A little while ago, we had the opportunity to meet up with the SSI representatives and Rival Interactive President Jim Omer to get a sneak peek at their recently-gold military real time strategy title, "Real War: Rogue States."
Rival Interactive had some unfortunate luck with the release date of the first "Real War," as it came right after the Sept 11th 2001 WTC attack in NY. Rather than delaying their finished product, like many other companies did, publisher Simon & Schuster Interactive gave it the green light. Now that the US is engaged in a global war against terrorism, you could say the circumstances are somewhat more in favor of Rival and more on par with the theme of the game, fighting the evil-doers, aka terrorists. Having said that, let's have a peek at what SSI & Rival have in store for us this time around.
First off, "Rogue States" is not an addon to "Real War;" it is a totally new game and standalone, not requiring you to have the original game and does not act as a mission/level addon (which is always a good thing). Rival got some serious heat from the press concerning the initial Real War product. Without going into details and rehashing old stories, let's just say that "Real War" had quite a few flaws and was not a perfect game. When I briefly checked out the game last year, I found it to be quite an entertaining title and fun nontheless. With their second try at the military RTS franchise, Rival totally revamped the product, based on fan feedback (most people will agree that the AI turned out to be NOT so intelligent). Let's forget about the past and start off with a clean slate.
The ILA (Independent Liberation Army) is back to wreak havoc, and it turns out that they were not as dead as they were at the end of "Real War." It is up to you, representing the US Military, to bitchslap those terrorists once again.
As mentioned before, Rival has incorporated lots of fan-recommended changes into their second military RTS offering. The most noticeable improvement is the insane amount of game play options. You can basically change any and all of the game settings from the amount of utilized resources to the colour of your camouflaged buildings. You can also set the amount of initial supplies, game difficulty, whether you want the AI opponents to take a defensive, offensive or normal attitude, and of course, you can play as either side (US Army or ILA), each with a few specific units.
To make it easy on people who don't want to bother with all the possible tweaks and are only interested in waging war, Rival has included a few maps with pre-defined settings focusing on a specific set of rules, such as maps with tactical settings, local supply lines only, and several others. In total, Rival has added five different game styles, one user-definable style (all maps are included and are subject to the player's choices and tweaks), and four pre-defined game modes :
- Pre-Set rules: pre-set rules of engagement, AI focus is offensive & defensive, all weapons available
- Tactical: limited unit build tree, AI focus is to find and destroy your base
- Control: try to control certain areas by taking over supply lines, AI's focus is to find and control supply areas
- Local Supply: no supply lines available except local supply lines
For each of these modes, you can set the amount of supply stations to control to win the game (ranging from 1 to 10). If you do the math, this means for the die-hard fans who want to try out every option, settings, and different gameplay types, there is really A LOT to go through. Great replay value!
Your supply of credits is not done through the usual harvesting of one resource or another, but by simply building supply depots and establishing a continuous line of supplies by means of transport planes and helicopters who constantly fly back and forth with supplies transformed into credits. You can build several depots in your base camp and additional ones can be incorporated on your airfield (a big fat C130 plane shuttles back and forth) and marina. Besides an airfield giving you the possibility to build various airplanes (bombers, B-2 stealth, fighter planes, carpet bombers, transport planes, etc.), you can also build a helipad, giving you a choice of several types of helicopters (transport & attack helicopters).
Once you have your base camp set up, it is quite a busy environment with transports going back and forth and building yards doing their thing. Of course, every base needs its perimeter security, and this is where quite a few new additions come in. As Rival's Jim Omer explained, the initial "Real War" did not have much in the way of fixed defensive units for the simple reason that it was created in the mold of the US Army, which is more of a mobile force because wars are usually fought in other countries. This time around, they have included those units, and you can now defend your base with fixed anti-air batteries, rail guns and super artillery (for the ILA), bunkers, fixed machine guns (these require infantry to man them, or they are useless), and plenty more.
