War Inc.

a game by Interactive Magic
Platform: PC
Editor Rating: 7/10, based on 2 reviews
Rate this game:

W.A.R., Inc. will take combat from the war room to the boardroom in a real-time strategy game. As the head of a mercenary corporation in 2011, you plan military campaigns, control research and development for new weapons technology, and even invest profits on Wall Street. The 20-plus nonlinear campaigns can take anywhere from 15 minutes to four hours to complete. Those wanting the full experience with resource management and real-time strategy can play the Simulation mode. Real W.A.R. mongers will want to jump right into the fray with the Quick Combat option.

Game Reviews

Overview

Welcome to the future. Let us hope that this is not our future, but welcome to it. You are the new CEO of the Granite Corporation, an International Tactical Reaction Corporation, and as its director you must guide your diligent faceless employees through the pitfalls of the business world as well as those of the battlefield. Granite's primary activity is as an armed mercenary response force available via contract to 'handle' situations the world over. The former ITReC head has fallen to 'market fluctuations' just as Granite has begun its operations in earnest.

Directing the activities of this corporation is left entirely up to your head-hunting self. Gamble and trade on the stock market, put your money in the bank, develop new weapons technologies, take over other specialized companies, and wage an efficient war to make yourself and your associates rich.

Gameplay

You begin in your main office screen. Arrayed before you are the research and development, stock market, main menu, and option links to access the appropriate screens. You are now gazing at the true heart of this game. From this strategic standpoint you predetermine the outcome of any of the tactical contests, barring abject command incompetence or occasional code glitches (see later).

The Options Menu allows you to customize many aspects of War Inc. . The usual parameters may be changed along with some pertinent auto-management settings, such as having the computer place all your money in a bank for you to draw a steady interest rate.

In the Financial screen company shares may be bought and sold in an attempt to raise revenues. By predicting the market trends you buy low and sell high. The market is sometimes affected by mission outcomes but for the most part fluctuations seem to be occurring according to presets on a stock-by-stock basis. At first I thought this feature of the package would be beyond my ken but later I discovered the relative simplicity of the whole system. I wasn't making billions buying low and selling high, but I was making more money than I would have had I ignored it. This is quite fun. One can also plop down a few billion and buy a company outright to acquire bonuses in the company's specific field i.e. cybernetics, pharmaceuticals, computers, etc. although the likelihood of acquiring such cash in my lifetime paralleled the situation in the game. Frankly 99.9% of the people in the world could never even come close to doing such a thing: 3/4 of the way through the game I had acquired only 2% of a company, making the gesture a little useless.

Once you have money the Technology screen beckons. Here you allocate resources to research specific fields of technology and to employ that technology in the production of prototype weapons of war, which allows for that vehicle to be built during tactical play. Factors to consider when constructing prototype vehicles include such diverse elements as ammo, armor type, armor thickness, and power plant types in a tremendously engaging manner reminiscent of Master of Orion. The balance of each component to another is truly masterful, with cost for prototypes, cost of battlefield production, speed, armor, firepower, and battlefield awareness forcing some serious thought on any design. The useful possible configurations are quite numerous indeed. This is what really made the game: bringing all of these elements together to end up with a formidable strike force, and salivating over the awesome performance capabilities of your new toys.

And there you have the game known as War Inc. Because what is left is very poor by contrast.

What is left is combat. Combat occurs as a result of accepting missions, which offer themselves for limited periods of time only. One can skip missions in order to continue research if the player lacks the designs to get the job done, but I never had to. Or wanted to. Skipping missions risks courting failure in the game overall, and even then what's the point? Combat is the supposed goal of the game!

To view this from another perspective, I do not take to the notion of the 'option' of skipping levels. I have never bought a game and wanted to 'skip levels'. In any event if you do you are shooting yourself in the foot—no matter how well you do on the stock market your main source of revenue is the missions; the more missions you complete with a minimum of expenditure, the more money you have to improve your technology. So off I went.

Battle began. On a nice 'campaign' terrain map I parceled my force into a battle group (multiple groups are allowed for, but this game rewards masses & hordes, so why bother?) and moved out to crush the 3 objectives. Each objective is essentially the same: either kill the enemy or destroy enemy buildings, and since such destruction is easier/possible when the enemy has been crushed... We've suffered this supposed 'objective variety' before.

