Genre: Real-Time Strategy
Developer: Eugen Systems
Release Date: April 2006
It feels like it's been a long time since Act of War: Direct Action was released, plagued by little fanfare, practically no hype, and some amazingly annoying issues involving SecuROM which made the game completely unplayable to many. Honestly though, I cannot blame Eugen for any of those problems, as they did the best they could to create a top-notch RTS, only to have it get completely destroyed post-production. The original Act of War was an amazing game on many levels, and was the first action-RTS that felt "right" to me since Starcraft. It's a title for people who enjoy some intensity and strategy in their RTS; you'll be leaning forward in your chair with your mind racing, trapped in a whirlwind of tactics and clicking, and genuinely having fun.
No one took note, however, and Act of War faded away quietly, trapped under a morass of games which were far less deserving but received more media attention and hype. What killed the title wasn't that people didn't enjoy playing it, but that there was practically no one to play it with.
This time around, the developers have the chance to set things right with the upcoming release of Act of War: High Treason. This expansion promises to improve the game on many levels: graphics, strategy, controls, and of course, balance.
You've probably never even played Act of War, and there's a good chance you may have never even heard of it, but if you loved Starcraft or old-school C&C, you're going to love this title. In my mind, the release of the expansion merely provides a good reason for new players to get into the game. For those who don't own a copy of Act of War, there will be a Gold edition which bundles both the original and the expansion, so what have you got to lose?
For the few who actually know of the glory of Act of War, I'll cover some of the changes that are being made in the expansion. Artillery is getting a major overhaul, and the U.S.'s MLRS and the Consortium's Piranha will be able to fire from a couple of screens away. Task Force Talon, which didn't really have an artillery unit in the original game, will be getting Tacit Rainbow Spinners; they fire controllable missiles that can travel all the way across the map but can be shot down fairly easily by any good Anti-Air. Talon is also getting a couple of new infantry units such as the Future Force, which promises to be the most powerful infantry in the game, but is still squishable by any piece of armor. The U.S. Army is getting a Stinger AA infantry and the ability to equip Bradleys with TOW missiles, and Consortium gets a stealth helicopter and a sniper buggy. There's also a bevy of new upgrades for existing units and mercenaries.
The way mercenaries work is that each side can build a Mercenary Center, which allows them to recruit from a pool of different mercenary units. One mercenary group consists of five infantry with gas-powered shotguns, while another consists of three T-80 tanks. Each group comes with a very high initial cost and an upkeep amount that gets charged every few seconds you have the mercenaries on the battlefield. When you're done with the mercenaries, you'll get a refund on your initial investment based upon how injured the mercs were, and, of course, you get nothing back if you let them all die. Every side shares from the same mercenary pool, and there are three different tiers of mercenaries which are tied to the level of your Mercenary Center, which is, in turn, tied to your side's overall tech level.
Let there be no doubt – this is a competitive RTS. This isn't the type of game for players who like to say, "No rush," and then sit there for half an hour building up a massive force and hoping to win the battle with a big bum rush. This is a game of constant fighting and scouting, give and take of resources, and above all else, skill. The three sides are diverse and interesting, and the game is quite pretty, especially with all of the new available shader effects in the expansion. The one drawback is that the system requirements are a bit on the high side for an RTS, but that's the price of trying to take advantage of some of the more recent advances in rendering technology.
There's a downloadable demo available for Act of War: High Treason, and it features both single and multiplayer modes. The multiplayer limits you to playing only as Task Force Talon, and it disables the use of tactical nukes and the Future Force troop, but everything else is in place. It's a great way to see just how this game works. My biggest complaint is with the camera, which feels like it's way too close to everything even when zoomed out to maximum distance. It's something you get used to, but it may be initially upsetting for people who are used to seeing a lot more of the game at once. All things considered, it's a fairly minor gripe.
Go grab the demo, see how good the game is yourself, and pick it up when it hits stores within the next few weeks, and I'll see you in the lobby. If any game is deserving of a fanbase, it's this one.
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