Also returning from the first episode is the familiar voice of Full Metal Jacket Drill Sergeant, actor R. Lee Ermey, who once again takes care of the speech in the mission briefings as well as 50 or more taunts that are being used to motivate (or make fun of) the player. These same taunts can be used manually in a multiplayer game, which makes it quite amusing and humorous. All sounds have been redone; some were done in-house, and some were recordings from authentic military sources. The various explosion sounds, tanks, fighters, and rocket launchers all sound very realistic and fit perfectly to create a good atmosphere within the game.
The game has some of the best CGI intro and in-game movies you have ever seen! Much like the original, "Rogue States" has some excellent CGI cut scenes, although I must say that they're even better than before. They looked so incredibly real that I had to ask twice if some live feed recordings hadn't been implemented into the game. That artist should have some serious thoughts about making his own CGI movie ... simply amazing!
The game itself is still using the same engine, apart from from serious graphical tweaking. You still play on a 2D background but with 3D units and buildings. Your backgrounds range from snowscapes, desert, islands, and regular vegetation. The HUD can be minimized and hides off the screen to increase the view of the playing field. On top of that, you can use the mousewheel to zoom in and out, making the overview about 5 times bigger while your units remain quite nice in graphic quality.
Every building or unit has been remodeled and given extra animations. Whereas old buildings just sat there boring as can be, now there is always something going on, like machinery moving around in your vehicle yard, sparks flying, and a conveyor belt moving boxes and crates in your supply depot. I particularly liked the airfield strip, where your fighters and bomber airplanes taxi to take off, or incoming airplanes make screeching noises and leave a cloud of smoke behind when they hit the tarmac. In flight, the aircraft perform "acrobatics" when under fire, such as looping or zigzagging to avoid anti-aircraft missiles. The land units have all been recreated from scratch. No more old-fashioned sprites, but each unit now consists of polygons, making for better detail and animation. Of course, there are new troop units, such as the previously-missing medic (can't fight a war without a medic, now can you?), and several others.
If all of that isn't enough, then there is always the multiplayer part for you to battle it out online. There will be several multiplayer modes, such as "Capture the Flag" and "King Of The Hill," will be incorporated with the supply depots. By far, one of the most interesting parts in co-op play is the part where you can form an "alliance" with one (or more) of the other players and work together. What this means is that one player can focus on land forces, for example, while another concentrates on building a strong airforce, and when push comes to shove, you can have your ally help you in battle. This is made easy by the fact that your ally's units also show up on your end. Instead of having to ask for certain units, you simply build them as they were your own, and the game will automatically forward the request to the other party, who either grants or denies your request. Once again, in multiplayer mode, you can pretty much have any setup you would fancy, whether it is 2-on-2 or 3-on-1 ... anything goes.
One of the biggest (ok ok, THE biggest) gripes with the first 'Real War" was the often-MIA and unintelligent AI. It was known to Rival that their biggest task was going to be serious improvement of the AI in this new product, and they did! This time around, your units will actually perform up to par and execute orders properly. The pathfinding mechanism is also improved so units won't take a long detour through enemy territory while you wanted them to take the completely opposite route. One of the biggest additions to the AI are the features Rival added to the unit selection menu, such as attacking several targets in a player- designated order, which can be set while units are still being built in your barracks or construction yard. You can assign various formations to your units and several standaing orders (hold position, defend & return, attack & follow etc.) so the units won't stray into an enemy base and get slaughtered. One of the best additions to the menu/unit selection is the fact that you can issue building orders for units from anywhere on the map; you don't have to go back to the base camp and select the building in order to create them. The HUD has all the buildings and units available so you can select any of them at any given time and issue orders right off the bat.
Either people who hated "Real War" -- or those who praised it for its potential -- should definitely pick up "Rogue States," since Rival Interactive has made good on its promise to deliver the goods. Even though "Real War" was criticized by a lot of reviewers, it still was a financial success, so SSI and Rival should do really well with this one. When I suggested to Jim Omer a certain effect with the sniper (to let the player zoom in on the target a la Warcommander), he said it couldn't be done due to the 2D background, but he confided that the next product might be in full 3D, so who knows. ;) At any rate, "Rogue States" is bigger and better than its prequel and should absolutely appeal to the old fans and make a great deal of new ones. If you are into C&C-type games and military strategy, then this is a sure buy!