Real war, fake blood.
Since its inception, real-time strategy gaming has predominantly focused on fantasy or sci-fi themes. The top titles -Starcraft, Warcraft, Ground Control, Earth 2150, Dark Reign, Myth - all embrace the art of fiction. Even the venerable Command and Conquer line only skims the surface of real-world weaponry and practicality. You thought Prism Tanks were real?
Despite the obvious differences, most strategy games are rooted in military concepts. Tanks and soldiers may take different alien forms, but the heart of the matter still lies in true-to-life concepts of land, sea and air combat.
So it comes as something of a shocker that there really hasn't been a memorable military-themed real-time strategy game. War has been covered but it hasn't been very real. War. Real. Hmmm....
Real War! Indeed, the title explains it all. Take real-world military concepts, drop them into a real-time strategy game, and watch the shrapnel fly. This game has been squeezing down the pipeline for some time now, and if the recent press build is any indication, it should make a nice amount of noise once it drops.
How real is it? Well, Real War is actually an adaptation of a game/tool developer Rival Interactive made exclusively for the military called Joint Force Deployment. The heart of JFD was a RTS, though it wasn't streamlined for commercial release. Serving as the foundation for Real War, the mere existence of JFD lends credibility to the folks at Rival.
The story behind Real War is probably the least realistic thing about it. The decidedly anti-terrorist United States finds itself the victim of terrorist attack, and while defending itself accidentally sets off some nuclear weapons stored in the terrorist base. This starts off a chain reaction of paranoia and fear, leading to the formation of The Independent Liberation Army, a group comprised of various different countries. The ILA has decided that the US is a little too big for its britches. Next thing you know, all manner of WWIII hell has broken loose.
From the outset, it's clear that Rival has opted to streamline existing RTS gaming rather than reinvent the wheel. This is most noticeable in two areas: resource management and unit control.
Unlike other RTS games, resource management is not a tedious process of mining for ore/gold/spice/Frosted Flakes. Rather, supply lines are used to ensure a constant flow of goods. These can be disrupted, but you won't find games degrading into matches of "hunt the harvester."
The more obvious step in the right direction is the kick ass interface, which allows you to select and move any unit on the map without having to scroll around in frustration looking for That One Tank. You can just flip through various tabs and highlight units at will, then send them off somewhere else without ever having to locate them in the first place. It's the kind of idea that should have been in these games from the get-go, and Rival deserves a cookie for finally implementing it.
Rather than make you fight with irritating cameras and horrible angles, the folks at Rival opted for a 2D graphical feel. However, elements of the engine are distinctly 3D...such as all the vehicles (soldiers are sprites). The engine supports hordes of unique tiles, leading to a multitude of original maps and scenarios. Add to that nifty explosion effects and smooth movement and you've got enough eye candy to satisfy.
But Real War takes it a step further with perhaps the most impressive FMV I've ever seen. You'll swear that you're watching some stock footage of a chopper taking off or a real tank rolling through a village, but it turns out that everything is CG. While it doesn't really have a bearing on the gameplay, it's incredibly impressive.
Other innovations can be found in units like the rappelling soldiers, who can scale impassable cliffs, or the amphibious SEALS, who can take to the sea to gain a tactical advantage.
Real War isn't aiming to redefine the strategy genre so much as refine it, and from what we've seen and played, it's doing just that. Fans of real world simulations and strategy gaming alike should keep their eyes peeled for this one - it looks like the real deal.