Movement was a nightmare. At first it was OK since earlier missions didn't require basic navigation functionality, but later missions became literal chores I had to really work at. This is not fun in the least. My vehicle designs lost their meaning when they arrived piecemeal at a defended enemy target—I found myself cursing incessantly trying to pull off the simplest of tactics. Vehicle design can allow a player to employ appropriately tailored tactics in theory only. I could NOT accomplish any semblance of sophisticated battle plan no matter my efforts or my vehicles. War Inc. combat is really only a repetitive exercise that supports the primary strategic game.

As fun as it sometimes is, the tactical play just cannot compare to more sophisticated fare such as Earth 2140. One feels bulky and slothful trying to utilize the interface (albeit a tidy one) in the execution of seemingly elementary actions (i.e. "Everybody move here!... I said move here... EVERYBODY!"), resulting in a loss of any real battlefield maneuvering. It is just too laborious to move a group intact through a tight ridgeline, never mind to pull off an airborne infantry assault via helicopter. You are correct in assuming that the computer's manipulation of forces is flawless and ferociously efficient. And of course there is an abundance of tight-space terrain to fight on, perpetuating and accelerating the frustration level of basic commands.

I looked forward to finishing the missions so I could return to the technology screens and play in the laboratory, only to realize sooner or later that all of this effort culminates in the fighting I had just escaped from.

War Inc. is not without its tactical achievements. Kudos to the developers for finally allowing infantry to be trained into more effective units well beyond the usefulness of infantry in other games of the genre—two enemy TOW2 missile troops took out the entirety of my armored force in one session! Mortar crews can bombard units from beyond their effective weapon range. Snipers can chew units to pieces with lethal efficiency (including 50-ton tanks—go figure). Grenades explode with a respectable force. Infantry can essentially 'dig in' where they stand to gain a tangible defense bonus. It was nice to see them portrayed as useful entities.

Unfortunately given these few and other lesser features the tactical game is nothing without the strategic accompaniment. There is no line of sight beyond a basic Warcraft-ian 'fog of war' effect, no morale, and few terrain features beyond passable/impassable. Since the multi-player game dispenses entirely with War Inc.'s strongest point (the strategic aspects) there is little to commend in that way as well.

Controls

Problems! Basically I could move and fire. Sort of. War Inc. seems to use a 'move to area' command rather than a 'move to point' command, an idea better in theory than in practice. If the area being moved to is not equal in size to the area that the selected units currently occupy, the chances of a navigation error multiply. When you move units you may find that some are not responsive. At all. Sometimes units will move to a point consistently displaced from the destination you are actually clicking on. Sometimes unit groupings will disappear, or units from one group will suddenly be part of another group. You can deal with these code glitches usually by selecting the offending units and individually 'commanding' them out of their stupor, but you shouldn't have to. The frequency of error is alarming, though their influence on combat is minimal, until you reach some of the more difficult missions where you need that basic functionality. We need another patch here.

Enemy AI

To say that the enemy isn't going to surprise you in this game is an understatement. The computer will utilize its various weapon systems wisely and surprise you with the available hardware, but in all other regards it is a tactical dunce. The consistent crank-'em-out bee-lining mentality is not the foolproof brilliance of any Manstein, Sun-Tzu, or Alexander.

Graphics

Graphics in Optik's game (the original developers for the effort) are both sophisticated and primitive. Units are crisp sprites, infantry are cleanly animated to a remarkable degree (you can see identifying details besides mere color, i.e. the Commando's considerably bulkier M82A1 12.7mm Sniper Rifle), menu screens surrounding rendered vehicles & environs are slickly bordered and attractive, but the tile-set landscape is only... mediocre.

Again this is because of the limitations of the design in combat. Had the game called for trees and rivers and bushes and gullies to cover this familiarly bleak 640 x 480 desolation, they would have helped to break up the homogeneity. Some are there, but they are merely rare variations on blocking 'terrain' pixels and not what I would call genuine terrain. As it is, the tile sets are still competent enough to serve as they always do in this type of game. The sounds of explosions are more dynamic than the look of them: they could use some liberal doses of nuclear fire once in a while.

Audio

War Inc.'s cinematic audio is very well done. After seeing the introduction and after beginning several missions, you can't deny that a lot of effort was put into the cinematics. Briefings are well narrated by a company spokesperson or associate with an occasional guest appearance by pertinent personalities, according to the mission at hand. All acting is happily convincing compared to the typical history of multimedia performances, albeit they are radio performances only (not a detractor in this game).

