Sunday, September 23, 2007

Review: World In Conflict

I've had high expectations for this title for some time now, as the hype machine has been going non-stop on it since E3. Now it's time to see if it lives up to the hype, or is just another game that spent too much time on marketing and not enough on development.

I got this little devil as soon as I could, after its launch. I've been tracking World in Conflict news for a little while now. So maybe I built myself up a bit much, but hard as it is, I am trying to maintain neutrality in my review.


World in Conflict is a Real Time Strategy game that really tries to break the mold by completely removing the base-building dynamic. It also uses fully textured 3D models for all solid game assets, so no sprites here (there is quite a bit of particle action however).


At first the controls are deceptively easy and intuitive. Left click selects, right click performs actions, and so on. However, there are some wrinkles to which I feel they could have called more attention (particularly in the tutorial, where they aren't even mentioned). It took me something like 4 missions before I figured out that to use the keyboard hotkey for a special ability that needs a target you had to HOLD DOWN the hotkey and then click while holding it down, which is largely unstandard.

Of course, once you realize this, it makes enough sense (though it still takes quite a few accidental selections of intended targets to get used to the idea). Additionally, I kept trying to hit tab to cycle through the special abilities of the various different units I had selected (a-la Warcraft 3), which doesn't work in WIC and I never managed to figure out if there was an alternate method of doing this. If there isn't, it's a strike against them because it makes for some aggravating searching for the unit you want to do something, then performing that task. Something of a step backwards. Not gamebreaking, but a little irritating.

Other than that, the control scheme is well thought out and implemented. I especially liked the ability to click either on the unit itself or on its tag/label above it both for selection and for performing actions upon that unit (such as repair). Holding ALT to show the health bars of all onscreen units is an excellent feature, one I can't believe hasn't been thought of before. And I am also pleased to see that they used a similar method as Supreme Commander (E.G., holding shift) to queue up subsequent orders to units so that you can tell something, for example, go HERE, then repair HIM, then go back over HERE where it is safe. Saves so much of the aggravation I felt in C&C3 from engineers standing around and getting themselves dead. Also the standard number/ctrl-number group selection/assignment methods are kept intact. All in all, a pretty solid control scheme, minus a few complaints outlined above.


As mentioned before, the main method by which WIC shakes up the genre is by completely removing bases and base building from the gameplay dynamic. Instead, the flow of the game focuses on taking and holding areas of strategic importance, and as you hold them autonomous defenses (That suspiciously sound like small bases) will start to build themselves around that strategic location, allowing you to move on. You'll never have to worry about what to build first so that you can build "that" so that you can ultimately make "one of those."

The game keeps it simple as far as units types go. Things will seem especially familiar to anyone who has played Company of Heroes. Infantry is squad-based and is broken into familiar subsets (Normal, Anti-armor/air, sniper, paratrooper), Armor falls into light, medium and heavy varieties, same for choppers and so on. The archetypes follow the usual rock-paper-scissors models with some wildcards thrown in. A certain amount of personal attention and micromanagement can see a group of APCs kill heavy tanks that would usually decimate them easily through use of the APC's special abilities (which are on cooldown timers, so you can't constantly spam them, of course), in this case anti-armor rockets. Also, in the open infantry has a really rough time, but there are lots of buildings and heavily wooded areas that can only be entered by infantry, which render your little guys very formidable against all comers if you have cover for them to hide in. The strategy for what beats what in this game starts with a very simple foundation and adds some very good twists that please deskchair generals like me who pride themselves on tactics rather than fast clicking and massed units.

You gain units through the use of "Reinforcement Points." You start out with a large glob of these available to you, which you spend on a menu in a pulldown on-screen, allowing you to configure your initial force upon the map to your liking, and reinforce later according to how the battle progresses. When one of your units is destroyed (or you choose to decommission it), it enters into the "Incoming Reinforcement Points" pool which trickles into your reinforcement points slowly over time. You can choose the point at which your new units are air-dropped to you, though the available locations are usually limited according to what areas of the map over which you have undisputed control.

Then you add into this another pool of a separate set of points you accrue as you take objectives and blow up enemies, and you can use these to call in air strikes, artillery barrages, all sorts of nifty deus-ex-machina (or as I like to call them, "Exquisitely Timed Boulders," from that one Mario Kart track where the huge boulder that smashes into you is always exquisitely timed to smush you no matter how fast or slow you are going) that can turn the tide of a battle instantly in your favor. Most of combat, for me, consisted of setting up formations of meatgrinders to give me a steady stream of these points which I then used to bombard the rest of the bad guys off the map. They range from single laser guided bombs all the way up to carpet bombings and tactical nuclear missiles, each with their own costs, times to deploy and cooldown timers.

There's a little more micromanagement than I like, but I suppose not having to worry about a base makes up for that mostly.


The plot of the single player campaign is that World War 3 broke out between Nato and the Soviet Union in the late 80s, and you fill the role of the predictably anonymous field commander who never speaks any lines and whose face is never directly shown on camera yet the lion's share of "saving the world" falls directly on his shoulders. And if that sounds formulaic to you, I have some more bad news.

