Genre: Real-Time Strategy
Developer: Massive Entertainment
Release Date: September 2007
World in Conflict is technically a real-time strategy game but has quite a few unique takes on the genre, to the point that while previous titles may have innovated, World in Conflict takes the genre in an entirely new direction. We recently participated in the title's closed multiplayer beta and tried out some of the radical new gameplay mechanics that it brings to the table. While it is still just as approachable as a traditional RTS title, a lot of gameplay elements are strikingly fresh.
The title takes place in the world that would have existed had the Cold War escalated to a full-on nuclear World War 3. In the game's plot, the Soviets have invaded the United States and launched an all-out invasion on American soil, and while the single-player campaign will follow the American defense and repulsion of the attackers, the multiplayer segment allows players to fight on either side of the conflict, with maps in American, European, and Russian locations.
The multiplayer beta was limited to a mere handful of maps, but each map is a massive affair complete with differing elevations, strategic points to capture, and areas of interest such as forests, bridges, and cliffs. Unlike other RTS titles, where all players who will participate in a match must first join a lobby, World in Conflict allows players to join and leave matches in progress on the fly. Given the scale of the maps, both in terms of size and the fact that each side can easily number eight or more players, matches last a fairly long time and feel more like the Battlefield series than any RTS title.
On some maps, each side starts with a certain amount of points, which are deducted when units on the side are killed. Points are also deducted over time if the enemy controls more strategic points than your side does. In other maps, one side must attack and capture a series of strategic points in order, while the other side must do its best to foil these attempts. Once the timer runs out or the attackers capture all of the strategic points, the sides swap roles, and it is up to the previously defending team to try and do a better job than the other side did to secure a victory.
The way units are handled in the multiplayer is one of the more unique aspects of World in Conflict. Instead of each player building a base, marching down the tech tree, and racing to make more units than the other side, players must first choose a specialization which can be changed at will if he has no units deployed: infantry, air, armor, or support. The infantry specialization lets the player deploy various types of infantry squads and troop transports, which aren't the most powerful by themselves, but coupled with infantry deployed in buildings or under the cover of forests, they can use their anti-air and anti-tank launchers without getting wiped out. The armor specialization allows for the player to deploy various strengths of tanks, while the air specialization is armor's bane, with its various attack, scout, and transport choppers. Finally, the support specialization allows the player to deploy artillery and anti-air units. Instead of building a base to deploy units, they are simply airlifted in via fleets of helicopters, putting the focus squarely on the action instead of micro-managing and defending a base.
Each player has a resource cap that only lets him or her deploy a certain amount of units at any given time. For example an artillery player may only be able to deploy two heavy artillery units, or might instead choose to deploy two light artillery pieces as well as a pair of anti-air units to protect against potential scout helicopters that could let the enemy artillery pinpoint his position. The player's resource points recharge incredibly slowly when all of the units are deployed but fairly quickly of only one or two cheap units are deployed (or remain). This means that if a player is wiped out, he can call the units onto the field fairly quickly, and though the point recharge is slow, a player whose units have lasted a long time might be able to deploy an additional unit or two.
What you may notice is that there are obvious holes in the capabilities of each specialization, which means that regardless of how skilled individual players may be, the only hope of winning comes with working together effectively. Armor can destroy the buildings that infantry is occupying to allow a second player using transport helicopters to drop off a third player's infantry to help secure the area, while a fourth player with artillery units three-fourths of a map away bombards the advancing enemy counter-attack. To help facilitate instances like the above example, World in Conflict has full voice chat support as well as traditional text chat.
As players capture strategic points and kill enemy units, they will gain tactical points, which can be spent in a variety of ways. A small number of points may send a few A-10s to an area that you want to clear of enemy tanks, while using a few more points might allow you to target an area of the map for a massive volley of artillery. The points are intended to be a means for players to do things that they would normally not be able to do, such as an infantry player sending in a napalm strike to clear a forest of trees — and the snipers concealed by them. Finally, if players work together and all gift some of their tactical points to the same player, that player can in turn launch a nuclear weapon of varying size, depending on the amount of points, to destroy everything in its radius, including units, buildings, trees, and other objects, leaving nothing but an irradiated crater in its wake.
World in Conflict will support DirectX 10 at launch, but even the multiplayer beta's DirectX 9-based graphics are fairly praiseworthy. Missiles leave smoke trails as they stream toward their mark, forests can catch fire and spread enough to make even the burliest firefighter weep, and the nuclear blasts pack a massive graphical wallop complete with a blinding flash, a huge mushroom cloud, and the screen going semi-black and white when the camera is positioned near the irradiated area. Units are all quite detailed, and the lighting and shadowing effects of both the units and the environment itself are some of the best the genre has seen thus far.
Real-time strategy gamers have become accustomed to things being done a certain way, and World in Conflict makes massive and sweeping changes to the tried-and-true formula. However, the multiplayer beta alone has shown that they are for the better and deliver an experience that is not quite like any other title in the genre can claim to have. Assuming the single-player campaign can deliver the same degree of quality, fans of the genre will have a lot to look forward to this fall. Stick with us as we continue to cover World in Conflict as it gets closer to its release date this September.
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