Guest Author - James Shea
World in Conflict is a Real Time Tactics game from Massive Entertainment. Detailing an alternate reality where the Soviet Union chose to go out with a bang at the end of the Cold War (1989) by invading Europe and the United States, World in Conflict is a chilling look into the world that could have been.
The story follows Lieutenant Parker, a young officer who serves first as an aid in Western Europe, attempting to halt the Soviet advance, and then as a soldier defending the homefront as Seattle, Washington is overrun by Soviet forces. The story is told in a series of punctuating cutscenes, either done with an in-game engine (used mainly before, during, or after levels) or with a striking artistic style of still images (similar to Ace Combat 04's cinematic style). Supporting characters include Colonel Sawyer, a codgery old veteran who finds it difficult to adapt to the "new war" of the late 20th century, Captain Bannon, a brash tank commander who is attempting to live up to the legacy of his deceased father, and Captain Webb, who supports the unit during operations defending the United States. Most characters are given at least one cinematic's worth of character development, and the dialogue seems very real and genuine. There were no moments when I felt that the attempt at plot was "cheesy" or "over-the-top", and every decision could be tracked through a wide variety of circumstances. Captain Bannon is the biggest change in character, as the player views him in multiple scenarios - firstly, as a petty, headstrong captain, disliked by his soldiers and commanders; next, as a son, attempting to support his mother and uphold his father's legacy; then, as a soldier who makes mistakes and feels sorrow for doing so; and finally, as a man willing to make the ultimate sacrifice to make up for his deeds. There was no way to identify Bannon as simply "mean" or "dumb" or "brave"; his character and personality changed drastically not just with the events he was presented with but also with the perspective he is viewed from.
The description of Captain Bannon essentially sets the stage for the depth that permeates the entire game, from fighting with the aid of the French Commandant Sabatier in Western Europe, to the disorderly retreat from Seattle, to the defense of Cascade Falls and the Strategic Defense Initiative, to high-stakes last-minute ploy of the US forces. Across a wide variety of locales, much more familiar to our real lives than the settings used by the games contemporaries - the middle east in modern times, or Germany and Japan during World War II, for example. World in Conflict repeatedly makes clear that this war isn't just in our backyard, but in our very homes. Inspired by films like Red Dawn and books like Tom Clancy's Red Storm Rising, World in Conflict presents a scenario both alien and familiar. Early trailers relied on this contrast - the announcement trailer showed a variety of scenes that seemed to be in foreign areas and revealed more commonplace truths. An apparent "jungle" scene that turns out to be a centerpiece in a shopping mall, or a desert bunker that is revealed as a beach near a boardwalk, or US troops and tanks walk through an area that turns into a modern suburban neighborhood. Every part of this game reminds us just how close we came to a war that would end all wars.
The gameplay in the game is a Real Time Tactics system reminiscent of Ground Control. The player has a certain number of points with which to buy units. These units, when purchased, are parachuted into the warzone - there are no structures to build or facilities that "construct" units. When a unit is destroyed, the points used to buy it trickle back into the player's account. Units range from infantry squads that can hide in forests and buildings, to troop carriers like trucks and Infantry Fighting Vehicles, to straight-up heavy-hitting tanks, to long-range artillery and anti-aircraft vehicles, to helicopters of various grades. These units are divided into four "specialties": Infantry, Armor, Support (includes artillery, repair vehicles, and anti-air), and Air. In multiplayer, players choose one of these specialties and must work with other players to get a full effect of force. For example, the "Air" player can buy transport helicopters, but without support from an infantry player he will have nothing to transport. The Armor player is strong, but is susceptible to helicopters and artillery, and needs the support of other players to accomplish his tasks. Maneuvering is an important aspect in this game, relying heavily on Lines of Sight, flanking attacks, and similar tactical elements. To that end, many units have smokescreens, and all units have at least one alternate attack or projectile. For example, medium tanks have anti-personnel tank rounds for use against infantry, while heavy tanks have High Explosive round for use against light vehicles. On the more tactical side, recon helicopters can see farther and use infrared scanning to check for hidden infantry and through smokescreens; helicopters unaccompanied by them often fall prey to surface-to-air missile infantry or concealed anti-air vehicles. The utilization and micromanagement of these elements is very important.
The objective of the game, in most cases, is to capture and hold certain strategically important sectors. Doing so will reward players with Tactical Aid points, which cover everything from strategic airlifting of soldiers and light tanks to airstrikes (of many different kinds, including anti-tank strafing runs to napalm attacks to anti-air missile attacks) to artillery attacks. A well-placed tactical aid (which also takes time to arrive, thus necessitating a certain amount of aim and foresight in placement) can change the course of an entire battle. Teams can "pool" tactical aid points by giving them from one player to another in order to buy more powerful tactical aid, such as chemical strikes, anti-tank and anti-air missile attacks, and the most powerful weapon in the game, the tactical nuke. Coordination between units is definitely required to accomplish tasks.
As a whole, this game is fantastic. It accomplishes everything it set out to do; singleplayer is engaging and detailed, with strong, fleshed-out characters, and multiplayer is a strategic dream. For any serious fan of tactical games who still enjoys having a good time, I would definitely recommend this. I rate it a 10/10.
World In Conflict Walkthrough