Monday, October 01, 2007

World in Conflict Review

World in Conflict, developed by Massive Entertainment and published by Sierra.
The Good: User-friendly action-oriented tactical gameplay, outstanding team-based multiplayer, non-trivial single player campaign, good AI, highly detailed graphics with some great effects
The Not So Good: Very fast pace negates some ability to plan
What say you? A first person shooter mentality makes this real time tactics game uniquely enjoyable: 8/8

1989. If I recall my I Love The 80's correctly, 2 Live Crew provided family-friendly entertainment, Kevin Costner demonstrated his hatred for corn by building a baseball field in a field, and Milli Vanilli swept the Grammys. And that (sort of) brings us to World in Conflict, a real time strategy game from Massive Entertainment, responsible for the Ground Control series. I remember playing the demo for Ground Control 2 and it was OK, but not something I would spend money on. World in Conflict hopes to infuse the constant action of multiplayer first person shooters with the strategy genre; normally, strategy games are slow, methodical experiences as you collect resources, construct a base, and eventually blow stuff up. Will World in Conflict be a more approachable real time tactics title?

The presentation of World in Conflict is absolutely outstanding, from the graphics to the sound. This is one of the best looking strategy games to date, surpassing the likes of Supreme Commander and Company of Heroes with its awe-inspiring destruction and high attention to detail. The units look good up close and far away, with nice realistic animations. The different maps in the game are also well done, putting the action in popular real-world locations and lesser-known settings. The explosions are way over the top, but they sure do look nice and create a great feeling of doom. Watching a city transition from nice coastal hamlet to hell-hole is fun, as buildings explode and craters start to dominate the landscape. World in Conflict is awesome to see with almost constant flashes of light as things go “boom.” All of this graphical splendor comes at a price, as almost nobody will be able to run this game at the highest settings with a smooth frame rate. Fortunately, the game looks almost as good on medium as on high, so there is hope for us all. The sound is just as good as the pretty pictures. The explosions have a nice importance to them, and the cut scenes in the single player campaign are well acting, including narration by that guy from The Usual Suspects. The background music is composed admirably, although it does tend to repeat after a while. Nevertheless, World in Conflict looks and sounds awesome, and it should fill the needs of gamers everywhere that just want to blow crap up.

World in Conflict is a real-time tactical strategy game: there is no base building or resource collection like in Supreme Commander. Instead, you are given a set amount of points to call in reinforcements that become available slowly over time (and everyone is given the same total amount, no matter how good you are doing), and you can also earn points to order artillery strikes and other fun things by blowing up the enemy, helping your teammates, or securing objectives. World in Conflict features a tutorial that does a good job introducing new players to the control scheme. The user interface of World in Conflict is minimal yet affective, giving users access to tactical aids, reinforcements, battle overviews, and all of their units without hiding much of the main screen. A single-player campaign that follows the exploits of an American officer is also available; the gameplay translates well from the multiplayer portion of the game (which was the focus of the product). There are a number of different objectives in each scenario that vary from typical “destroy all enemies” order found in most strategy games. Instead, you’ll be given offensive, defensive, and support orders, along with a number of secondary objectives that can allow for some additional units or other bonuses later on. I found the campaign to be well designed and it portrays a realistic depiction of war: you are part of the action, not the whole of the action. Usually, allies are off fighting in a different portion of the map, and you may be called in to help on occasion; this gives a more accurate feel to the battles.

World in Conflict was built around multiplayer, and the game has some good options you would typically see in an online multiplayer game like the Battlefield series. The Massgate service (free, of course) provides stat tracking, awards, clan battles, and player rankings, in addition to finding online games to join. It is a well designed piece of software and doesn't have the browser issues present in Battlefield 2142. The rankings thankfully don’t unlock anything, so new players won’t be at a grave disadvantage like in Battlefield 2142. You can also play skirmish matches against the AI (by setting up a LAN server); the AI does a pretty good job I thought, although a capable human player will almost always get the highest score.

