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Wednesday 26 September 2007

World in Conflict review [Lurks]

There's a few of us that are RTS affecionados and with the news of a new Massive Entertainment RTS game, the Swedes who did the great Ground Control series, and a good deal of hype on top - it was worth being pretty excited about this game. But is it any cop?

It's a heavily story driven RTS game with long cut-scenes, either with a real 3D engine or some panning around nicely hand-drawn artwork as the voice over dialog plays out. I thought this stuff works quite well to set the scene although I did become irritated with the writing style, where the author has obviously read too much into the edict of 'thou shalt tell a dialog through disagreement'. One of the characters continued to basically just disagree all the time in a cowardly/incompetent way and the superior officer's repetetive remonstration of thembecame highly irritating.

While competently done, the story aspect and indeed the entire onus of the game full stop is substantially marred for me, and I think many other people in Europe, by just how amazingly America centric the whole thing is. This is doubly remarkablein light of the developers being Swedish! The whole thing kicks off a Russian invasion of the US (in the 80s), then bizarrely the plot moves backwards to the US bailing out France from a Russian invasion with you, as an American officer, in charge of NATO troops. That means you get the full treatment of a variety of random comedy accents when you issue orders. Joy.

They even manage to injectthe right-wing Yank mantra at one pointwith one of the characters saying 'no wonder you can't defend your own country'. We're no stranger to the fact that yank game publishers think the entire universe revolves around America but the notion that Europe needs American commanders to lead the most important battles carried out by NATO troops - jesus you twats, turn off Fox News and learn about the world eh?

As for the game itself; just like Ground Control stuff, you don't build things, they get deployed as one-offs using resource points. The game decides what you can and cannot deploy from one round to the next. You do get some additional resource points for blowing stuff up and completing objectives, which means you can deploy more stuff. The upshot of this is that it forces you to try take care of your units. That's laudible, however where the entire thing comes crashing down like a pack of cards is the fact that the enemy pretty much just throws infinite stuff at you until you've captured an objective or whatever.

I found, after attemps to play the game 'properly' with the type of units recommended in the briefings, that most problems were best solved with the application of the heaviest armour they'll let you deploy, and some repair vehicles. So you just cycle back things that need repairing and continue that way.

Also the game, being as it is ONLY about the units, doesn't even seem to have picked up some basic advancements to the genre as introduced by the genre-defining Company of Heroes. There's really piss all in the way of cover, formations (there's two! Box and line!), and well, it's all seriously lightweight and since you can't just crank out replacements constantly, I found you fall back to tanks and so on.

The breadth of special support, air strikes and that kind of thing is fairly impressivevisually and destruction wise (although the multiple levels of each item seems redundant to me) butagain what's available varies randomly from mission to mission with no real reason as the developers try to spoon feed you scenarios. However using it just isn't that much fun because you don't get the sense of "oh wow, I just blew up all their tanks!" because Ivan will just send more tanks. Despite the fact he's sent them in secret shipping containers, he's apparently got 10 times as many tanks and stuff as you do. So it cheapens the whole thing and removes almost utterly the desire to actually inflict these sorts of mass casualties. Of course there's almost no buildings either, no bases etc, other than basic fortifications so you don't have that sense of victory of having delivered some crushing blow to the enemy's infrastructure either.

The graphics engine is quite good but it's not making me go wow. Also it doesn't zoom out anywhere NEAR enough. Which means you have to wait while you scroll around with keys or click on the mini map for a confusing teleport. Then some cut-scene might come in anyway, which you'll escape-key press through because you've seen it many times before, and it's reset the camera position where you didn't want it. Grr.

You can zoom in more than usual in an RTS game and it looks nice. That looks to be where the effort has gone in but don't expect to see troops do anything interesting like shimmy for cover, hide behind a tank or squeal in fear or pretty much anything at all, other than just stand there firing their weapon.

Things tend to get worse later. One mission I was told emphatically to use troops. I tried many times and it was pointless, so again I just chose the biggest tanks I could and repaired them and sure enough started to complete the mission (they're all long, multi-staged so you need to use save-game after each objective or you're replaying the lot) and then went on to capture some enemy artilliary. Only to find that the extremely useful artilliary (normally, for this kind of thing) refuses to basically fire on random buildings for no apparent reason.

In the end, every time I stopped playing World in Conflict, it was because I'd just managed to achieve an objective and couldn't stomach heading on to the next one. It's absolutely quite remarkable that they managed to essentially engineer all of the fun out of the game so that even a die hard RTS nutter like me can't even find the game worth playing. Then add on a massively over-egged Yank-centric story line and you end up with what I'd put down as my greatest gaming disappointment of the year. The key problem is that they've removed all of the sand-box stuff from RTS games, telling you what to use, what the circumstances are in the form of a sort of linear single player game and yet this hasn't been designed very well, none of the missions have any real wow factor to them at all and you're generally left frustrated that you can't do what you want.

