The Real Time Strategy genre is second only to the First Person Shooter genre in terms of how often titles are released, regurgitated and rehashed with little to no innovation. Any RTS you pick up at your local games dealer will almost certainly resemble Starcraft/Command and Conquer/Total Annihilation to a stunning degree and while this provides strategy gamers with a comforting sense of reliability it also makes for a really dull gaming experience the 400th time you’ve built a base, created some units and sent them en masse on a rampage across the local countryside.
Contrary to the last two decades of traditional wisdom on how RTS titles should be made, Massive Entertainment, the developers behind World in Conflict, opted to forge their own route and create a title strikingly different from what has come before. How’d they do? Hit the jump to find out.
World in Conflict — like obvious influence Red Dawn — pits the Red, White n’ Blue against the might of the Soviet war machine. Like the hundreds of movies on the subject made during the 80s, it recalls a comfortable jingoism sans all the negative connotations we’ve developed in the current geopolitical quagmire. This game is the RTS equivalent of Rocky IV, and apart from actually punching out a soviet superman yourself, few things bring out the nationalistic streak we all share more than dismantling the result of communism gone awry.
The plot is your standard RTS fare: the Soviets launch a sneak attack on the Pacific Northwest and America is momentarily shocked and driven back before rallying the troops and kicking some commie ass. The plot unfolds in a series of multi-objective missions and in a shockingly excellent casting job, the entire campaign is narrated by Alec Baldwin seemingly channeling his Hunt for Red October-era incarnation of Jack Ryan. The difference between a good game and an amazing game are these interesting little details and World in Conflict is rife with them.
The gameplay is also pretty typical for the genre, but like that bit about Alec Baldwin, it’s littered with little touches setting it apart from the pack. Each unit you control has a veterancy system controlling its (invisible) statistics. As they kill other units, they gain (also invisible) experience points which allow them to gain ranks. The ranks give units more life, damage and armor and while not nearly as in depth as the hero system in Warcraft 3 — units lack individual names, faces and no unit will ever learn to summon Treants — it forces players to care about individual units instead of merely sending wave after wave at your opponent. The simplified veterancy system might turn off veteran RTS players hungering for as much micromanagement as they can get their hands on, but those of us who live in fear of Korean Zerg rushes will appreciate the streamlined approach.
Units also come equipped with unique special abilities — one defensive and one offensive — allowing them certain tactical advantages in various situations. While the Humvee has the ability to repair vehicles , the Heavy Attack Helicopter has anti-tank missiles and so on. Each skill relies on a timer, but thankfully each of these takes less than a minute to replenish, further quickening the pace of the already rapid conflicts.
‘Streamlined’ is perhaps the best way to describe the entirety of the gameplay in World in Conflict. During play you will never have to mine for gold, never have to send peons to harvest lumber, and never have to create boats specifically to catch fish to feed your units. In fact there is no resource harvesting whatsoever, instead units all rely on a timer telling you how long it will take until they can be deployed. There is also a complete lack of traditional bases. Most missions will have you ordering the bulk of your troops all over the map and while this prevents people from digging in behind rows of protective towers and walls, the added speed of the game and innate protection against ‘turtling’ makes the entire game move faster and appear much more accessible to the inexperienced.
This svelte design aesthetic lends itself quite well to the almost lag-free multiplayer component of World in Conflict. In the RTS genre, the multiplayer is the most important part of the game for extending its longevity and overall sales, and removing the newbie-unfriendly micromanagement aspects of the title allows anyone to gain reasonable proficiency in the title almost immediately. Since one of the biggest problems driving people away from traditional RTS titles is the entrenched gamers who’ve mastered the art of building the efficient in-game economy, and focusing World in Conflict completely on the combat and strategy aspect of the game should keep people playing online for months, if not years.
Unfortunately, the ideas I find so appealing may well be the game’s downfall. RTS gamers are a fickle bunch and those who’ve spent so much time mastering the art of micromanagement may find World in Conflict far too simple for their tastes. Obviously there’s no way to please everyone, but even with the well planned simulation of realistic strategic ideas, it remains to be seen how the RTS geeks will receive the title.
Also the campaign never lets you touch the Soviet side of the story. Call me Devil’s Advocate, but I love being able to play both sides of the conflict. I realize it’s industry standard to eschew the PoV of whoever is considered the ‘evil’ side, but I think adding a Soviet campaign to the game would, at the very least, give people more of the quality gameplay already present in the American storyline, and at most, provide a different perspective on which to view the Cold War. I don’t expect the Call of Duty games to let us play a Nazi storyline, but we’re all adults here so shouldn’t we at least have the option?
Those two niggling issues aside, World in Conflict is the finest strategy game since the aforementioned Warcraft 3. It’s highly recommended to anyone who is a fan of the genre, or has always wanted to get into it. Admittedly, I’ve always been horrible at RTS titles, but with the innovations made in World in Conflict I’ve had more fun smashing Ivan’s frontlines than I have with such a title in years.
Verdict: Buy it, steal it, just get this game!