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World In Conflict

For a conflict with such an awesome name, The Cold War wasn’t particularly exciting. Sure, it can be blamed for lots of smaller wars, but it certainly didn’t become World War Three like many people expected. The most impact it had on the world was on popular culture, spawning countless spy movies, war movies, comic books, toy laser guns that went “ZAP!” when you fired them, and of course, the build-it-yourself bomb shelter. If you have a penchant for any of this stuff, you will love World In Conflict, the new RTS from Sierra Entertainment.

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The Russians are invading American soil! The Russians are attacking France! The Russians are attacking EVERYWHERE! It sounds like a Red Dawn fan’s wet dream, and it is. The game is dripping with cheesy, melodramatic, and delightfully ludicrous imagery. Even the cover has a sinking Statue of Liberty, an ominous hammer and sickle looming in the background. People who are particularly sensitive about this touchy period in history are going to hate it, probably thanks to a misinterpretation of the ultra-serious atmosphere the game has going for it. Gamers who enjoy alternate reality storylines will lap it up, though, and to be honest, it’s probably a pretty accurate depiction of what would happen if the Cold War had taken a turn for the worse. To be honest, anything having to do with “The Communists attack __” is a cue for you to shut off your brain and just enjoy the show.

We’re off to a shaky start, what with the playing around with history, and the pretentious tone, but the list of things to get offended about end there. The game is fantastic, a simplified strategy game that puts you in the hotseat of a number of small battles around the globe. There is only one resource, and it is constantly replenishing after you spend it. With this resource, you can call for airdrops, which spawn your infantry, your tanks, everything you need to combat the Red Menace. The game plays out, in the campaign and in multiplayer, as a sort of progressive trial and error; you start each level with one drop zone, and you have to fight for and hold the next one, and the next one, until you control the entire level.

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It sounds simple, but it can be very challenging, forcing you to try different combinations of ground, air, and artillery units, which all face each other in a rock-paper-scissors fashion. Fans of Fire Emblem, a classic Nintendo strategy game, will understand immediately. Here, though, instead of a swords-spears-axes formula, it’s an infantry-tanks-air kind of deal. The lack of micromanagement means that budding commanders can focus on trying to get the right combination of forces each round, rather than telling Grog the Glorgleorc to mine for gold. It’s all action, which some strategy fans will scoff at, but most will love it, and it could even act as a sort of gateway drug for action gamers who want to try their hand at some RTS games.

The most impressive part of World In Conflict is the visual presentation. The graphics are insanely detailed, looking great even when the camera is zoomed all the way in. The units are so gorgeous that they wouldn’t look out of place in a more grounded video game, and they animate well enough for it too. Especially impressive are the special effects. Explosions, which happen often, rock the screen and mess with the lighting, and everything in the game is effected by a physics engine. Ragdoll effects in a strategy game are rare, but they’re here in full force, making the destruction of buildings and vehicles even more realistic. Even the water is reactive, with nice reflections and ripple animations. All of this activity takes its toll, unfortunately; World In Conflict requires a hefty PC to experience fully. Thankfully, there are lots of options to customize the graphics with, and it’s possible to make the game look good and still run at a decent clip. The sound is also excellent, with a grandiose and bombastic soundtrack accompanying the chaos. Yeah, it’s cheesy and pretentious, but it works.

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For strategy fans, World In Conflict is an absolute must. It delivers pure action, but on a level that forces players to make intelligent decisions on the go. It also has a robust multiplayer suite, which any PC gamer worth his salt will want to give a go, featuring the same fast-paced gameplay as the singleplayer mode, with plenty of maps and the promise of third-party mods. PC gamers who don’t fawn over Starcraft and Command and Conquer quite as much as strategy players do should still give World In Conflict a look, though. Its balance of simple gameplay with important choices, along with the extremely attractive graphics, make it a worthwhile benchmark for computer gaming. Oh, and if you bought an HDTV specifically to watch Red Dawn when it is released in 1080p, World In Conflict is your God now. Wolverines!

9 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is an Associate Editor at Thunderbolt, having joined in October 2006.

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