I love cybernetics, and I really love grossly exaggerated cybernetics. The best way to wallow in this love, I've found, is through sycophantic lust for mecha; giant robots that clearly overcompensate for geeks in much the same way that sleek cars do for jock types. I recall the glee I felt when I first saw Robot Jox sitting on a rental shelf. It was a horrid film, but I didn't care; I had to absorb it. Similarly, when I saw the opportunity to review a game called War World that looked essentially like a PC version of that terrible B-grade film, I also had to dive right in, regardless of how bad it might be. Thankfully, the small crew of Australian developers who made this has a trick or two up their sleeves when it comes to coding. The end result is that I look upon this title with far less derisive scorn than I do when recalling Stuart Gordon's studio-killing science-fiction mess. Read on as I detail this action-packed third-person shooter that plays like an FPS as it walks the familiar path of a distant future where massive machines decide global conflicts via public-entertainment deathmatches.
What I've just said about the storyline and setting is about as detailed as it actually gets. It's set in the distant future, it's on an alien planet similar to Earth, and the entire sphere is a warzone. Pilots remotely link into their mechs and attempt to destroy everything they see that moves. There is much more written history and lore on the War World website, but none of it comes into the actual game itself. We're here for action, not words! As you progress through the game, level after level, you generate currency for each victorious match. With this money, you can buy upgrades to your mech class, weapons, and external utilities. You begin with a default light cyborg called the Panther 770, and either two Surefire 2 class chainguns or two Aurora 1 class lasers (or one of each if you'd like, as you dual-wield).
Once you begin pulling in the big bucks, you can upgrade to Xenotech Blade class lasers or HMG 747 class chainguns, amongst others. You can also work your way up to the Thunder B-2 or Leviathan class mechs, although oddly, the developers seem to think that slower and more armored is better than faster and more maneuverable, so scout players get a better deal than lumbering behemoths. Lighter armor equals cheaper costs. Some of your other options include force-shields that make you invulnerable for a short time (these also block your ability to fire at enemies, so they're best used to flee from hopeless firefights), missile packs, mortar packs, and various booster packs that alter your speed. These are my personal favorites: a jump booster, a sprint booster, and a strafe booster. Like all items in the game, these come in scaled upgrade versions, so they just get better and better – faster, further, for longer.
The single-player campaign comes in three flavors: arcade (100 levels that scale upwards in difficulty), deathmatch (you versus many AI controlled mechs), team deathmatch (you with a team of AI- controlled mechs versus another team of AI-controlled mechs), and a custom mode that lets you set every possible aspect of the play. In this final setting, you can get so down into the details that you can tell the enemies what style of play to employ, from meaty gun-grunt to sniping scout. It seems very much as though the overall goal for which Third Wave was striving was to recreate the multiplayer experience without the player having to connect online. To this end, I think they've done a fantastic job, as there's certainly no shortage of gametime.
The multiplayer is more or less the same as I've just described, except that all the AI-controlled enemies will be powered by that thought-meat CPU residing atop the cerebral stem of other people sitting in front of their monitors. Of course, anyone setting up a match can add bot-mechs too, if they feel there aren't enough players online at the moment. As War World hasn't yet come out in North America and high-population servers are still a little on the rare side, this feature is a welcome inclusion. Third Wave has really covered all their bases here, though: in-game server browser, extensive control over play rules for whoever sets up an online match (reflecting the "custom" features for single-player), and an expert eye for what works in level design. Each map is a solid blend of peaks, valleys, and open ranges. There are plenty of cloistered building ruins for close dog-fights, and tons of vantage points for railgun-style kills across great distances. There is a maximum of eight players per server, which does seem somewhat archaic in this day and age of 32 players per side, but at least lag is kept to a minimum.
Graphically, War World is very impressive indeed. It has a superb detail level across the board, and relatively high-polygon models to wrap around those glorious textures. That the game can do this without sacrificing framerates is a joyous thing. Players with older graphics cards will find themselves forced to kill off shadows to maintain smooth play, but that's roughly like taking the chocolate sprinkles off of a sundae; you might notice the absence, but only if you look for it. The particle effects are bright and effusive, although perhaps not as varied as you might hope. This is due to the limited weapon options, which I'll touch on a bit later.
These are all just details, accoutrements to the action, which is gloriously fast, furiously manic, and incredibly violent but in a relatively family-friendly way, due to the complete lack of blood or gore. How this game got such a high PEGI rating I do not know; there's nothing even remotely realistic about it. Looked at from an abstract point of view, this is just like a really advanced simulator for that TV show Robot Wars. Sadly, the overall story takes such a miniscule backseat that any sense of immersion simply doesn't exist. Rarely do you pause to consider why the events of this game are unfolding as they are; you're just too busy running, gunning, blasting and strafing.
Besides the lack of detailed lore, there are only two other flaws worth mentioning. First is the lack of weapon variety. Essentially, you have chainguns, lasers, missiles and mortars. That there are multiple versions of each is academic; a chaingun is a chaingun is a chaingun. Pasting a different name on upgraded versions doesn't really make it a different gun, so the retail box claim of "50 different weapon systems" is somewhat spurious, especially when you consider that there are actually only 33 "weapon" systems. Shields and booster packs are included in that list of 50, even though you can't actually use those to cause damage. However, people don't tend to plunk down money for a game that claims "multiple versions of four different guns!" so I can see where publisher Lighthouse is coming from.
The second drawback is the limited number of maps, and the somewhat tiny size of those that are available out of the box. Don't get me wrong, I think the developers have done a great job assembling burnt-out geography that looks as though, well, a bomb or three hit it. However, there are only eight areas to fight in, and the areas are of limited size. This leaves something to be desired, but also ties directly into what I fervently believe to be the one thing Third Wave needs to put out to make this a solid-gold hit: a full kit of mod tools. I envision fans assembling beefy packages of modified maps, mechs, and weapon types, along the lines of the Shifter and Havoc mods that Tribes has. The potential for end-user remixes is potent and could establish this game for many years.
Overall, I was really surprised by War World. It's instantly reminiscent of Tribes, and in my book, that is a very, very admirable game to be comparable to. It's fast paced, well-balanced, and looks amazing with an impressive array of mech design that manages to not just clone anime cybernetics. Perhaps best of all, Lighthouse has chosen to release this with no CD-in-drive restrictions. My over-worked CD-ROM thanks you, dear publishers. I only hope this is a conscious decision to not treat your patrons as criminals. I would say that this game is absolutely worth your time and money, especially if you're part of a group of friends that hosts frequent LAN parties. This would rock in a group setting. Grab it when you can, because above all else, War World is fun.
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