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KumaWar

Weíve all liberated France and looked for Charlie in the Vietnamese jungles in countless games, but when was the last time we had a decent game based on a recent military conflict? Only Delta Force: Black Hawk Down comes to mind and the events in that game happened over ten years ago. Ever since then thereís been a plethora of awful games based on the ongoing ìWar on Terror,î but these budget-titles try so hard to appeal to jingoistic people who flaunt their enormous flags that the games end up being a disgrace to decent people everywhere. KumaWar, a third person squad-based shooter, bucks that horrible trend by providing us incredibly unique, and somewhat revolutionary, ìripped from the headlinesî levels for a monthly subscription fee. KumaWar puts those other vile ìWar on Terrorî games to shame, but unfortunately some shortcomings prevent it from being a great game.

So for $9.99 a month youíre given a new level each week to play. At the time of this review there were six levels available, but that number is constantly rising. The levels are all based on recent headlines, such as the battle against Sadaam Husseinís sons and the ongoing actions in Iraq, along with the firefights going on in Afghanistan. Even before you start any of the levels youíre given access to a wealth of supplemental information that adds depth to the stage youíre about to play and also manages to teach you about what really happened. For every level thereís a video clip hosted by Pop Up Videoís Tad Low. In these videos Tad Low gives us a brief rundown on the real events behind the level. He then interviews a retired Major General for some insightful professional analysis on the situation. After the interview, a cutie who claims to be named Jax gives some tips on how to survive the level.

The video clips are entertaining, but that isnít where youíll find most of the factual info. There are in-depth articles on the various sides and squadrons fighting in the War on Terror, along with information on all the weaponry and satellite images. There are even links to news articles related to each level. All of this knowledge adds a lot to the game, and you also end up learning something. Now when was the last time a game taught you something useful?

When youíre done perusing the supplemental information (or you can just skip them to begin with) you can start playing the actual game. The load time for each level is incredibly long, so you better get up and find something to eat. Veterans of Ghost Recon should be somewhat familiar with the team-based tactics present in KumaWar, though in this game you can play in first-person view or in third-person. You control one soldier at a time, though you can switch to your other squad members (up to four each level) on the fly. There are a few things your squad can do at your command, such as staying put while you advance the enemy position, moving up with you in an attack, and so on. You canít equip your teammates with weapons at the beginning of each level, but youíre able pick up new weapons from any downed enemy.

Working with your comrades is necessary, since using tactics and switching often between teammates is the key to taking out enemies without suffering injuries. Ironically, one of the most frustrating parts of the game is working with your comrades. Their lackluster AI causes them to constantly get stuck behind objects and be left behind. It doesnít help that their aim isnít the best, either. The enemy AI also leaves a lot to be desired at times. Some of the snipers are absolutely merciless. They see you through trees and shrubbery and end up hitting you before you even know whatís going on. And a lot of the time the enemy just sits there as you pick off their friends. One time an enemy with a rocket launcher saw me from behind a car, and then fired at the car from point-blank range. Needless to say, he didnít survive.

Despite the AI problems, there are a lot of positive aspects of KumaWar. The levels are designed fairly well with plenty of objectives and a few ways to handle each objective. There are even some drivable vehicles, such as a tank and a jeep. Rolling through the streets of Samarra in heavy armor was so enjoyable I almost forget about the AI issues. Another great aspect is the widely varying difficulty modes and the option to change the damage to arcade or realistic. Sadists who enjoy hard games, slackers who donít like to be too challenged, and everyone in-between will be satisfied.

What easily is the best part of Kuma/War is the multiplayer. You can forget about your awful single-player teammates because there is a co-operative mode. Now you can blame the person and not the awful AI when a teammate does something stupid. There is also a deathmatch mode, but no servers were running this mode. In fact, there were only a couple servers in all, so hopefully some more are added.

Sort of like the single-player mode, the graphics and music both have great strengths and disappointing weakness. The character models are incredibly detailed and the levels are enormous, but the animations are incredibly limited and there are some serious clipping issues. The orchestral music is well-done and keeps the mood tense, but whenever an enemy appears there is a jarring change to a more ìaction-packedî piece.

Despite the flaws, the good definitely outweighs the bad in the end. Itís a shame some of the problems can be fixed so easily but arenít, because if they were the game would be much more enjoyable. KumaWar doesnít succeed at being a great game, but the fact that the levels are based on such recent events is a compelling reason to at least try out the game. The game is only available to people with broadband connections and can be downloaded at the official site.

7 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is a Senior Staff Writer at Thunderbolt, having joined in February 2003. Get in touch on Twitter @akarge.

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