World In Conflict Review
An exciting RTS which breathes new life into a highly structured and well-worn genre
During the 1980's, The Cold War has escalated into open warfare between the USSR and NATO. The Berlin Wall remains standing while fierce fighting in Europe and Eastern Asia occurs between Soviet and NATO forces. Unexpectedly, the Soviets turn their attention to the United States, and launch a devastating surprise attack on Seattle. This alternative outcome to the Cold War is the meticulously crafted setting for one of the best and most innovative Real Time Strategy games of the last few years: World in Conflict. The story and setting will strike particularly close to home with Americans who play this game, as most of the campaign takes place on American soil, fighting for and defending the second Superpower of the world as the Soviets drive towards the Nations heart.
The story told during the single player Campaign in World in Conflict is surprisingly heartfelt and personal for a RTS, and does a good job of backing up the consistently high quality gameplay offered up throughout the campaign. You start off defending/retreating from Seattle at the start of the game, and as the story unfolds you will fight in a variety of locations with a good number of different objectives. No two missions are even remotely similar in WiC; one will have you driving around rescuing civilians, attempting to hold back overwhelming forces (and they are always overwhelming in this game), another will have you defending strategic locations from enemy assaults, others will have you re-taking a town that has fallen to the Soviets. The variety of mission types and structures in WiC, and the well-told story (narrated by Alec Baldwin of all people) create a very enjoyable, although somewhat short around 10-12 hours, single player campaign.
The story and mission structure is not the only thing done differently in WiC. The game controls are vastly different from the usual zoomed-out isometric perspective usually offered in real time strategy games. Instead of moving the mouse to the edge of the screen to move the camera position, you use the WSAD keys to move the camera around; adjusting its height, angle, and direction, giving the camera controls a much more dynamic feel than what is offered with the usual isometric camera. These controls are so intuitive that after playing World in Conflict for a couple of months, I tried going back to another, more traditional RTS, but had to give up because I simply could not get used to the regular RTS controls again. Hopefully more games will adapt this method of controls in the future.
Another innovation is that instead of building a base from which your units come, you are given a set number of resource points for each mission which you can use to fly in units. When a unit is killed, the points gradually trickle back into the main pool, so you can continually reinforce your army throughout missions. You can also change the drop point, which is the place your units will be flown into, as the frontlines move forwards or back. Something else that is different is that you are almost never fighting without allies during the single player campaign. CPU controlled units will be all around you, making it feel like you are part of a much bigger battle than what you and your units are doing. Generally you control only 5 or 6 units, which are split up into four categories: Air, Armour, Infantry and Support. The more powerful the units, the fewer you will have; you could have either 8 medium tanks or 5 heavy tanks. Many units come with special abilities, which are easy to use either through hot keys or by selecting them with the mouse.
Apart from Unit control, off-map tactical support plays a very significant role in World in Conflict. Whenever you do anything, kill someone, capture a point, or destroy an enemy building, you are rewarded with tactical support points. During the campaign, you are usually given a certain number of tactical support points and only a few different kinds of support, which range from artillery strikes to unit drops to tactical nuclear missiles to my personal favourite, the daisy cutter (I’ll let you use your imagination on that one). The more powerful options are used seldom in the single player portion of the game. Some of the most thrilling and gratifying moments in the game come from landing a well timed, well placed artillery strike on an enemy position. The unit control combined with the support in the game means that you are always busy doing something, and since combat occurs almost non-stop in single player missions and multiplayer matches, the game is consistently intense and frantic.
Multiplayer in World in Conflict is easily the most frantic, action packed, and explosion-filled I have ever seen in a game. Matches are 8 vs. 8, which is a number unheard of for RTS’s. Full games are fast, furious, and will bring even the beefiest of computers to their knees as the density of explosions rises and rises throughout matches. One game I played saw 6 tactical nukes, one after the other, let off within the time span of about 2 minutes, bringing the frame rate into the single digits. During multiplayer matches, you will earn tactical support points which can be used on any support you like, including the more powerful options, although you will need to accumulate a large number of points, which can be given to and received from team mates.
You will choose from a few different game types: the regular one will have a number of control points, which are captured by placing units within all of a number of connected circles, which you must try and take the majority of to bring the enemy teams points down until they run out, at which point you win. Another game type, assault, will have one team defending a single two or three circle point while another tries to take it. If the point is taken, you will have to fall back and defend the next one. These games are by far the most intense, since in full matches all 16 players will be fighting within a very small space, creating total chaos and havoc for the duration of the match. The third game type is tug-of-war where both teams try to capture a single, long point that stretches across the map. Once taken, another one will be fought over closer to one side or the other. Each game type plays differently, and all are very fun and very intense.
During multiplayer games, you get to choose to play as one of Armour, Air, Infantry or Support. Each role has distinct strengths and weaknesses, and you will really need to work as a team to use each role to its strength. For example, Heavy attack helicopters, only available to those playing as Air, can decimate heavy tanks in almost no time at all, but they are vulnerable to anti-air missiles. If you coordinate an attack with some friendly tanks, where the tanks go in and target the anti air vehicles and you come in afterwards and take out the tanks, you will have much more success than if you try and go in by yourself. Of the four roles, infantry seems like the weakest of them all, since they can be run over by tanks, especially in rural maps, but if used correctly they can be extremely effective, particularly in urban locals where they can be placed in buildings. Teams which work together in WiC are the teams that will win, and this element makes the multiplayer truly fantastic.
From a technical standpoint, World in Conflict is most impressive. Special effects such as explosions and smoke are particularly jaw-dropping, water and landscapes look excellent as well. When you destroy a vehicle, its relic will remain and a black column of smoke will slowly rise into the air; if you destroy enough vehicles the sky will become black with smoke. Landscapes are fully destructible, and in some urban matches no buildings will remain after the insane amount of artillery and combat that goes on in them. In-engine cut scenes that take place during the campaign showcase how impressive the game engine is, and considering the scale of some of the battles the performance is acceptable, although in some tactical support-heavy matches frame rates will drop. The sound track for the game is phenomenal; a tense, driving orchestral frenzy that works very well with the game and will stick in your head long after you quit.
Overall World in Conflict is a shining example of how innovation can improve a game beyond any ones wildest expectations. Excellent and innovative controls combined with combat oriented gameplay, a well-told story; fast paced, action packed multiplayer and spectacular visuals make World in Conflict a RTS that fans of the genre, and those looking to get into the genre, would be wise to play.