Genre : Strategy
Publisher: GlobalStar Software
Developer: Take 2
Release Date: February 5, 2004
Road to Baghdad is a real time strategy game that is based on the U.S. exploits into Iraq under the name Operation Iraqi Freedom. This game sounded interesting to me when it was cued up from review as I am always game for learning more about military maneuvers especially when it involves a piece of history. And, In the case of Road to Baghdad, history is still being made at review time.
There is no story to Road to Baghdad as the missions are all based on actual maneuvers from the Iraqi war. Basically the game offers several scenarios to choose from that focus on tactical maneuvers towards enemy command points denoted by a flag. Once you capture that area you move to the next, the scenario is won and you can rejoice. Unfortunately there isn't much rejoicing in RTB as the game has a few good ideas that end up being lost in a very buggy game that is more frustrating than it is fun to play. Another downside in the game play is that it's fairly easy to play through as all the missions are based on the U.S. side, sorry no revenge for you Iraqi sympathizers or anti-war folks, and the Iraqi military mostly folds like origami.
Units are controlled in prearranged groupings so there is no individual control of ground troops. You select your troop of 4 or 5 riflemen, mortar etc. and right click to pull up commands. Commands range from moving, moving fast, fire, smoke, ambush and dig in to name a few. Every time you want to give an order you will need to select the units and then right click on them, find the order you want in the drop down list and then point to where the order will be executed. As you point a straight line follows your pointer and ends when you left click to initiate the command. This method of direction is a little cumbersome and also contributes to the less than dazzling game play in RTB. This may be fixed in the final release however the game play was very choppy in the version of the game we received. When issuing commands to troops there was stuttering and pausing which made it difficult to execute commands and, once executed the troops movement seemed very slow. These kinds of things can be rectified before a final release or updated with a patch after release. As you march through various missions the ai does not provide much in the way of a challenge. At some points you will be getting fired upon from undetected enemies and have to scurry for cover or revenge however at some points you can take one tank in and take out most of your objectives. This game may have worked better as a turn based game as the options to execute in real time are very cumbersome and time consuming.
The graphics in RTB are less than adequate for the game play. Certainly the graphics do not need to be cutting edge in a top down squad based strategy game in order for it to be enjoyable. Interestingly enough, some of the more enjoyable strategy games in the past have often come up very short in graphical appeal especially when compared to first person shooters and other games with lots of eye candy. Conversely, when a strategy game does have a more appealing graphical presentation, the game play and tactical level delivered can sometimes turn out more sophomoric in nature. A modern example of this could be Warcraft 3. Many were disappointed as the graphics were top notch but the level of depth had been dumbed down quite a bit in comparison to other rts games even years older in order to give the game a wider appeal. Strategy gamers know this quite well; good looking games catch people's eyes but the lasting appeal of a game really has little to do with how good a game looks. The Civilization series is a good example of a game with very average graphics but game play that has kept gamers glued to their computer chairs for weeks on end. Having said that, graphics in Road to Baghdad seem good enough for a strategy game of this nature however, as you begin playing it becomes very apparent that they don't quite work with the camera angle the developers have implemented.
The default camera angle is very high above the battlefield and looking straight down at a 180 degrees. There is no ability to scroll the camera to a different angle or rotate it so you are basically stuck with looking straight down. This gives the game a very dated look as most rts games these days allow for rotating the camera for different angles or at least provide more of a side view to the playing field. Road to Baghdad is a 2d game so rotating the camera would not necessarily work however a camera view at more of a 60 - 80 degree view, ala' Age of Empires, would have helped with seeing things a little better. With this angle and height, the ground troops are hardly detectable in some of the terrain as they blend in. You can turn trees off however the troops still blend into the ground. I found myself several times, even in the tutorial, spending to much time hunting my squad down. Fortunately you will also be able to select troops from the menus at the bottom of the screen which does help quite a bit in locating your units.
To prepare your troops to move in to their objectives you can call in mortar from off the screen and air strikes but this is limited to predesignated parameters. Explosions from air strikes and mortar fire don't look real great but they do get the job done. Other options include using terrain to cover and ordering your troops to use higher elevations to protect them or give them better line of site. This all sounds good however the maps don't really show this very well so you need to right click on the terrain to find out elevation and other information.
The sounds in the game are sub par and seem to fit with the graphics, coding and general unprofessional feel of the rest of the game. In the copy I had, which was a pre-release version, if you tried to turn the music on the game would not work right so I have no comments on the music. The machine gun fire and gun fire sound ok at times but there isn't anything special here at all.
The game does contain a multiplayer element however no servers were available to try this feature out. This could possibly be a redeeming quality to the game as a human opponent could be more fun to play against than the weak ai.
To sum it up, Road to Baghdad has some ideas that could constitute a decent game but end up getting lost in a cornucopia of poor presentation, bad camera angles and lackluster game play. The missions are based on actual operations in Iraq so there could be a little spark in there for you history buffs as each mission briefing does give some good information on the excursions our troops faced. Unfortunately their just isn't anything original or compelling here, at least compared to all the other choices in the market at the moment or, for that matter, even offerings that are more than eight years old like Microsoft's Close Combat. You have no story to tie everything together or give the game a personality as all the missions are presented at the beginning of the game. There is an included editor so you can make your own missions but I'm not sure why anyone would want to invest time in this as the game isn't much fun. The multiplayer possibility could give the game a lift but there are much better offerings that you can pick up in a bargain bin from years ago. Since the general idea of the game has been done much better by many other games in the past it's hard to see that this game has a reason of existence outside of trying to capitalize on the current affairs of the day as quickly as possible.