Friday, March 02, 2007

War Rock Review

War Rock, developed by Dream Execution and published by K2 Network.
The Good: It’s free, good mix of map sizes, easy to join a server, large selection of weapons, satisfying fast-paced gameplay
The Not So Good: Lag issues, spawn camping is too easy, experience penalty for leaving early, high level required for unlocking weapons, victory conditions are not adjusted for the specific number of players, slightly outdated graphics
What say you? A free Battlefield clone that’s worth the download time: 6/8

PC gamers love to shoot people and this is exemplified by the high number of first person shooters on the market. It seems every few weeks a new shooter is released, trying to cash in on the insatiable desires of violent people everywhere. War Rock is a free online first person shooter that is similar to the Battlefield franchise, with realistic weapons and fights for strategic control points. You have the option of renting better weapons in the game, but it’s not necessary to enjoy the game. Of course, most people are wary of a free or budget-priced game (here is an example why), so we’ll see if War Rock is worth your precious bandwidth.

War Rock features Half-Life-like graphics, circa 1998. The character models and weapons are good for the most part, but the level design and textures are very generic. There isn’t anything terribly unique about any of the game’s locations and the texture set is the same throughout. First person shooters are usually the types of games (along with flight simulators) that push the envelope of graphics forward, but War Rock’s frugal development results in outdated graphics. The game runs smooth even on older computers, so there are some advantages of having archaic graphics, but War Rock lacks the flair we are used to in first person shooters. The sound design is good: all of the weapons seem realistic and the sound of rounds impacting different kinds of material is cool. Some of the voiced expressions become repetitive, however, but overall War Rock sounds enough like war to rock. Or something like that. Graphics are never a primary concern of mine in a game, but it should be noted that War Rock lags behind the curve set by other first person shooters.

War Rock is a thoroughly online first person shooter: you’ll need a broadband connection to download the game and play it. Finding a match is very easy, as War Rock features a good server browser (much better than the usually-buggy integrated Gamespy Arcade browser). Games are organized according to their size: close quarters battles (16 players, infantry only), urban ops (24 players with jeeps), and battle group (32 players with planes and tanks). Each game size has their own selection of maps, which are an arrangement of urban locations (larger maps mix some countryside in). The main game mode is a Battlefield-like deathmatch with bases that can be captured (although there is no additional team score loss from holding fewer bases), and smaller maps are played in rounds with bombs like Counter-Strike.

There are five classes to choose from: engineers that can repair vehicles, snipers, medics that can repair humans, assault, and heavy weapons that have rocket launchers. The classes are pretty typical and there is no innovation there, but War Rock does feature a good selection of real-world weapons: pistols (Glock), sub-machine guns (MP5), rifles (G36C), machine guns (M60), sniper rifles (PSG1), shotguns (Winchester), rocket launchers (RPG-7), grenades, and mines. Unfortunately, the weapons are unlocked (based on game experienced) in sporadic bunches rather than gradually: a bunch is available for your renting pleasure at levels 6 and 11. I would much rather have one new weapon unlocked per level like in Battlefield 2142 to keep the player interested longer. This is the only way that you are charged for playing War Rock: you can pay money to earn credits so that you can rent weapons for a month. You can also earn credits by playing the game, so you are not tied to spending money if you want to enjoy the entire arsenal. Each of the weapons are rated in different areas (recoil, accuracy), and each has their strengths and weaknesses. However, it is very easy to snipe in the game, and wide-open maps are especially susceptible to this problem. An amount of scope sway or bullet drop would make it more challenging, but if I can use the sniper rifle effectively, it’s too easy.

There is also a wide selection of vehicles on the larger maps: jeeps (M2 Humvee), tanks (K1A1), apcs, helicopters (UH-60), jets (F-15), and boats. The aircraft of War Rock are much easier to handle than in similar games. The game itself is fast-paced but still slightly tactical in its approach: running and gunning is not recommended. War Rock is more frantic than Battlefield 2142, so if you enjoy the more action-packed first person shooters, War Rock should appeal to you. The general gameplay is fun, but there are some small issues with the game. The first release version has problems with lag when a lot of bullets are flying at once, which makes navigating through intense firefights a deadly proposition. Spawn camping is also way too easy on the smaller maps: teams being reduced to one base are in serious trouble, as other bases are very close. There is also an earned experience penalty for leaving a game early for some reason: sometimes there are more important things to do other than playing computer games (really?). Also, the victory points are not scaled according to the number of players: games involving a small number of people on a large map will take forever. However, despite all of my minor complaints, War Rock is still pretty enjoyable, especially for a free game.

War Rock turned out far better than what you would expect for an essentially free game. While it may not have the polish of competing titles, the basic gameplay can rival the “big boys.” The integration of online components in the game is flawless, and much less buggy than Battlefield 2142. While the game is certainly not original, as the classes, weapons, and vehicles have all been seen before, the execution in the game is pretty enjoyable, and you can’t beat the price. I’ve had at least as much (if not more) fun playing War Rock than more expensive shooters, although the game may not have the same longevity or polish. There are some minor issues with the game, but War Rock is certainly worth your time, as it features solid gameplay and impressive features for a free game.