DX10 you know that the future of gaming at this level is certainly bright. DX10 provides only cosmetic enhancements over it's predecessor, WIC still features deformable terrain in the form of buildings and foliage that are destroyable, dual-core multithreading and Havoc physics. The only technical let down was the omission of 3D sound due to the game being completed at the height of the Windows Vista sound debacle; but the game still has awesome sounds with great filtering.

Final Verdict: Easily the best experience of a Real Time Strategy game I've had since WarCraft 2.

Colonel Creedon Rating: ****1/2


Anonymous said...

Excellent review, this game is going on my Dear Santa list :)

Anonymous said...

Lt.Col, where were you today?, you should have taken that shoe for your buddy, George.

Lieutenant General Creedon said...

The SEALS are supposed to be on his foreign protection detail. It's not my bag. But he did survive thanks to me.