The characters in the single player campaign take the term cliché to a whole new level. Not only are you the stock faceless, voiceless wundercommander, but your boss is the oft-used cranky-growly been-there-done-that-impossible-to-surprise jaded colonel who the bureaucrats malign yet run crying to for help when they dig themselves something they can't get out of. Your peers are the off-the-shelf token minority who is the only other competent one besides you, and the off-the-shelf cocky dumbass glory-hound who spends his entire career screwing up everything for everyone, only to redeem himself via the ultimate sacrifice at a crucial later juncture. Oh, sorry, did I spoil that for you? Don't worry, you would have known it was coming by the second or third mission anyway. Throw in two comedy-relief national guardsmen who spend the whole game gushing over this amazing device called a "portable CD player" with a Bon Jovi (or is it Def Leppard?) CD in it, an adulterous American-disliking French Nato commander, and one cameo from a stereotypical singing (AH!) black (AH!) Rev-er-end-DAH! and you've got your full cast without a single shred of new ground broken between them.

The plot, too, is so cheesily, cornballishly familiar that the whole mess just wraps up to make a great big work of ironic satire. In fact, it's when you realize that the whole thing is just one big work of satire that it becomes brilliant and enjoyable. The plot never deviates from the established formula, there are 80's references aplenty (especially in the music department), and you start giggling at each new chestnut as it appears. You can't help it.


The immersive 3D nature of this game cannot be overstressed. There's a lot of stuff, and you have full 3D camera control to look at all of it in an intuitive and fast way. Not quite as grand as Supreme Commander's, but still an excellent use of camera freedom. The models are well done, the textures (especially for the "actors") are detailed and realistic, and all in all it would be an area of high praise if not for this next thing I'm going to mention.

The bugs. Oh my god, the bugs. It's been a long time since I played a game as buggy as this one. I lost count at the number of times I had to reload a saved game (and because of this issue, I found myself saving every time 3 bug-free minutes had passed) because some graphical glitch had made buildings or bridges disappear, ground suddenly go untextured, sound cues cut out, or my personal favorite, when the view fades to black to switch to a cutscene but never fades back in, leaving you with a black screen you can't get out of without forcibly crashing your way back to desktop. Listening around on the various forums that discuss such things, I am led to believe that the majority of my graphical bug woes stem from good old NVidia imperialism. Nvidia's trademark motto may be "The way it's meant to be played" but they may soon be changing it to "the only way we'll allow things to be played." From what I've read these bugs may only happen on computers with ATI video cards. Now, granted, I've already declared myself for Nvidia for my next computer, but it's still highly unprofessional for a game dev house to (allegedly) not do any ATI testing or bug fixing despite beta testers trying to frantically warn them about said bugs existing. Big minus here.

Another interesting side note is that the game, at least in DX9 mode, isn't as taxing on your computer as it thinks it is. The "benchmark" utility in setting the detail options is 15 times heavier and more complex than any part of actual gameplay I ever came across, so even if WIC is warning you in dire terms that your computer might not be up to the task of your current settings, and even if the "benchmark" runs at a slideshow-esque 5 frames per second, don't be shy about cranking up the detail, because the actual game performed well even with them on, aside from the aforementioned bugs.


While the sound effects themselves are stock/standard, the voice acting is superb and the musical score is an interesting mix of orchestral fare with period poprock and the occasional contemporary song (there was one Audioslave song during a cutscene that made me raise an eyebrow, since in 1989, the year this game purports to take place, Chris Cornell would still have been with Soundgarden and wouldn't have cut this song for another 17 years). There is one recurring bug I found where voice stops working, but I think it's tied in to a graphical glitch.


The multiplayer game differs slightly from the single player campaign, in that you must declare yourself a certain type of commander at the start of the round (Infantry, Armor, Air or Support). This adds an interesting layer to the game if you have a lot of friends to play with, because each "type" of commander cannot build units that the other types can... Armor commanders can't build infantry units, helicopters, artillery or repair vehicles, etc. This means the game was clearly designed with multiple players cooperating with each other in mind, and the game does claim 16 player multiplayer 2-sided conflict. You can fill in for players with as many bots as you want, even to the point of playing by yourself with and against various AI-controlled commanders. However, it lacks what C&C used to call a "skirmish" mode, that is, a true custom-generated single player experience outside the campaign. With the single player campaign clocking in at around 10 hours to beat, it's a little disappointing that the replayability of the game must suffer for their being no single player options other than relying on bots to repair your tanks or replaying old campaign scenarios.

The Final Word -

I think this has been the longest review I've written for a game yet, and it stems from my internal conflicting feelings about this title. World in Conflict is a great game. It is within grasping distance of being the best RTS title to date, yet it falls short due to a few control quirks, my personal distaste for micromanagement, a lack of single player replayability, and particularly due to the numerous gamebreaking bugs I was forced to endure (and reload past saved games after) over the course of my playing it. However, the game itself is an impressive solid title and an evolutionary step in every area that is considered part of an RTS-genre game. Thus, I must make a very firm pronouncement of a B- for a game that should have been an A+, sorry as I am to say it. Massive Entertainment, see me after class. You're lucky it wasn't a C.

And that's the word from Bandit Camp.

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