In-game audio supports that which is there very well. That is to say it keeps pace and is restricted to the scope of tactical combat and all attendant elements: sound design stopped when the combat design stopped. What effects are there are fitting and believable, but like the mechanics you find yourself yearning for more variety. Not terribly crippling exactly, but every little bit does help.

The music is not particularly inspiring. If you think that the themes from Command & Conquer are epic and thrilling, then this stuff will not disappoint. I am ambivalent. You are supposed to be waging war. Some classical music to the order of Basil Poledouris' Red Dawn score would have been welcome. On this note I am unnecessarily harsh due to the incessant flood of techno-dance beats and screaming guitar music that seems to be more and more frequently corrupting a generally serious entertainment experience; a few themes are quite decent.

Difficulty

The curve is carefully measured to keep a player challenged but not to discourage him. Actual combat is simple. At first the challenge is primarily due to lack of knowledge concerning the lay of the land or inadequate strategic construction/research. Later on, the real challenge comes from the horrible navigation controls.

Multiplayer

Don't bother. This product should be thought of seriously only as a solo experience. Those who persist will be rewarded with a clumsy horde-and-beeline contest, which is not much of a contest.

System Requirements

Required: P-90, 16 MB RAM, most major soundcards (Miles Sound System), 60 MB of hard drive space (150 for the smoothest video playback), mouse.

The game ran quite effortlessly on my own P-133 with 32 MB RAM, though I had to run it in rebooted MS-DOS mode due to a recurring and consistent paralysis I suspect was attributable to my sound system (a legacy of Gravis?), after which everything worked fine.

These demands are quite adequate perhaps in part due to the limited mechanical scope of the tactical combat... if you could run Command & Conquer smoothly then War Inc. will run better.

Documentation

The manual is truly well done. The 'Granite Corporation Official Document' is a remarkably humorous piece of work with its little marginal scribbles akin to the hilarity of Mad magazine's Sergio Aragones—as a bored hired gun exec, you artistically relieve yourself within the confines of the book that The Board has so kindly supplied for you. All in good taste and most importantly without detracting at all from the potential seriousness of the role which you are priming yourself for.

The vandalism makes an already invaluable text a joy to read. The ample blithering clearly and succinctly describes every aspect of the game without giving away the stuff one looks forward to in a game ("...Bonus! Turn to page 25 for pictures and complete specs on EVERY UNIT IN THE UNIVERSE!…"). I was so pleased when I looked in the manual, desperately searching for the information I suddenly found so vital to my survival, and I actually found it. War Inc.'s manual neither leaves you clueless nor ruins the experience.

Room For Improvement

As stated previous, tactical combat NEEDS to be brought up to the same qualitative level as the strategic planning/construction. Even without this they ought to drastically improve the group command portion of the Alzheimer-ish code: C&C and Red Alert units are far better in this navigational regard, being at that how many months older than War Inc.? Annoying is the ability of the computer player to crank out the forces without having anything remotely reminiscent of your own resource limitations—he stops when you annihilate his construction facilities and only then. Also, more objectives should exist beyond the single obvious exclusively violent one (reconnoiter, rescue, patrol, etc.). All of these things should be niggling problems of products of the past.

Patches/Updates

A patch is available for version 1.1a. The patch will only replace the main .exe, thus sparing anybody's hard fought saved games, and given the fiscal improvements to the completion of contracted missions it is certainly worth it. It is a small download that at least fixes some of the minor yet still annoying problems with the game (units still get lost an inordinate amount of the time). The accompanying .txt file expounds upon the specific minor tweaks.

Bottom Line

In case I haven't quite beaten this point to death, all of War Inc.'s problems lie with the mechanical design of the tactical game. If one could cross Close Combat and the maniacal violence of Earth 2140 with the superb strategic management of War Inc. you would truly have the future of computer warfare.

As it stands, if you want a single-player strategic study of great longevity, and you can hack a number of substantial problems, certainly consider this entry: campaign management is its forte. Even with the shortcomings, War Inc. has a few pleasant surprises in store for those who purchase it. Just be forewarned when you get to the battles... the rating given is in accordance with the title's originality and strategic attempts, and that's all the quality you're going to get. Look to better games for a proper treatment of combat.

X More on GameFabrique Return to Castle Wolfenstein

Download Return to Castle Wolfenstein