Shame on you Massive. If you want to make a good game next time, dump the yank publisher (I have to assume the story and dialog was their idea)and go play some other RTS games to see where the genre is *really* at.

Bottom line is World in Conflict is an RTS turkey. Avoid. Hopefully this wont impede any bids for my impending ebay auction.


  1. It's a full and comprehensive review (note not 'fulsome' or 'fullsome' which means sarcastically / ironically praising not full-of-praise no matter how many times I see it misused on the interweb or even in broadsheets ffs).

    I didn't really take issue with the story line. It was a story, which is yes US centric but sort of so what - any story of this kind is going to have a protagonist and an NME. No need to make it coalition for ever. However the rest of the review, I have to agree. The graphics engine is mighty purdy on a decent sys but it is true it doesn't zoom out enough. The objectives do feel like they are not met through skills based playing by the gamer but more that you just happened to stick it out.

    Frankly I don't think I have that much to add to the above but support it. Graphics. Nice. FMV and cut-scene story telling - very good indeed - almost leading edge. Gameplay and fun?


  2. Alright, I think I'd take the point on the US-centric story but commanding NATO troops just seemed to be a stretch too far for me. I normally put up with this kind of thing, I guess I was just surprised at the level of it and for some European developer to just sit back sucking yank dick like that.

    Incidentally, doesn't it strike you that all the units are incredibly generic given that you switch theatres from the US to Europe? Tanks are light, medium and heavy. All are the same, hell you can see the HP in numbers on enemy stuff and it's exactly the same as your light, medium and heavy tanks. There's not really been any attempt to substantially differentiate the units.

    The special abilities of the units are kind of gash too. I mean a HEAT round in a heavy tank which deals massive damage to lightly armoured vehicles. Like a heavy tank has a problem with lightly armoured vehicles at it is?! Why does the smoke screen (present on just about all the tanks) last about 15 seconds and pretty much do nothing anyway? Why do buildings which you've previously identified have bad guys in them, when you move something out of visual range and suddenly they don't have bad guys in them any more and you cant' fire artilliary at them? Same goes for fortifications.

    Gah, it's just fucking arse.


  3. Well to be honest in the levels I played, I found bugger all differentiation in the units. I mean I had troops in a carrier but did I unload them? Well I did for a bit but it seemed to make fuck all difference so that was it and I bundled them all back up.

    Is there a good game lurking here somewhere - I think maybe there is but it ain't surfacing yet. They need to work seriously on this game and then it could be uber. It's an unusual productin that it isvery very polished but just lacks the spark of intrigue and gameplay. Weird.


  4. What's quite interesting is how if you search for game reviews, you see a string of high scores. Eurogamer gave this a 9/10 and said some remarkable stuff which is wholesale simply not true. Can it really be the case that we've got it right when the popular weight of critical review says the opposite? Yes, yes it can.

    It's clear when reading a good many of these reviews that basically these people haven't played RTS games before. They're coming at WIC because it's basically an action game with a bunch of the strategy from RTS games, more approachable in a way. Little wonder since this is another game that's hitting consoles later on too.

    I worry about this really. Bioshock was the other kicker. It wasa great game but it could have been the most awsome game the planet has ever seen if it actually stuck to its roots and was a proper sequel of SS2 rather than a tarted-up, dumb-down for consoles effort. I worry that PC gaming will go down this route from now on.

    Then I remember that Supreme Commander: Forged Alliance is out in November and an expansion for CoH is due tomorrow. PC gaming isn't dead, but it's definately being tiltered towards anything that can be comprehended by the hordes of console gamers clutching their game pads to their dribbled-on chests. On the other hand, this is the best period of PC gaming we've seen for ages. If one treats things like this and Bioshock as a bonus game, that you might not have seen otherwise on the PC, then all is well. There's plenty more real and proper PC games going on.

  5. Just my 2pence worth.... I'd been waiting for WiC since the beta, which gave a taste of something new and wholey cool for the RTS genre. I haven't even touched the single player (which as far as I can tell seems to be the main area of problems for folk).For me, its the multiplayer part that shines through, and is worthy of the said praise, one thing that has always been an issue in RTS is the (lack) of anything like useful AI. Which for me is a problem given there is a limit to how much actual control you put over your entire force, not least given the amount most modern RTS' like micro management. WiC rips us away from that scenario, and keeps forces small, but with 8 players on either side, battles are typically quite epic affairs, struggling for every inch of land, and widely varied tactics unlike the usual, tech -> steam roll, we've played since Dune 2.For me, its the bastard child of RTS and a FPS style multiplayer, drop ins, short games, no feeling of "shit I lost, thats another 2 hours of my life wasted" ala WC3, C&C3 etc...