World in Conflict lets you choose one of four roles in the game (reminiscent of Enemy Territory: Quake Wars, although since this was released first, maybe that game is reminiscent of World in Conflict): air, armor, support, and infantry. All of these classes are very well balanced and usually offer counters for two other classes. I have yet to see any class dominate a map, since there is always something you can do to defeat the enemy units. The heavy helicopters of the air role are designed for quick attacks against armored units, while medium choppers can engage other helicopters as well. Armored tanks are the beasts of the ground, capturing and holding objective locations with their firepower but slow mobility and susceptibility to air units. Support units include artillery (slow firing but powerful) and anti-air units to take care of those pesky helicopters. Infantry are the stealth units of the game, allowing you to hide in buildings and forests and ambush unsuspecting armored units. There is a role for everyone, and you can even combine roles, although units from other classes are more expensive. Each unit in the game usually has an offensive and defensive special ability. This introduces some micromanagement into the game, but since the unit count is never too high (usually 2-8 units) it’s not terribly annoying. I would like, though, to have the ability of units to auto-cast their special abilities. It is advantageous to keep units alive as they gain experience over time and will improve their stats automatically. In addition to not having to shuttle units from the spawn points and wait twenty seconds for reinforcements to arrive, this gives reason to keep those tanks rolling.

If you are successful in defeating the enemy and helping out your friends, you will earn points for using tactical aids. These are very fun toys that can be used in a variety of situations. All of them have a time delay associated with them, so they aren’t overly powerful or unbalanced. Most of the lower-level tactical aids are designed to eliminate one particular unit type (napalm strikes for infantry, tank busters, laser-guided bombs for buildings, air to air strikes), but the more points you save the bigger the boom. While a lot of people will save up for the nuke (which does cause a lot of damage), there is a lot of fun to be had with precision artillery strikes, radar reconnaissance, chemical strikes, unit drops, carpet bombing, heavy air support, and more. The joy in perfectly executing a tactical aid is rewarding to be sure. It’s a simple and effective feature of the game that gives the players a lot of options.

World in Conflict comes with three game modes that are all based on controlling objective locations, noted by connected circles. You must have friendly-only units in each circle in order to capture an objective (a great place to drop in an artillery strike, by the way). Domination mode is the classic conquest gameplay made famous by Battlefield 2142. Assault features a series of single objectives that must be captured in order; after time is up, the defending team gets a crack at beating the time. Tug of war feature a line of several objectives that will advance or retreat based on who holds the command points; it’s just a more focused version of domination. All of these modes are fun to play and they take place on some well-designed maps that further heighten the action. Command points can be fortified with defenses if you keep units inside of the circles (a juicy target for artillery). Besides the eight-on-eight battles, you can play World in Conflict in a few-player mode designed for 2-4 participants. Here, you are given a bunch of reinforcement points and have at it; I personally don’t like this game mode and it is thankfully not that popular online.

All of the features present in World in Conflict come together quite nicely in a very entertaining package. The game really has a first person shooter feel to it, from the almost constant action to the ability to join games in progress. There isn’t any waiting around, removing a lot of the boredom associated with most strategy games in the build-up phase. The explosions start thirty seconds into the game and continue all the way until time expires; you would be hard-pressed to find a more action-packed strategy game. The combat of World in Conflict has a great feel to it, as there are mini-battles taking place all over the map, each of which affects the overall game. For example, you might have anti-air support units battling helicopters near one objective, armored tanks taking victory locations, infantry scouting through forests and taking buildings, support artillery shelling from large distances, and various players calling in tactical strikes. This team-based gameplay works a lot better when you play with people that actually know what they are doing and understand the basic mechanics of the game, but when it works (which is more often than not), it works very, very well. There are quite a few memorable moments you can take from each round: shelling enemy units advancing towards an objective, taking an assault location seconds before time expires, sneaking up on artillery units, just to name a few. I could go on and on about the great experiences I had while playing World in Conflict, but the bottom line is that you need it. You need it to live.

World in Conflict is the definitive action-packed tactical game. The title is designed with the sole purpose of providing players with as much enjoyment from start to finish with no boring moments or lulls in activity. The single player campaign is well designed, the reinforcement model eliminates tedious base building, and the classes allow for customization and a variety of roles to influence the battle. Each class, from air to infantry, has their role, and you can be successful in each one after you learn the strengths and weaknesses. The controls are very straightforward and the user interface is superbly designed for easy of use. The amount of action found in World in Conflict is unparallel in the strategy genre, but that doesn’t mean planning and tactics are thrown out of the window: coordination will win the day. World in Conflict simply (and wisely so) eliminates all of the boring aspects of strategy games and delivers a slick, entertaining game that should not be missed, whether you are a strategy aficionado or not. World in Conflict has the simple mechanics, satisfying gameplay, and constant action that should make it a very popular game for a wide audience, and that wide audience should include you.