- GameSpot Score
- Editor's Choice
- Thrilling new approach to real-time strategy
- Addictive, intense multiplayer gameplay
- Strong story with terrific voice acting
- Visually stunning with plenty of spectacular moments.
It goes without saying that it's a good thing World War III didn't erupt between the United States and the now-defunct Soviet Union. For many of us who were children during the Cold War, the fear of being annihilated in a nuclear conflict was very real. So it's a bit strange now that we can look back at that era and have the luxury of imagining what could have been. Or we can play World in Conflict, Sierra and Massive Entertainment's incredible new real-time strategy game. This isn't your standard RTS game, as World in Conflict doesn't follow the familiar model of resource gathering, base building, and swarming armies. Instead, it feels almost like an action game masquerading as a strategy game, and it offers up a relentlessly fun and amazing new approach to the genre, one that works in single-player and even more so in multiplayer.
World in Conflict is set in an alternate-history version of 1989. Instead of the Berlin Wall falling and communism collapsing, the Soviet Union launches an assault on Western Europe, and the United States rushes its forces in to aid its Western allies. Four months into the conflict, after the US Navy has been attrited down, the USSR launches a surprise invasion in Seattle and pushes inland. In the 14-mission single-player campaign, you play as a company commander who is part of the meager US defense; there is no campaign from the Soviet perspective, though you can play as the Red Army in multiplayer. However, the campaign twists and weaves, letting you experience a sample of the European conflict, battle in remote areas of the Soviet Union, and bring the fight to New York City.
Yes, the story is a bit far-fetched, but World in Conflict does a great job of making the implausible seem believable. That's partly due to the excellent storytelling, which is spearheaded by pitch-perfect narrator Alec Baldwin. He's backed up by a great voice acting cast that brings the principle and secondary characters to life, along with a story that offers up emotional and sometimes humorous vignettes from a world at war. For instance, you'll hear a soldier's futile battle against Army bureaucracy, the phone conversation of a husband and wife, and the deliberations of the president and his top military advisors. While there's a small misstep or two, such as a gospel song in the weirdest of places, the game effectively tugs at your heartstrings, which is rare for a strategy game, especially when it concerns the fate of one character whom you presume to be entirely one-dimensional but isn't. Some of these vignettes are conveyed through in-game cutscenes, while others are delivered through graphic-novel-style drawings. World in Conflict also features some incredible prerendered cutscenes that are so good you actually wish there were more of them.
This isn't a hardcore wargame or simulation. There are far too many gameplay abstractions for that, from being able to air-drop reinforcements on the battlefield within seconds to repairing equipment almost instantly. Instead, World in Conflict is thrilling game about destruction. You get to unleash all the firepower of modern military units on an open battlefield, but you also get to experience the challenges of combined arms warfare. That's because the game has a great rock-paper-scissors combat system that captures the vicious circle of war. Tanks can kill tanks and other vehicles well, but aren't so good against infantry. Artillery can kill infantry easily, but aren't so good against tanks. Helicopters can knock out vehicles well, but are vulnerable to infantry and antiaircraft units. It's a constant chess match about what you need to bring to battle and how you use it. The game is also smart enough to limit the number of units you can control. Instead of commanding the entire battlefield, you'll have only a relative handful of units. This makes managing your units a lot easier, like when employing their secondary abilities such as popping smoke grenades to create cover when under attack.
Then there's the game's excellent resource system. You're given a pool of reinforcement points that you can use to purchase units. Naturally, the powerful units cost a lot more than weaker ones, so you've got to choose quantity over quality. But it goes a bit deeper than that, as different classes of units have different abilities. For instance, light helicopters are some of the best scouts in the game, able to locate enemies from a distance, but they're extremely vulnerable. Medium helicopters are able to shoot down other helicopters with their air-to-air missiles, but they don't do a lot of damage to armor. Heavy helicopters can eat tanks for breakfast, but aren't effective against other helicopters. So while your initial inclination might be to load up on heavy choppers and go after enemy armor, a wise player recognizes that there are many roles to play on the battlefield. If your units are destroyed, their cost is slowly refunded back into your reinforcement pool, so you can order up replacements, although veteran units are more effective, giving you an incentive to keep your experienced units alive as long as possible.
The nice thing about this system is that it effectively gives you an unlimited number or resources and units to work with, so it's fairly forgiving to nontraditional strategy gamers. If that seems a bit easy, don't worry, because World in Conflict can also ratchet up the pressure by tossing in time limits. For instance, you might have to seize a town in less than 45 minutes, or achieve another objective in far less time. The margins for error are much smaller when you're working under a deadline.