Real-time strategy games tend to follow a predictable pattern: build your HQ and support buildings, mine resources, gather an army and steamroll the enemy. If that's what you expect from an RTS, you won't find it in Joint Task Force. You don't build an HQ; you seize a vacant building. Need a runway for incoming supplies, troops and vehicles? Oust the local guerillas and hold it. No time to build elaborate defenses or amass an overwhelming force; the local thugs force you into action. It's supply and demand rather than shock and awe.
Units aren't built, they're bought and delivered using the cash you win for achieving objectives, from the lowliest grunt to dangerous VTL aircraft. Technology trees are replaced with real-life weaponry. Hide in buildings or tall grass with rifles, send rangers off in commandeered vehicles to scavenge RPGs, and all the while develop green grunts into heroic leaders that'll follow you from battle to battle. Security is hard-won and short-lived.
No modern war rages in a vacuum, so reporters mingle with civilians in each war-torn state. The rules of engagement are never more important than when on-camera. Take out an enemy artillery position on the news, and your approval rating increases along with your budget. Smear civilian jam all over the street, and talk about what a bastard you are on CNN. It's a novel element (likely to be copied) and greatly influences how combat is approached. Sometimes it seems like the media is impossible to appease, which may well be realistic on such a bloody stage.
Joint Task Force's visuals take no prisoners, with lots of smoke, fire, and weather effects. The physical simulation features support for the AGEIA PhysX, though most of the time you're too high above the action to notice how enemies go limp at death or how realistically the buildings collapse. Unfortunately, not as much work seems to have gone into the user interface, which feels clunky and inconsistent. You can pause and give orders at any time, but doing so because you can't find the order or option you're looking for breaks up the action, and makes command feel like herding cats for a while. It takes a little getting used to and almost makes "real-time" a misnomer.
The more nagging problem is that too many challenges come not from opponent tactics but from numbers and firepower. AI sometimes pursues or flees too predictably and often fails to take advantage of nearby cover. The winning tactic is sometimes to simply gun-and-run when more elaborate real-world flanking maneuvers just get your guys killed. Luckily, a cooperative mode enlivens the main campaign experience once you've got a handle on keyboard shortcuts, and the standard multiplayer modes - capture-the-flag, death match, and domination - offer enough customizability to inject some variety.
Joint Task Force delivers a distinctive and modern interpretation of real-time strategy, enjoyable in its own quirky way. It ain't perfect, but it proves fulfilling once you've taken a few learning curve lumps.