Sept 18, 2007
Unless you've been hiding under a rock somewhere for the last six months, you'll know that World in Conflict is set in 1989 at the peak of the Cold War. The Soviets, on the brink of internal collapse, have invaded France (one can only presume for the wine and cheese). They then spread forth into other parts of Europe before eventually landing on US soil and bringing the fight to America. Well, that's the basic timeline, anyway - in actual fact, the missions start off with the invasion of America, hang around for long enough to give you a good feel for what's going on and then flit back four months in time to Europe before returning for the last set of levels.
One problem often encountered in the RTS genre is that the missions can, after a while, start to feel quite similar. But developers Massive Entertainment have really outdone themselves here with the content and variety, as the campaign never feels dull or repetitive. Levels are generally huge, sprawling affairs in which objectives commonly involve taking and then holding an area (similar to the Carentan mission in Company of Heroes), but also include defending bridges, taking out helicopter bases, searching buildings for personnel and blowing up power stations.
Completing a main objective opens up another one, meaning gameplay is fast-paced and on occasion, hectic to the extreme. At any one time you can be waiting for reinforcements to drop, ordering the next batch, fighting raging battles in different sections of the map and calling in tactical aid, all while trying to complete the objectives of the level. But it was here, under fire on all sides by the enemy, that the first niggle began to rear its ugly head.
In their wisdom, Massive decided to remove the ability to issue orders while the game is paused. They reckon it's because it affects the flow of the game. In most missions, that's true and you'll happily make it through the level uninterrupted. But on one level that we found particularly tough, we just had so much going on that we yearned to be able to pause and dish out a batch of commands to our different groups. For that certain brand of RTS player who likes to sit back and take things slow, having so much to do and so little time to do it in can get quite fiddly.
Each mission begins with a certain number of reinforcement points with which you can call in more units; the immersion level is maintained by having a transport aircraft fly low to drop them off by parachute. Exactly which units are available to you varies in each mission, with some focusing on infantry roles and others on tanks, while an all-helicopter level is also present. Once your units have been reduced to tiny little pieces, their equivalent points slowly trickle back to the sum available to you, meaning that you'll never find yourself completely out of units.
Of course, one of WIC's highlights is the ability to call in back-up in the form of Tactical Aid. Gained by capturing territory and sending enemies to a happier place, this is another encouragement to keep you pressing onward. Besides the much-touted nuke, there's an impressive selection of carnage and destruction on offer, ready for you to order and take away, like some sort of military Walmart. Radar sweeps, napalm strikes, laser-guided precision bombs, air-to-air strikes, carpet bombing and heavy artillery are just some of the helpful bonuses on offer.
Of course, we haven't even mentioned the multiplayer yet and this is really WIC's trump card. Its novel approach means that players can drop in and out at any time, choosing to take one of four different roles available. The whole thing feels far more similar to a round of Battlefield than any other RTS. The guys at Massive have done a wonderful job of making games easy to get into (thanks to the Massgate system) and also of balancing the different roles, with each unit being vulnerable to certain attacks.
Unlike most online RTS titles, the reliance on teamwork here is huge. Playing with a disorganized team or setting out on your own will demonstrate this, as you'll quickly be decimated by a better-organized foe. Options such as the ability to tag areas of the map with support requests (paired with excellent VoIP support) allow organized teams to efficiently co-ordinate attacks and provide back-up to fellow team members, conferring a huge tactical advantage.
But luckily, that's not all. Not happy with the finest and most inventive RTS multiplayer experience around, Massive have also added 14 levels of cinematic, action-packed mayhem, complete with a slightly silly premise made believable through some well-drawn characters and intimate cut-scenes, and wrapped the whole lot in the lushest and most drool-worthy RTS engine we've ever seen. It's a stunning achievement and one that puts it firmly at the head of RTS titles for the year.