In the eighties, the Cold War blizzard was still blowing its particularly frosty brand of paranoia across the United States. Every right-minded American feared that the Reds under the bed might rise up in the middle of the night, go down into the kitchen, raid the fridge and eat the last slice of mom’s apple pie. Or something like that.
Sierra’s real-time war game postulates an incredibly bold attack by Russia at the close of the decade. Sailing fake cargo ships up to Seattle, the communist cads appear from the decks in helicopter gun-ships, storming the city in a matter of hours. You play the role of a US Captain caught in the fighting retreat and subsequent campaign.
And it feels like a real war. The grizzly Colonel barking orders, the authentic radio chatter and booming explosions, the lavish visual pyrotechnics, these elements all help, but what really creates that feeling is the way the missions unfold. They’re multi-layered with objectives that flow dynamically, so it seems like you’re in the midst of a real battle, having to react to sudden enemy troop shifts, new orders and even environmental events such as changing weather conditions.
There’s realism in the game mechanics, too, but the marvellous thing is that this doesn’t come at the cost of complexity. Every unit has its own tactical nuances; for example, infantry can take cover in forests or inside buildings, and prove a considerable thorn in the enemy’s flanks from these fortified positions.
Tanks are more heavily armoured at the front and facing them correctly is always a good idea, but this isn’t a problem as the formation controls are a snap to use. Everything about the interface is simple and slick and achieved with one or two clicks; World in Conflict is something of a master-stroke of design in this respect.
That’s just as well, because sometimes the game is played at a pretty hectic pace, as you simultaneously attempt to direct troops (possibly on several fronts), order artillery strikes and schedule reinforcements. If the interface wasn’t so cleverly built all this might become Hellishly overwhelming, rather than the smooth and wholly absorbing affair it actually is.
World in Conflict isn’t just a class single player campaign, either. There’s an innovative multiplayer element which is focused on teamwork and co-operative play. Each player on a team chooses a regiment – tank, infantry, airborne or support – and their role is defined by this selection. Think of it as Battlefield 2‘s class system meets the RTS genre.
And it’s fiendishly addictive stuff, because teams that make an effort to work together will crush the less organised, so the scope for co-ordinated tactics is huge. The other strong suit of the multiplayer mode is that it’s quick and easy to get going. You can drop into a game mid-way through, and there’s no faffing around building units as with a typical RTS: it’s all action all the way.