Wednesday, 26 September 2007
Posted by Dave
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.