Genre: Real-Time Strategy
Developer: Massive Entertainment
Release Date: September 2007
Twice an hour, "Everybody Wants to Rule the World" would suddenly start blaring out of a cubicle. No, this wasn't a bizarre dream sequence, though the #1 hit often pops into my head without rhyme or reason. It was the Sierra Spring Event, and for some reason, Tears for Fears' classic single from 1985 popped up every 30 minutes or so.
Unsure of why the track was being played, I assumed that it was being featured in Scarface: The World is Yours for Wii, as its chorus matches up quite nicely with the subtitle of the game. But when the Scarface session came and went, I was left dumbfounded by the lack of quality new wave pop in the demo. Luckily, in my final session of the event, I was treated to a demonstration of World in Conflict, Massive Entertainment's new real-time strategy title. And there it was; I could finally leave with a smile on my face.
With the mystery solved, I found something else in that little cubicle that was well worth smiling about. World in Conflict cares not for the typical RTS archetypes — fixed overhead perspectives and slow-paced resource gathering are nowhere to be found. Action is the name of the game, and within a minute of starting a mission or skirmish battle, players can expect to be in the throes of combat. With exceptional visuals and a fully moveable 3D camera, World in Conflict may well reinvent the public perception of strategic gaming.
World in Conflict takes gamers back to the 1980s, when the Cold War was winding down and the Berlin Wall fell. But in this world, the war never subsided, and physical action replaced the tension and fear that defined the real thing. The Soviet Union, sensing the downfall of communism, launches simultaneous attacks on Europe and the United States, which is where the adventure begins. Starting in Seattle, the campaign takes the hero across the nation, eventually dragging him into the heart of the European conflict. After a brief jaunt in the frigid tundra of Russia, the campaign circles back to the U.S. for the ultimate showdown.
However, the developers stress that this is not some ultra-patriotic, right-against-wrong slice of propaganda. Though you play as an American soldier, neither side is painted as the hero or villain, as both have legitimate reasons for their respective actions. Player character Lt. Parker furthers this point, as he is never seen nor heard, and serves as a silent protagonist to guide players through the experience. His computer counterparts are decidedly less silent, and will actually subvert authority and struggle with the overwhelming nature of war.
"In the story, these characters will develop and be very affected by the pressure of war," said Magnus Jansén, lead game designer at Massive Entertainment. "They will break under that pressure and they will disobey orders. There will be problems and they will call out each other. And that's not just in the cut scenes — they're in the mission with you. You see it happening."
Luckily, none of that development or character interaction will occur while the player is digging for gold or seeking out funds. Each battle starts with a fixed amount of credits, so players can immediately purchase and place units without waiting for them to build. Eliminating the waiting game from the RTS genre was a key building point for World in Conflict, and surprisingly, Jansén names a first-person shooter as its main basis for comparison. "We like to compare it to Call of Duty," he said. "It's very scripted and sort of linear, but it's a very emotional experience. We're going for that roller-coaster ride."
Ratcheting up the intensity of the experience was only the start for the developers at Massive. To deliver on their ambitious design, they would have to free the standard RTS camera from its overhead rails and allow the player free reign over the visual battlefield. In fact, Jansén notes this as the key addition, both for the game and the entire genre.
"If there's one thing we want World in Conflict to bring to the table," claimed Jansén, "it's the free camera and how you're actually looking out across the battlefield and seeing the strategic lay of the land. Why would you, in an RTS, want to look straight down? This is the way RTS games should be played."
This would all be for naught if the game had a shaky visual foundation, but such is luckily not the case with World in Conflict. By and large, the game sports about as much detail as top shooters on the market, as the 3D camera eliminates many of the visual compromises that can be made in RTS games with a fixed perspective. Most impressive are the Tactical Aid attacks, many of which lay to waste the fully destructible environments in the game. Upon launching a Tactical Nuke, the blast wave takes down all nearby cars, houses, and trees within a considerable radius. All of this is also visible from the mega-map, which uses the same in-game rendering to provide a comprehensive view from 10,000 feet above the battlefield.
Eight-on-eight multiplayer battles are the norm in World in Conflict, which puts the game squarely atop the RTS heap in that category. With so many players in a single skirmish, the emphasis is put on team play, with each player choosing one of four roles (Air, Armor, Infantry, or Support). Players can communicate with each other via VOIP or floating text messages that can be dragged and dropped anywhere on the 3D map. Defeating the enemy squad requires that all team members work in unison, but worry not if a player drops out during a game — the fixed credits system ensures that players can jump in at any time without a resource disadvantage.
Between the 15 single-player missions and the expansive multiplayer support, World in Conflict may not only overhaul the real-time strategy genre, but also keep gamers busy for quite some time. By eliminating the least exciting elements of the genre and putting a strong focus on narrative and character interaction, World in Conflict may very well lure gamers typically lulled to sleep by RTS titles.
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