The Thin Line Between Entertainment And War.
First: Applause, handshakes and drinks all around for Simon and Schuster Interactive
and Rival for resolutely refusing to delay, alter, re-box or otherwise pussify
the release of Real War. Now that, as a nation, we’re not quite so shocked
and numb following the September 11 attacks on America and the free world, this
is just the kind of subject matter that’s on many of our minds. And I don’t just
mean the minds of the legitimate servicemen and women, or of the politicians,
or of the gun-nuts, but everyone. I call your attention to a bottle of hot-sauce
I saw recently in a Pasadena mall, whose label showed Lady Liberty – holding up
not a torch but that famed middle digit – under the words “We’re coming, motherf*ckers.”
War is essentially the civilian market byproduct of a real-time war sim
commissioned from Rival by the United States military, and concerns a U.S.-led
worldwide counter-terrorism war. In twelve single player missions (for both
the good guys and the bad guys), Real War makes one (alas rather large)
conceptual stretch: The terrorists have clotted together in actual conventional
military forces to do actual, straight-up battle in various international locales.
It’s not terribly ‘realistic’ in this regard, but would you rather play a sim
wherein you sit watching grainy satellite surveillance for three months until
some guy eating a rock finally climbs out from under his llama or whatever and
scrambles for the nearest cave? All righty, then.
While any RTS player will instantly have a basic idea of what’s going on,
Real War makes a valiant attempt to streamline the classic RTS interface.
Case in point: a small deployment menu upon which appear icons of available
friendly forces as well as active enemy targets. Watch this handy menu, because
you’ll be seeing it in future games. It allows the player to assign attacks
without having to scroll away from whatever crisis is being dealt with at the
moment. If you’d really like to splash the rattletrap Russian war-surplus planes
infesting your airspace, but can’t take your eyes off your Air Command Center
for fear some nerd sporting a Technicolor C4 Dream-coat will come along and
give his regards, simply select friendly air units from the menu, designate
their targets and watch as they veer off and do their thing. It makes even hotkeying
forces and/or locations seem slow and inefficient. For a while, at least.
Real War has lots of nice visual touches, like the relatively realistic
campus of a school to be defended, for example, or huts and wooden bridges along
rippling rivers. It’s even got the burning bits of blown-up armor units scattering
hither and yon with trails of black smoke. Satisfying. And even though they
don’t amount to much, note the jaw-droppingly realistic intro movies. That’s
not canned video footage from the Gulf War, but astounding computer modeling!
Real War also nicely circumvents the whole resource-gathering thing.
You still need supplies, of course, but if they come at all, they come via supply
depots; it’s a little like the Nod airfields of Command
& Conquer, and it prevents the entire game from devolving into a session
of Kill That Harvester.
No sir – Real
War devolves on a need-to-know basis.
When you need to know why the game inexplicably does away with some
form of traditional audio unit responses, you are for the most part greeted
with disconcerting silence. It’s not a big deal, but it’s noticeable. When you
need to know exactly what the hell you’re supposed to be doing in the
game’s walkthroughs intended as tutorials, you’re often left high and dry, as
even the ‘advanced’ tutorials are a little skimpy. When you need to know
why they bothered to get the guy from Full Metal Jacket when his audio
presence is kind of weak, cheesy and embarrassing, you discover there was really
no reason at all, except to say they slapped his homey visage on the box art.
Ha ha! You fell for it, Gomer!
But most of all, when you need to know precisely which friendly
land or air unit you’re using that handy menu to send off, you’re often completely
at a loss. All those tiny icons could represent a fringe tank you probably should
do something with, or a crucial unit that’s busy trying to keep your HQ from
becoming a smoking hole in the ground right this second. I.D.s? I.D.s?!
We don’ need no steeenking I.D.s! If I were Rival, I’d be waving my hands
like crazy and trying to claim this as a realistic feature simulating command-and-control
issues. Mistakes were made, is what I’m saying. Depending upon your definition
of what ‘is’ is.
Nevertheless, Real War takes some risks and works well as a multiplayer
game, allowing players to customize everything in sight (and hey, at least you’re
both confused and on equal, human footing. Plus, there’s nukes when all else
fails). Newbies, well, you probably shouldn’t go here, girls, but you slightly
more hard-core types and military enthusiasts may still want to take a look
at the innovations that will be doubtless cannibalized in other, future RTS
games. And hey, maybe it’s a good chance to get in some military-endorsed tactical
training now the Real stuff is starting…the bad guys shouldn’t be the only
ones logging some virtual hours onscreen, if you get my drift.