The devil is in the details.
Earth, 2001: A projected oil shortage has led to widespread panic and mayhem,
followed by a splitting of the Earth into three factions: the UN (USA), the Russians
(of course), and Iraq (hell, they're bad). If you can suspend your disbelief long
enough to take this situation seriously, then you're ready to dive into JoWood
Productions' new World War III: Black Gold.
While the story elements clearly have no foundation in reality and are based
on the most overwrought twentieth century war clichés ever, they could
be a lot worse. As awkward and ironic as "playing" World War III sounds
right now, the ridiculous story line partially excuses it.
Besides, World War III isn't for people concerned with story lines
or psychic dominators. The game is firmly in the mold of Earth
2150 and The Moon Project, due in large part
to that fact that all three games come from developer Reality Pump. As a result,
WWIII is a hardcore, slow-paced customization-fest.
is a strategy game with a heavy emphasis on technological development and vehicle
customization, and a converse lack of emphasis on building and resource management.
Money is gained by building oil derricks and is the only resource in the game.
The only buildings you need are generators, derricks, supply depots, airports
and drop-zones. As opposed to constructing buildings or units, they're delivered
by helicopters. While the helicopters can be shot down, you get to decide which
side of the screen they come from, making defense of your importers a non-issue.
The main choices in the game stem from the tech tree. For example, should
you augment your humvee force with mortar launchers, or develop heavier armor
such as tanks instead? Do you want to spend money on nukes or scuds, or should
you research defenses capable of dealing with a missile threat? Of course, some
technologies are useless while others are absolutely essential, and figuring
out which ones will undermine your enemy's battle plan is half the fun of the
In order to research technology (everything is technology; everything must
be developed before you can start ordering it), you go to your handy tech-tree
and click on the desired technology. You can queue as many technologies as you
want, but you can only develop technology one item at a time. It's difficult
to say whether or not this unorthodox emphasis is better or worse than the traditional
building paradigm, but it isn't the only thing that distinguishes WWIII
from the other RTS games.
WWIII seems to be a lot harder than your average RTS. The AI can be
pretty tricky and definitely sends a lot of stuff your way. Some campaigns and
the battles within take hours of intense strategic struggle to resolve.
Such difficulty is achieved by the extremely intricate unit balance, which
is a direct result of the extensive technology tree. There are lots of strategic
bases to cover in WWIII, and determining the chink in your enemy's armor
is crucial, especially in multiplayer games.
On the other hand, the differences between the actual factions aren't as pronounced as they could be. Potentially, this game could have three extremely different single player campaigns with vastly different play styles and units for each faction. But this isn't the case.
As opposed to being the underdog it ought to be, Iraq is awfully similar in
armaments to the US and Soviets. Of course this was done for the sake of a balanced
multiplayer game, but things could have stayed balanced and still been a little
more diverse. Just look at Starcraft or Red
Also, WWIII is really slow. The units sort of bumble around, and even
though the pathfinding is much improved over Earth 2150, it seems like
it takes forever for units to move down that same path, perfect formation or
otherwise. Units do move more quickly when traveling on roads, which is a nice
detail, but does little for the gameplay other than slow down off-road units.
add a little gruel to the molasses that is WWIII's gameplay, units can
run out of ammo. This just sucks. Sure it's another nifty little detail, and
nifty little details can make good games great...so long as they aren't included
at the expense of the game's pace and playability. This game is so anal retentive
it will drive you insane.
Graphically, WWIII is boring. It's all 3D, but the textures are plain,
the colors are lame, and the units all look too much like their differently
equipped counterparts. You can make teams, the same as any other RTS, which
helps distinguish similar looking units from their friends. But that doesn't
change the fact that differently equipped vehicles look nearly identical.
Having said that, the lighting effects are brilliant. Since half of the game takes place at night (it's day for a few minutes, then night for a few, etc. etc.), all the little tanks and jeeps have headlights that come on, enhancing the game's overall visual effects. As another cool detail, you can turn off your headlights at night, making it harder for the enemy to see you. Then you can creep within range and launch a barrage of blazing missiles, which dazzle the eye while reducing the enemy fortifications to rubble.
The camera work is fantastic. You can zoom in and out and rotate very smoothly. The only problem is that you never really need to. Wanna check out how boring your units really are? Zoom in on em! Wow, that's plain! But for the most part it's tactically advantageous to be zoomed way out, same as any other RTS.
The sound effects are pretty standard, while the music is this melodramatic, cliché, ominous battle stuff; it's fine when you're winning, but infernal if you're getting your butt handed to you.
WWIII also comes with multiplayer options, but if you're new to the
game, you'll get massacred. Seriously, there are a lot of dirty little tricks
buried deep in the crevices of WWIII, and you better make sure you have
a handle on at least a few of them before setting foot on a multiplayer battlefield.
All but the shrewdest of gaming goblins need not apply.
Overall, World War III: Black Gold is a deep, hard strategy game that
offers tons in the way of customization and length. There are three sufficiently
long single player campaigns and some very stiff online competition. Unfortunately,
there's even stiffer competition at the Best Buys and Comp USA's in titles like
RA2: Yuri's Revenge. Unless
you've played and enjoyed some of Reality Pump's previous titles, this may not
be a war worth fighting.