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Joint Task Force hands-on

There may be nothing new under the sun, but at least you can strive to do things very well. Joint Task Force is a squad-based, real-time strategy game that offers a small number of new wrinkles, and then folds them into making a really good first impression.

Set sometime in the very near future, JTF puts you in command of the titular military organization, a kind of freelance peacekeeping group formed from the best and brightest around the globe. In the single-player game, you're sent to a total of five different hot spots around the globe including Somalia, Afghanistan, Bosnia and the Persian Gulf, on campaigns that run the gamut from rousting of drug cartels to neutralizing (that is to say, exploding) terrorist threats.

The developers have put a lot of work into making the hardware as accurate as possible. The game actually licenses equipment from Sikorsky Aircraft, General Dynamics Land Systems, Lockheed and other military contractors. Likewise, the game includes support for the AGEIA PhysX processor (with which things go boom even better!), so very object in the environment can, at least in theory, be interacted with and/or actively destroyed. The game's day/night cycles and dynamic weather can also affect the tactical situation you face. Better hope your soldiers know how to march in the mud.

Most missions, however, don't seem to be as dynamic as the weather. Instead, the levels we played appeared to be designed with event triggers placed across the landscape - so, when we crossed a particular line on the map this would always trigger a pair of tanks rolling out towards the squad. And every time we played that mission, those same tanks will roll out in the same spot as soon as we crossed that same line.

So, based on our experience,we expect gameplay is going to consist of a lot of trial and error, quicksaving often and remembering what events trip off what particular enemy response. Still, at least the AI, both enemy and friendly, appears to be pretty smart, and in an interesting twist for an RTS it turns out you can actually pause the game while issuing orders.