Genre: Real-time Strategy
Developer: Eugen Systems
Release Date: Q2 2005
If one were to take a hard look at all of the real-time strategy games made in the last few years you would realize that, short of their plot and presentation, they are all pretty much the same. Granted alterations have been made here and there over the years, but the basic gameplay mechanic of Warcraft 2 is no different than Empire Earth’s; establishing a base area, advancing technology, and crushing your opponent. However, the genre is also probably the only one that could get away with such little advancement over time. Act of War is no different in that it is still your side versus the ever-present enemy, but really makes its mark in its presentation and certain gameplay elements.
Though the plot surrounding the game was vague at best in the preview build, the story is that the United States has been hit by some form of major terrorist attack with hundreds if not thousands of terrorists now in hiding in the country. The U.S. has pulled back all of its armed forces to defend the home front with the exception of the Talon unit, a self-sufficient branch of the military that is sent to do dirty work in countries abroad. In the preview the Talon unit is sent to Egypt to attack terrorists who have taken root in a beachside city.
The first thing you will likely notice about Act of War is how absolutely stunning it looks. Hear that thud? That’s the sound of every other RTS taking the backseat to Act of War’s impressive visuals. Sure the landscape looks superb in itself, but what really breathes realism into the scenery is the way every unit, building, and object casts a realistic shadow. Unit animations are very well done to the point that when zoomed up close they could easily pass for the animations used in a FPS. When enemy soldiers get shot you will see their gun fly from their hands as they fall backwards into splotches of their own blood. Explosions and smoke effects bring the combat to life, and it’s a nice touch to see bits of a buggy go flying in various directions after being hit by an RPG. The game engine is capable of a rather high poly count, allowing for a large amount of detail in unexpected areas. For instance, when garrisoning units in a building they may actually take cover on the buildings balconies, as opposed to firing from a window texture. Enemy snipers will take cover on the exposed rafters of a three story building requiring you to look all over for potential threats instead of scanning the flat, same textured tops of box-like buildings.
Resource handling is done in a slightly different manner than what the genre is used to. The biggest source of income in the game is when you capture prisoners and place them in an interrogation camp. When enemy soldiers are heavily wounded (assuming you aren’t shooting them with a tank) they may drop their weapon and surrender to your forces. Blowing up a tank or shooting down a helicopter may allow for some of its crew to survive to be captured. Having a camp full of prisoners generates a lot of income, but prisoners can also be “expended” to reveal information about a specific area on the map. Of course, the same thing happens to your troops too and the enemy can capture them if you let them. Once wounded but not killed you can bring your units back into the fight via a medical chopper, but leave them unattended and the enemy is sure to either capture or kill them.
For an RTS game there is a surprisingly high number of times where you will be saying “whoa, that was cool”. The first time you see a hellfire missile track and slam into an enemy tank, the first time you see a Barret sniper shoot a enemy soldier in a tower and watch him fall out of it, the first time you see the way a single artillery shell can send a group of infantry flying in the air amidst a plume of smoke and debris; all of which are likely to cause you to further distance Act of War from being simply another cookie-cutter low-quality RTS. Though it is not certain if they do it in certain situations or what, but at one point in one of the play sessions we actually saw the lead unit in an infantry squad put his back to a wall near a corner the squad was ordered to go around, spin over to expose only his gun and a slim portion of his body, and begin to open fire on a small garrison of enemy infantry.
It is true that at their core all RTS games have the same general gameplay mechanics and features, but it is also true that there is no reason to break what works. Act of War takes your standard RTS fare but adds its own near-future military spin on it. The plotline seems to be a memorable one if not merely enjoyable, backed by both voiceovers during gameplay and short FMVs between levels al la Command and Conquer. Still, what will undoubtedly garner the most attention from the gamer is the quality level of the gameplay; which not only looks stunning thanks to the shading and high quality models and textures but also plays just as well thanks to a few innovative new features such as the prisoner system. Keep an eye on Act of War, as if the final product is anything like the limited preview build we received it will undoubtedly be one of the milestone titles in the RTS genre.
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