Thursday, September 01, 2005

Will of Steel Review

Will of Steel PC, developed by Gameyus Interactive and published by GMX Media.
The Good: Voice commands, modern units
The Not So Good: Extremely inferior pathfinding, hideous AI, poor graphics and sound, only 16 missions with opaque objectives, no multiplayer, frustrating to play
What say you? An unplayable RTS ruined by the worst pathfinding in years: 2/8

I like me some real time strategy. In fact, my favorite game of all time (Kohan II: Kings of War) is a RTS game. I feel that strategy games accentuate the positives of intelligent gamers everywhere, instead of glorifying who has the best reflexes. So, another addition to the RTS market is always welcome here at Out of Eight, and I was slightly excited to receive Will of Steel, which takes its clues from the recent battles in Afghanistan and Iraq. In Will of Steel, you command troops as they engage stereotypical terrorists forces in desert-covered lands.

Both the graphics and the sound in Will of Steel are sub-par. The graphics are very outdated, especially when they are compared with modern 3-D RTS games (Rise of Nations, Act of War). The environments have almost no detail, save for a couple of trees and rocks. The units themselves aren’t terribly detailed, and have last-generation textures. You can’t zoom in or out very far in the game, which makes the level of detail low and the game difficult to play. The unit explosions are also substandard. All of the units in the game, whether they are friend or foe, have health bars, so it can be difficult to determine which units are on which side in the heat of battle. Of course, the enemy infantry units all wear clich├ęd Islamic outfits, so that makes identification easier. Even with the poor-quality graphics, the game can run slow at times. I experienced lots of mouse lag during the game, even though what I was looking at was not impressive and other games of better graphical quality run better. The sound in Will of Steel is also bad. The units have very few order acknowledgements, all of the death sounds are the same, and the short 10-second rock background music cuts in and out at seemingly random intervals.

Will of Steel has a total of 16 missions in 2 scenarios, covering action in Afghanistan (2001) and Iraq (2003). I’m not going to get into the politics of whether designing a game around a conflict that is ongoing is a good idea or not; after all, we have a game that simulates the Bush presidency. Will of Steel does not have multiplayer, skirmish battles, a tutorial, or even a good manual (the on-disk manual just lists the unit and voice commands). Thus, there will be no replay value with this game. Actually, playing the game once can be frustrating. For each mission, you are given vague objectives that are not indicated on the map and cannot be accessed mid-mission. Each game consists of ordering troops around the map destroying the enemy. There is no resource gathering, as the game just concerns itself with the tactical side of RTS gaming. About the only original aspect of Will of Steel is the voice commands. You can select units by team, class, or type, and issue commands to units all through the use of a microphone. This is a new addition to RTS gaming, but there is no real point, as most commands can be performed by a button combination, and you need to press spacebar to execute voice commands anyway. Good idea, though.

The units in Will of Steel are generic military units: infantry, tanks, and missile launchers. Your forces can be issued the general slew of commands, such as move, attack, and guard. You can also hand out tactical commands, which are supposed to govern the unit movement modes and formations. These are useless, as the units will never stay in formation while moving and will in general do as they please. The game also doesn’t indicate which formation the units were issued like most other games do. To assist you in completing the game, there are several “super weapons” in the game that seem to be activated whenever the scenario designers wanted. These include things such as air strikes, laser-guided bombs, and satellite recon. This brings us to the reason why Will of Steel has destroyed my soul.

Bad pathfinding and AI. Both of these are crucial in RTS games, as the rest of the game design relies on acceptable gains in these two areas. In a first person shooter, it is important to accurately model where the bullets go. If you shoot at an enemy, you expect some sort of result. Sadly, Will of Steel fails miserably in the AI department, which renders the game worthless, as there is no multiplayer component. Units do not work together, even if they are arranged in groups. Units can engage while moving, but will sometimes totally ignore an enemy unit that is firing upon them. Units get trapped on mountains; if there is a mountain between a unit and its move order, it will most likely get stuck on the mountain, other units, or move in the complete opposite direction. This is quite unfortunate since most of the levels, being in Afghanistan and Iraq, have mountains. Units will attack the ground where an attack order was issued even after the enemy unit is destroyed. Sometimes units will even move away from the order location. In summary, the game’s missions are extremely difficult (and sometimes impossible) to complete, since units will spread out all over the map, not respond to move orders at all, get trapped by obstacles, and get destroyed as they engage enemy units with no support.

In an alternate universe, Will of Steel could be a good game. I’m usually pretty supportive of games made by small developers, and I give some lenience in the areas of graphics and sound if the gameplay is up to snuff. Problem is, in Will of Steel, the graphics are bad, the sound is bad, the features are bad, and the gameplay is bad. I don’t even have enough spirit left to find synonyms for the word “bad.” The game could be improved, with additional graphics and sounds, and much more improved pathfinding and AI. Will of Steel is not a RTS game you should consider buying; there are too many problems with the game in its current state. There are plenty of alternatives that are much better, even considering the low price tag attached to Will of Steel. I felt strongly compelled to stop playing numerous times while plodding though Will of Steel, and if a game isn’t fun to play, then there is no reason to play it.