It's hard to actually review a Real Time Strategy game that presents itself lacking a few of the features that makes an RTS. Like base building and resource management to name but a couple. That's exactly what I've done with World in Conflict. I've been playing this for a few days now and since I was a big fan of Ground Control and Ground Control 2 from the same developers I had to get my hands on this one.
The story is quite a dark one. Russia invades the US and breaks through Americas defences, throwing you in as a commander in the middle of a pitched battle right from the get-go. It's told through the medium of gorgeous gritty looking in game cut-scenes and has a kind of 'Hollywood' action-movie direction to the proceedings. The excellent camera-work follows the characters down to the smallest detail.
Ok, that little bit out of the way I'm not going to spoil the story, I can only say that it takes some twists and turns and definitely means the game has lasting singleplayer appeal as well as frag-your-mates appeal in multiplayer.
Back to the actual game: It's deceptively simple and the lack of traditional farm-this resource management may put a few people off. You do have a resource, these are points that you can use to requisition new units and drop them in off map by air-support planes and choppers. You don't have to worry about constructing a base or making complex defensive positions.
You can pile troops into buildings and set up protected areas with careful placement of units. There are transport units in both the air and land roles as well.
The game has a Mega-Map. If you've played Supreme Commander you'll know this means that you can zoom right out and see a massive view of the battlefield as well as all your units and so on, the Mega-Map works pretty much like that and allows you to get a commander's view of the battle. It's here that you can place your dropzone in multiplayer and see the tactical slide of the battle as it progresses.
You have four specialities in the game: Armour, Air, Infantry and Support. These roles are all different and have their own strengths and weaknesses that rely on the other roles to support. In a multiplayer game it's a good idea to have a mix of these roles in your team otherwise you'll find that the enemy will quickly outmatch and outgun you.
Gameplay usually finds you having to locate and take control of Command Points around expansive and highly destructible maps. These locations are massive and you can take an hour or so to complete some of the missions since they have multiple objectives that require some serious thought rather than wading in with a bunch of tanks.
You can use cover and flanking techniques against the enemy as the units in the game are based on a rock/paper/scissors kind of principle. Some are better against others and so forth. Using these roles correctly is the key to success. Some of the units have special abilities that can take the form of an offensive attack (Tow missile) or defensive action (smoke screen).
In addition to the requisition resource you have Tactical Aid Points. These are accumulated as you fight the battles and destroy enemies/capture points. They allow you to call in air strikes, artillery fire and for the last option: a fantastic and extremely powerful nuke.
That pretty much covers the basics of the game, there is a tutorial and I'm sure you don't need me to explain how to use the camera. I will note the camera is not a typical RTS camera; it's able to zoom in to the highest level of detail and go out to quite a distance to give you a good look at the battlefield.
The graphics for World in Conflict, when it's running on a truly powerful machine supports DirectX 10 features and looks utterly stunning. There are shadows from the clouds; each texture is sharper and more defined. The smoke and debris are fantastic. On DirectX 9 it still looks amazing.
There are a lot of graphical touches in the game that you might expect from a modern day engine, it pulls them off at a decent frame rate and requires a fairly pumped machine to run the game properly without turning down the settings. It features persistent tracks and scarring for the land, deformation from heavier weapons turns the landscape into a war zone over time.
The use of shadow and lighting is second to none and the game takes RTS destruction to the next level.
The physics are impressive, buildings fly apart and fall to pieces, and the nuke has to be seen to be believed. It all comes together so nicely it has to be right up there with Relic's Company of Heroes in that department.
Animation and modelling are likewise of a high standard. Since the camera has to zoom close in and the cut-scenes rely on in-engine then they are of a quality only to be expected in that case. Vehicles and soldiers are well detailed and the textures look sharp even on a slightly lower setting.
The sound is high quality. The battlefield is brought to life with the crack of rifle fire and the whirl of chopper blades alongside the thrum of a rumbling tank. You also have the voice acting which is pretty decent, there are a couple of off performances and voices that don't quite fit but overall I was happy enough with it.
The music is stirring and just the kind of thing you'd expect to match a very well written storyline.
The AI: On a whole the AI is pretty impressive in the game, you can see it using tactics and working out optional pathfinding to a heavily defended area after a few tries. It will also make use of roles, tactical abilities and other tricks. It knows how the whole rock/paper/scissors game works and therefore exploits this to full advantage against an unsure opponent.
You can also open the Request menu when in a team game with AI, sending a variety of short requests such as: need defence here and attack there. The AI will actually follow those orders and if you request artillery at a point, it will comply. I like this feature and lot and it boosts the game's fun for me since I do like to Compstomp now and then.
World in Conflict isn't just about singleplayer and AI Compstomping across the massive maps. There are numerous game modes and all of these can be played with a mix of AI and human opponents, you can even watch the AI duke it out if you want to see the game in action.
The game modes are:
Domination: where two teams battle it out to capture and control a number of Command Points on each map. You win at this mode by pushing the Domination Bar at the top towards your team. It's vital in this and other modes that you work together with your team and solo play isn't supported. When you hold enough points the Domination Bar moves towards your team's side, hold them all (Total Domination) the bar moves even faster. When the timer runs out the team with the domination advantage wins.
Assault: A classic game played in rounds where two teams face off against each other. One team is the attacker and the other defends. The attacking team takes a number of Command Points in an order of progression, take the first and then a second appears etc. Once the time runs out, the teams switch. You win this mode by capturing the most number of points per round or being the fastest to capture the points than the other team.
Tug of War: A long Command Point is your frontline. You control perimeter points to push the frontline forwards. Push it all the way towards the enemy you win, or if you hold it back and control most of the map you win.
These game modes can be played online; LAN, skirmish and they also support Few Player Mode. This removes the role system and gives you a massive stack of Reinforcement Points to play with.
Online play has a few issues and there are some disconnects, this is probably since Massgate is new and is the official online portal for the game. It's still a fun and enjoyable experience overall as well as having full clan support and leaderboards. It supports Avatars as well as player profiles so it's been set up to provide an excellent level of customisation for your online persona.
All in all: World in Conflict is an enjoyable robust game that really pushes the boundaries of the modern warfare RTS. It removes the base building and resource mining and replaces it with tactical play and unit management. The DirectX 10 specific features are impressive enough but the game does not suffer if you only have a DirectX 9 capable machine.
The singleplayer campaign has a good story and will keep you coming back for more as the plot unfolds. The online play with its team-based gaming is unique in that it supports a role system rather like modern BF or CS based FPS.